Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice
reviewed by Gerald Brong - 2003
Title: Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice
Author(s): Maryellen Weimer
Publisher: Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco
ISBN: 0787956465, Pages: 288, Year: 2002
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After reading the thirteen page preface and the first thirteen pages in chapter one, the reader discovers why this book is supposed to be so important.
Maryellen Weimer reports that “If the goal of teaching is to promote learning, then the role the teacher takes to accomplish that goal changes considerably” (p. 14). “Learner-centered teachers make essential contributions to the learning process. However, they are significantly different from those contributions most teachers currently make” (p. 15). Weimer then continues to provide 200 more pages with ideas and tactics promoting learning.
If the preceding paragraph has a negative tone, it confirms this reviewer’s early responses to the book. The book is written in the first person. It has a definite and biased frame of reference. And Weimer’s writing is in a form that almost preaches to the reader. It reads like a guest lecture that covers 201 pages of notes. But, do not stop with this reviewer’s early responses. Read on to discover why this book needs to be considered as a reference for college and university faculty members, especially those “experts” ready to “tell it all” to “those students.”
By staying with the book the reader will discover the book’s value as a guide to the current literature about learning and teaching. If the reader looks at ideas shared by Weimer and considers her examples, suggested classroom methods, and curricular design concepts, the reader may just discover how learner-centered programs can actually lighten a teaching load while delivering student learning. Ideas about using observable learner outcomes and performances will provide guidance in effective assessment and evaluation. The point is made clear that “The changes necessary to make teaching learner-centered are not trivial. They go to the bedrock of instructional practice” (p. 19).
Weimer recognizes that making classrooms learner centered, and encouraging academic colleagues to do the same, will be met with resistance. She advises readers to be mindful of academic departmental politics as learner-centered programming develops. She warns the non-tenured faculty member to be sensitive to the realities of the departmental situations. And, she recognizes that, “Academic freedom is a wonderful thing, but we still live, work, and must survive in political organizations” (p.163). Then, with consideration of the political realities, Weimer shares ideas on using the autonomy of your classroom to develop learner-centered programming. Ideas on documenting positive impacts of the learner-centered approach are offered.
Weimer confirms that, “Regrettably, a number of attitudes prevent faculty from experiencing the benefits possible when content and learning outcomes are connected” (p. 53). She then lists three of the attitudes starting with “. . . our attachment to content and sense that keeping lots of complicated material in a course is a matter of maintaining standards” (p. 53). Weimer suggests that there is a “. . . high minded belief that college faculty should not have to teach basic skills . . . [and] . . . you can just add on learning skill instruction and fit it in rather than cut course content” (p. 54). Weimer stresses that “we cannot continue to teach as much as we are teaching, always jamming in more and then teaching learning skills on top of that” (pp. 54-55).
Weimer divides the book into two parts. Part One explores the critical changes that happen when teaching becomes learner-centered. Part One examines the function of content, roles, and responsibilities of the teacher, shifts in the balance of power between learners and teacher, responsibilities for learning, and the purpose and processes of evaluation.
Part Two suggests strategies for implementing a learner-centered approach. Making learner-centered teaching work, dealing with collegial resistance, and how to use a developmental approach are explored in Part Two.
The appendices offer tools and resources useful in any university or college teaching assignment, especially a learner-centered program. Resources that might be used with students include a learning log, suggestions on how to participate in a classroom discussion, and ways to use reading lists (pp. 203ff). These resources can be used as presented in the book or modified to meet a variety of learner-centered programs.
A critical insight is offered as Weimer points out that “Students completely control the most central and important part of the educational enterprise. This is an enterprise that centers on learning, no matter where we position ourselves” (p. 79). As teachers we provide resources and support for learning. The section entitled “In the Trenches: Guiding Learners” provides descriptions and action plans to guide what teachers need to do in building successful learner-centered programming (pp. 81ff).
Three suggestions might be considered by the reader of this review. First, do consider the ideas offered in Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice even if the writing style and the controversial nature of the topic are a concern. Second, engage colleagues in discussions about learner-centered teaching. Third and possibly the most important suggestion, accept that learners are the reason for teaching.