Teacher-centered and Structured-classroom

Two terms that have been used in good and bad sense these days – “teacher-centered” and “structured classroom”. Teacher-centered and not teacher-driven as driven would mean that the co-passengers (the students) don’t know anything about brakes and clutches – but that is not true here – the awareness for the brakes and the clutches is there but maybe not the capability to use them effectively.  Teacher-centered methodology of delivering mathematics at one level ensures that all students are being given the same message but the flip side of this coin is that all students might not be engaged and involved to the same level. Teacher-centered should not be taken as a dirty word as this could also simply imply that teacher is the person-in-charge of getting things started but after that individuals and groups can take their learning in different directions. I think what is significant is awareness of whether the teacher-centered delivery working and are the students learning- once this awareness is there, the method should be changed and focused on increased learning.

I remember at the start of my career teaching two groups of grade 9 students – one group responded well to the teacher-centered delivery whereas the other group was really not learning much. This second group has several students with the mindset-“math is not my subject” what we refer to now as the fixed mindset. The big question is should we change the teacher-centered methodology even if it is working – I think it is always good to bring a variety of teaching styles as that can then touch upon all different learning styles.

Structured Classroom – This is one thing that students really desire (I have learned this from experience) – at every school I have taught in, the message from students have been crystal clear “I will learn better if I know your expectations and the there are rules of be followed in class”. It is a remark made by a parent of one of my student that made me realize early on in my career that structure is a key to good learning. This was in my newbie teacher days when I was visiting a parent with my colleague for whom I was substituting – the parent remarked that her son liked both of us but preferred my colleague’s firmness in class as that made him learn better. This is something I believe is true for all learning styles – a chaotic mathematics class just represents chaos not really learning. During an inquiry based lesson or an exploration – the instructions and expectations have to be clear and firm. There is one basic rule I have tried to follow since my early teaching days – reach class on time until unless there is an unavoidable reason. This is done with one self-interest in mind – if I follow my rules then so will my students although there are certain rules where students do hear “ this is not democracy” or “I did this too when I was in school” or “life is unfair at times”- depending on the age group that I am dealing with as sometimes sarcasm can go wasted.

Few rules that I have followed are – homework should be your work as it is really to test your understanding, incomplete work means spend some time with me to complete it. I would like to emphasize that by structure I don’t mean a creativity and questioning stifling atmosphere in the classroom rather just the opposite. A few, clear and consistent set of rules adds to the learning.

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