Evidence To Support Student-Centered Instruction? (Part 3)

If teacher-centered instruction includes different classroom activities (e.g., lecture, guided whole group discussion, textbook recitation, classroom talk wholly dominated by teacher), ditto for student-centered instruction (e.g., individualized or personalized instruction, problem-based learning, competency-based instruction, collaborative or cooperative learning). For example, see definitions of student-centered learning in The Glossary of Educational Reform and Wikipedia, “Student-centered Learning,” and a teacher’s view in “The 6 Signs of a Student-centered Classroom.

Since teacher-centered instruction is far more common and familiar, definitions of what it is and what researchers look for in lessons are easier to come by. Teachers, principals, and parents can generally describe it for no other reason than they have experienced it as students for much of their career sitting in classrooms.

Not so for student-centered instruction. For those educators who believe they have been teaching in that manner and many students who have been in such classrooms, describing it leaves many grasping for sentences, thus, making it tough to see if the lessons have been effective.

Increasing the difficulty of determining effectiveness of student-centered instruction is that many policymakers, practitioners, and professors of education want to see this form of teaching in K-12 classrooms but have a hard time defining it with precision and figuring out which outcomes can or ought to be measured. For university faculty who prepare new teachers and administrators, they exert great influence on the students they teach and certify as educators (see here and here).

So, if definitions of student-centered instruction vary tremendously and professional educators, more often than not, tilt toward student-centered instruction then assessing how it contributes (or not) to students’ academic achievement is hard to do. Also keep in mind that “effectiveness” outcomes in such research goes beyond the common measure of scores on standardized tests to include rates of student participation and engagement in lessons.

No reader, then, should be surprised when I say that while there have been some–surprisingly few, in my judgement–research studies of whether (or to what degree) student-centered instruction has been effective in reaching varied student outcomes over decades. Ambivalent results mirror the above difficulties of researcher bias and multiple definitions of what exactly is student-centered instruction.

Given these caveats, I was unsurprisingly underwhelmed by what I found in locating research reporting (including meta-analyses) on the effectiveness of student-centered instruction.

Research studies

*John Hattie in Visible Learning (London: Routledge, 2009), pp. 208-216) did meta-analyses of studies covering inquiry teaching, problem-based learning, cooperative learning, and other ways of involving students in lessons. He gives estimates of effects of each of these teaching methods. See Chapter 10 here.

*The Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education investigated four schools largely enrolling minority and low-income students (2014) that focused student-centered teaching practices. Researchers found that these four schools outperformed district and state achievement test score averages. See here.

*Jeffrey Cornelius-White,”Learner-Centered Teacher-Student Relationships Are effective: A Meta-Analysis,” Review of Educational Research, 2007, 77(1), pp. 113-143.

*E.M. Granger, et. al.,”The Efficacy of Student-Centered Instruction in Supporting Science Learning,” Science, 2012, vol. 338, pp. 105-108.

*Tracy Garrett, Student-Centered and Teacher-Centered Classroom Management: A Case Study of Three Elementary Teachers,” Journal of Classroom Interaction, 2008, 43(1), pp. 34-47.

*Serigne Gningue, et. al.,”Developing Effective Mathematics Teaching: Assessing Content and Pedagogical Knowledge, Student-Centered Teaching, and Student Engagement,” The Mathematics Enthusiast: Vol. 10 : No. 3, pp. 621-645.

*Drew Polly, “Kindergarten Teachers’ Orientations to Teacher-Centered and Student-Centered Pedagogies and Their Influence on Their Students’ Understanding of Addition,” Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 2013, 28(1), pp. 1-17.

*Neville Bennett, Teaching Styles and Pupil Progress (London: Open Books, 1976).#

*Louis Alfieri et al., “Does Discovery-Based Instruction Enhance Learning?” 2011, Journal of Educational Psychology, 103(1), 1-18.##

The paucity of studies testify to the difficulties of defining and describing student-centered instruction, its evanescence, and nailing down its effects upon students. Perhaps, readers have studies they know about which could add to the few that I have found. If so, I would be grateful to receive suggestions.


#Thanks to Mario Dutto for reminding me of this book.

##Thanks to Michael Nussbaum for sending me this title.



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6 responses to “Evidence To Support Student-Centered Instruction? (Part 3)

  1. Dear professor,
    you may consider to add to your list N.Bennett, Teaching Styles and Pupil Progress, Open Books, London 1976. Progressive and traditional teaching styles are investigasted and confronted in a sample of primary school classes.
    Have a good day.
    Mario G Dutto

  2. Michael Nussbaum

    It depends on the subject, the concept, the age of the learning, and the treatment involved. Here’s a meta-analysis that’s relevant.
    Alfieri et al. (2011) Does Discovery-Based Instruction Enhance Learning? Journal of Educational Psychology, 103(1), 1-18.

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