Child Centered Education
Defining Child-Centered Education
Student-centered education is not a concept of this era nineteenth . As early as the nineteenth century many educators have had the notion that children are not just small adults and that they require different techniques of teaching. However this relatively innovative idea brings criticism with it from those that are not convinced that students should be responsible for making decisions during and about his/her learning process.
One of the first people to define Student-centered education was John Dewey at the turn of the twentieth century. Although many other scholars had the initiative and desire to implement these ideas in the classroom, Dewey with the support of his neighbors was able to materialize this dream. In a series of papers based on the direct experience he acquired from his reformed school, Dewey explains what student-centered education is and the need is there for it. In Dewey’s work there is a series of ideas that others had expressed in the passed but that he rephrased in order to have a concrete definition to present to those who didn’t quite buy the idea of focusing on the student rather than on knowledge alone.
Consider the following paragraph:
"One day in 1896 a young man methodically made the rounds of Chicago's school supply stores. He and his neighbors were starting a new school for their children. Patiently he described his want: ‘desks and chairs thoroughly suited from all points of views --- artistic, hygenically, and educational --- to the needs of little children.’ An afternoon of uncomprehending argument with salesmen whose vocabulary and understanding were as standardized as the furniture which they sold. And then the dealer with more discernment than salesmanship who said, ‘I am afraid we have not what you want. You want something at which the children may work; these are all for listening.’
‘And that," says John Dewey, "Tells the story of the traditional education’ "
This is the first paragraph found in a book called The Child-Centered School written in 1928 by Harrold Rugg and Ann Shumaker of the Lincoln School of Teachers College. The young man they speak about is obviously Dr. John Dewey. In this book Rugg and Shumaker define Child-centered school from the perspective of Dewey. They summarize and illustrate his ideas in an attempt to promote these teaching methods. They describe child-centered education as one "filled with cheerful classrooms..., children’s paintings, ...moveable tables and comfortable chairs. It should also be a "child size environment" that reflects the children’s "needs", "interests", and some "adult insight concerning their future life". In this type of school that Rugg and Shumaker call "The New School", there is no room for standardized tests. Instead self expression is emphasized greatly. Self expression in every sense of the word. The New School emphasizes self expression through dance, music, words (spoken or written), visual arts, and even theater.
Below there is an example of the type of lesson one may find in a child-centered classroom. This lesson plan illustrates the way a teacher can be guided and guide his/her own students through an expressed interest by them. This lesson plan follows step by step the process of learning through experience (as against learning by learning by memorization). First it shows the interest that had been expressed by the children and ways how the teacher can stimulate the curiosity for this interest. This is immediately followed by the possible questions children may come up with, questions concerning different aspects of the same interest. Then follows the section that specifies what subject matters, such as history, mathematics, literature, science, etc., will help answer these questions. The next and last sections deal with the possible outcomes and "new interests leading toward further activity". These last two are part of the description of the "total personality as modified by the foregoing experiences" which describes what happened to the children as a result of learning about this particular interest.
In another more recent approach John Sener, Project Director/Instructional Technologist of NVCC/ELI also defines Student-centered education, in his website dedicated entirely to this subject. Sener’s approach is very similar to Dewey’s ( as describes by Rugg and Shumaker). He describes Student-centered education as "a learning model that places the student (learner) in the center of the learning process." He explains that it is different from "teacher-centered learning" in which there is merely passing on knowledge from an specialist (the teacher) to a more "passive recipient (student/learner)." In student centered learning, according to Sener, the student becomes and "active participant", the student has a saying in what their learning needs are, where they should obtain the information to satisfy those needs and how to build their knowledge base based on those needs (Sener, 2000). In addition students learn at their own pace and use their own strategies. It also promotes skills like critical thinking, problem solving and reflective thinking. And uses "authentic" assessment rather than standardized and permits students to be evaluated individually. Student-centered learning commonly uses techniques as portfolio construction or work-sampling assessment; collaborative learning; team projects; among others (Sener, 2000). Sener describes his definition as well as links to other people’s definitions and information that supports them.
In a book published in 1977 from an author named A.V. Kelly, very different ideas from Dewey’s and Sener are expressed. The name of the book is The Curriculum: Practice and Theory points at Rousseau as the pioneer to the idea of child-centered education. Kelly believes that Rousseau planted the seed of this concept while others like Forebel, Montessory and Dewey brought it forward. According to Kelly the reason these educators felt the need for change in the way children were being taught was because the curriculum planning was more often than not based solely on knowledge. They felt that instead educators should begin to look more at the children who were ultimately the objects of teaching. They [the progressive educators] believed that curriculum should be planned according to what we can find out about children.
Kelly also points out that as planning educational strategies according to what we know about children may sound like a great idea a but he argues that it is necessary to look at a specific points of the child in order to make these decisions. He enumerates three aspects that should be emphasized when speaking about child-centered education.
The first of these aspect that needs to be considered is the "needs of the child". Kelly sees that considering the needs of the child is a great approach to planning the curriculum and that will provide educators with a better idea of what should be addressed in an ideal curriculum. However determining these "needs" may not be as straight forward as addressing them once we know what they are. She believes that it will be hard perhaps impossible for educators to separate what is needed from what is wanted. And as "romantic" as this idea may sound it still doesn’t provide educators with a clear idea of what should be taken as a true need.
The second point that needs to be addressed is growth. Child-centered education emphasizes natural uninterrupted growth of the children. An analogy of children’s growth compares it to the growth of plants and flowers in a garden. This is a great analogy but still doesn’t present the educator with a concrete. In a garden there isn’t such a thing as uninterrupted growth since plant and flower still need the assistance of the gardener to water and fertilize them. In the same manner children need the assistance and intervention of teachers to at least guide them and stimulate them. The question will be, How does the teacher decide when he needs intervene or to step back and just see them grow?
And thirdly we must look at the interests of the children. Child-centered education bases its curriculum in developing the interests the children already have. This also sounds like an interesting way to get to know the child, it also gives grounds for children to learn better since "there is no doubt that children do work better and learn more effectively when they are interested in that they are being required to do". However, with this too Kelly finds drawbacks since it would be difficult to find the true interest of these children. It would be difficult to separate between an "abiding interest" from a mere "inclination". Even sorting this question he points out there will remain others such as how would we know what are the interest of the children?
In this chapter dealing with student centered education he concludes that choices are ultimately made by the individual teacher and the only hope he has is that these choices are made wisely and professionally always having in mind all aspects and perspectives about education. He also states that the purpose of this chapter and of the whole book for that matter is to educate those who wish to teach providing to them "a basis for the crucial decisions" they would have to make.
Many have attempted to define Student-centered education in words, others have criticized it also in words, however it is required for one to live the experience directly in order to be able to judge it. Perhaps it may require a lot more research to find out how effective child-centered learning actually is but for many people it seems to work. Even though this technique of teaching has been around for a while many, still think it has no real educational value. However with traditional teaching also many has problems because while it may seem to work for the majority, still many students are left out and underestimated due to standards that have been proven to be biased.