Misconceptions of Student-Centered Learning

I am an INFP – which, according to 16Personalities means: “Unlike their Extraverted cousins though, INFPs will focus their attention on just a few people, a single worthy cause – spread too thinly, they’ll run out of energy, and even become dejected and overwhelmed by all the bad in the world that they can’t fix.” In other words, like most teachers, I am by nature, an introvert.

But how then, do I love teaching a primarily student-centered classroom so much? After 5 years, why am I still teaching when most other introverts are burning out?

It fits my writer persona, right? I live vicariously through fictional characters, and when left to my own devices, accidentally isolate myself from the world. I live, literally, looking out my large bedroom window at the world while I work. But how then, do I love teaching a primarily student-centered classroom so much? After 5 years, why am I still teaching when most other introverts are burning out?

As a college and middle school creative writing instructor, I’ve learned that “group work,” or more appropriately, student-centered learning, doesn’t need to be daunting, nor require the introverted instructor to place themselves, nor introverted students, in social situations that are entirely draining; thus, the more an instructor becomes self-aware of themselves, and of their students, the less likely they’ll experience teacher burnout. 

Teacher-Centered Learning Vs. Student-Centered Learning

Teacher-centered learning focuses on the teacher having complete control over the classroom at all times. According to Concordia University, “…the classroom remains orderly. Students are quiet, and the teacher retains full control of the classroom and its activities.” As an introvert, this sounds ideal, especially because the classroom is devoid of noise, and there is no exchange of human interaction. Teacher-centered learning requires little of the student, often leading them to zone out during lectures.

I don’t know about you, but lecturing for more than an hour is considerably more draining than actually allowing the students to collaborate with each other, or interact, one-on-one, with me. Ultimately, lecturing puts more pressure on me to be “entertaining” just so that students can remain stimulated. I not only have to have a PowerPoint that meets section 504 requirements, but now I have to make sure it is “fun.”  However, by continuing to use this model, I’ve deprived myself of energy, and have given students very little critical thinking skills, and have single-handedly limited their ability to acquire interpersonal and interpersonal skills – all of which are vital to any field.

To be honest? A teacher-centered classroom is a selfish model. The classroom isn’t only about the instructor, their knowledge, and students being able to memorize it; it’s about students acquiring knowledge and being able to use it to analyze, evaluate and create beyond the classroom. Thus, as a teacher, this should be the main concern, more so than of one’s own specific needs. I don’t mean to ignore my own completely, but I do feel that as an educator, I have knowingly placed myself in a position where I need to be more selfless.

Student-centered learning, while explained by other introverted teachers as complete chaos, doesn’t have to be. Student-centered learning can be quiet, and fun! It also can be noisy. But noise doesn’t necessarily mean chaos. Concordia University lists the cons of student-centered learning, but I find those to be broad generalizations, and even extreme. Student-centered learning allows the students to experiment within the classroom directly with the subject matter, and provides ample opportunity for the instructor to learn themselves without losing control of the classroom. But unless we as educators continue to look through a black and white filter – introvert and extrovert – we won’t allow ourselves to come to terms with the current paradigm shift and will continue to struggle with daily burnout.

[T]hus, the more an instructor becomes self-aware of themselves, and of their students, the less likely they’ll experience teacher burnout.

Balancing Paradigms

I love running experiments in my classrooms, and I am so grateful that I have ample opportunity to work with both adults and children. What I’ve learned is: what takes place in a college environment, can be utilized in a middle school classroom, and vise versa. These methods not only benefit my students, but are also within my comfort zone.

Collaborative Learning with Emphasis in Listening

Part of the problem with adapting to collaborative learning is the perception that it’s perpetual noise. But, when one of the listed objectives is to LISTEN, students take note, and do just that. The following methods integrate listening skills.

  • Think-Pair-Share: Firstly, students must sit quietly with their thoughts and write them down. After selecting their partner, they must share. But this is where I tell students that their partner gets 5 minutes of uninterrupted talking time, which means, the student listening cannot make comments or distracting reactions. They must focus on what the speaker is saying before countering, or adding to the conversation.
  • Art Gallery Walks: Students are given time to collaborate on a poster, which may be a little noisy, but during the gallery walk, there is no interaction with anything other than the piece in front of them. Like a real art museum, there is a quiet ettiequte, and students only means of communication are their pens to the poster paper.  In this sense, they are “listening” to the page and focusing on providing constructive criticism.
  • Read Aloud: Students are placed into small groups in which only one person read aloud while the other group members annotate. Yet again, students are subjected to listening, and simultaneously, engage with the text. Once the speaker has finished reading their assigned paragraphs, the students engage in a quiet discussion of the author’s intent. This process continues until the article is read in its entirety.
  • Debates, or Fish Bowls: Students must listen to two sides of the argument before joining in on the discussion.

I find that most collaborative learning techniques, and there are many, can be tailored to include a listening component. However, there is still speculation that the instructor cannot control all aspects of learning when there are multiple groups, and that some groups will miss out on important details. This is where it is up to the instructor to balance the lecture and activity.

…unless we as educators continue to look through a black and white filter – introvert and extrovert – we won’t allow ourselves to come to terms with the current paradigm shift and will continue to struggle with daily burnout.

As I mentioned, lecturing is draining. Instead of having long-winded lectures, which to be honest are mostly “fluffy” ramblings, I cut it down to the basics to preserve my energy for the next class.

Ideal Introverted Teacher To-Do List:

  1. Writing Prompt (Ah, quiet!)
  2. Think-Pair-Share
  3. Class Discussion
  4. Lecture
  5. Student Activity
  6. Homework Review

Notice how I have included teacher-centered and student-centered activities evenly. Honestly: students cannot learn without your knowledge, but also, students can’t learn without working with the material and each other.

Safe Spaces for Introverted and Socially Anxious Students

Ah, yes. I was one, remember? (Still am, actually.) But with the technology boom in online classroom management systems, such as Canvas and Google Classrooms, there is almost no excuse to provide the introverted student with a safe space as well.

Part of my teaching philosophy emphasizes the use of technology outside of the classroom. To keeps students interacting with the material, and connected with peers and fine tune their technological language acquisition (and I’m not talking about emojis, here), I am sure to utilize all collaborative aspects of Canvas.

Note: It’s always important to review netiquette before allowing students free reign on the internet. Additionally, instructors should always monitor student behavior and be included in all discussion board posts, collaborations, etc.

  • Discussion Boards: Having students interact for a grade gives the more introverted ones a soapbox to stand on. They in turn, feel more comfortable speaking aloud in class once others have reacted positively to their thoughts.
  • Google Docs: During computer lab times, I had students work in real-time on editing and peer review using Google Docs. This way, for students who cannot handle constructive criticisms directly, they could still engage without feeling embarrassed or “put on the spot.”

For an introverted teacher, grading online is heavenly, and it’s exciting to watch learning happen in real time.

Final Thoughts

See? Collaboration isn’t chaotic at all. There are plenty of opportunities for self-reflection. However, what I think really contributes to teacher burnout, is the lack of administrative support.

I am so lucky to work for an institution that thrives on student-centered learning. In fact, most of our classrooms are being modified and refurnished with furniture that makes collaboration easier. These courses in the classrooms have been more successful than ones in standard computer rooms where it is impossible to move students into groups.

However, not all schools or institutions are supportive, nor have the resources to make this shift. Because of this, I am finding that there is more hostility between students and teachers, and teachers and administrators. When there is too much teacher-centered learning, school feels more like a prison; there is a divide and less communal support within the classroom itself.

As educators, we have to be willing to experiment with new models, not be afraid of them. We must take the extra step to modify current models to work with our needs as well, but at the same time, ensure that it’s not detracting from the benefits of our students.


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