My New Year’s Resolution: Student-Centered Teaching

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My new years’ resolution is to do a better job at implementing a student centered approach.  This phrase, “student centered instruction,” is commonly used, but may mean different things to different instructors.  To some, students direct everything about the lesson, and teachers ask:  “What do you want to do next?” at every turn.  I might ask students to begin with their favorite piece, but then have a plan for the rest of the lesson, as lesson order can be important.  For example, there are activities that are best to do at the beginning of the lesson when a student is the most focused, activities that are the most important to cover, and so on.

For me, student-centered instruction has come to mean taking a step back from being the “expert.”  Over the years, like most teachers, I have developed a “bag of tricks” for introducing pieces, for identifying problems, and for solving problems.  Lesson time is precious, so efficiency is a necessity.  But I have been asking myself lately if all of this expediency is at the expense of developing student independence and problem-solving skills.  I have always thought that teaching problem-solving skills is a good stepping-stone to independence.  But discovery learning is also so important!

 

One late Friday night near the end of the academic year, a student finished performing her piece.  I found myself at a rare moment of speechlessness.  I was feeling exhausted and couldn’t seem to come up with my usual feedback.  I instead said something like this:  “Are there any areas that you really thought went well?  Any things you would like to improve?  Any parts where didn’t feel comfortable?”  My student had some really good specific feedback of her own, which stimulated a productive session on the piece, and set the stage for her weekly practice.  I realized that my momentary brain freeze provided an opportunity to re-examine my teaching.

 

Since then, I have endeavored to have students self-evaluate instead of always jumping in and giving my own evaluation, ask more questions, and to encourage students to be more active participants in their own learning process… even if it takes more lesson time.  Since my epiphany happened at the end of last year, I want to see I can continue to set new habits in the next year.

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