Monday, March 30, 2015

Student Centered or Curriculum Centered?

After learning about both philosophies, can you identify which way you lean?
A teacher's beliefs about teaching and learning, and the subsequent classroom practices that stem from those beliefs, is called a teaching philosophy.   

Two common teaching philosophies from which an individual teacher can build a unique perspective are a student-centered philosophy and a curriculum-centered philosophy.

A Student Centered Philosophy

A student-centered philosophy, also called a learner-centered philosophy, focuses on helping individual students master pre-determined learning objectives or measurable goals.  In a well-working student-centered classroom, every student can achieve an "A" given enough time and individualized attention.

Some fundamental characteristics listed in the explanation provided in the definition of "Student-Centered Learning" by The Glossary of Education Reform, include:

  1. Teaching and learning is “personalized,” meaning that it addresses the distinct learning needs, interests, aspirations, or cultural backgrounds of individual students.
  2. Students advance in their education when they demonstrate they have learned the knowledge and skills they are expected to learn.
  3. Students have the flexibility to learn “anytime and anywhere,” meaning that student learning can take place outside of traditional classroom and school-based settings, such as through work-study programs or online courses, or during nontraditional times, such as on nights and weekends.
  4. Students are given opportunities to make choices about their own learning and contribute to the design of learning experiences.

A Curriculum Centered Philosophy

A curriculum-centered philosophy focuses on the delivery of a set amount of content on a timeline. The material is taught, via direct instruction, on a schedule.  Students are graded based on the amount of material they retain compared to other students.

Teachers who prefer curriculum-centered teaching practices or who teach at curriculum-centered institutions, are generally extremely adept at planning lessons within units.  These lessons and units build upon one another, over time, with carefully constructed lectures and assessment activities that align to specific discipline-area goals or outcomes.

The difference between curriculum-centered assessment and student-centered assessment is in the way skills and knowledge are measured.  As stated above, in a student-centered learning environment, teachers strive to help students reach mastery; learning of a skill or concept does not stop until the student reaches mastery.  In a curriculum-centered learning environment, teachers also strive to help students reach mastery.  At the end of a set period of time, however, the teacher measures the students' various levels of proficiency, and the class moves on to the next topic or unit.

Curriculum-centered teaching is useful when class sizes prohibit individualized learning, when the class meets for a limited amount of time, when advanced or independent learners simply need a reiteration of key concepts, or when new concepts and ideas must be delivered or explained by a subject-matter expert.

Balancing Teaching Philosophies

Although "student-centered" sounds like a much friendlier teaching practice, curriculum-centered teaching has its place.  The truth is most teachers must, at some time, use curriculum-based instruction to deliver content to students, even if that content is later used as the basis of a student-centered activity.  A student-centered activity can then reinforce the idea taught in lecture. However, if a teacher too often relies on curriculum-centered practices and direct instruction, he or she is usually referred to as too pedantic, didactic, or more often, boring.

On the other hand, a teacher who relies only on student-centered teaching strategies can either be considered "fun," or may be thought of as having little to no classroom management skills.  There is a fine line between an environment suited for personalized learning and an environment that is stressful and chaotic.

In the end, a teacher must choose the philosophy not only best suited to his or her own personality, but best suited to the needs of his or her students.  Each philosophy and its related practices has benefits and drawbacks, so it is important to know which bits and pieces to borrow from each philosophy.

Want to read more about pedagogy and teaching?  Try

Works Cited

"Student-Centered Learning." The Glossary of Education Reform. Great Schools Partnership, 7 May 2014. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.

Works Consulted

"Learner-Centered vs. Curriculum-Centered Teachers: Which Type Are You?" TeacherVision. Family Education Network, n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.


  1. Assess where students are in relation to your material at the beginning of the course.
    Don't let the disengaged students hold themselves back.
    Present frequent opportunities to to excel in different ways on different levels.
    Constantly reward progress so that all students are encouraged to learn.

    Example Step One:

    Diagnostic Essay: Examining Yourself As A Writer

    Learning to write effectively on the college level can be a daunting experience for any student. Regardless of the amount of courses taken on the college level or the amount of hours spent engaging in leisure writing, each student must learn to appreciate writing as a process rather than viewing it as a task. Honing writing skills is a constant endeavor and it requires students to build on skills learned in previous courses while applying new techniques and strategies. On a separate sheet of paper write a short formal essay (using correct sentence structure, grammar, and mechanics) describing your writing experiences to date. Provide details pertaining to your best and worst writing course, writing weaknesses you wish to improve, writing strengths and your opinion on why writing may or may not be beneficial to you within your selected career path. Take time to organize your thoughts before beginning the essay.
    The title “Examining Yourself As A Writer” should appear at the top of the paper (centered). Include your name, date, and course in the upper left hand corner of the first page. Page numbers should appear in the bottom right hand corner of each page. Do not write on the back of any page of the essay. The time allotment for the diagnostic essay is 70 minutes. This assignment must be taken seriously. All 1101 diagnostic essays will be turned in to the Division of Humanities and Fine Arts. Additionally, the diagnostic essay will be used as an assessment of each student’s current writing skills. Most importantly, the diagnostic writing sample will be used as a reference point for work submitted throughout the course of the fifteen week semester. Submit a hard copy (produced in class) of the diagnostic essay on our next class session and submit a typed copy of the diagnostic essay in Desire2Learn in the diagnostic essay “drop box” by 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, March 14, 2013.

    1. I'm impressed with this assignment: It sounds as though your school has excellent resources for your students. I am also very much in favor of diagnostic testing at the start of a course or program, especially a written essay.

      Your suggestion sounds like a very balanced middle between curriculum-centered and student-centered.