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Learner-Centered Teaching

Page history last edited by Elisa 14 years, 2 months ago

Maryellen Weimer, Learner-Centered Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002.


Weimer's book is very approachable for anybody interested in the learning-centered approach. While she does have a solid background in the area, she doesn't write like an insider, so nobody is going to be lost upon picking it up. Because of the accessibility, one can skip around to various areas without needing to consult another five books to make sense of her discussion.


In the book Weimer identifies five areas which need to change in order to make teaching learning-centered. These are: 1) balance of power in a classroom, 2) the function of content, 3) the role of the teacher, 4) who bears the responsibility for learning, and 5) the purpose and processes of evaluation. After devoting time to explaining these changes, Weimer concentrates on advice for achieving these goals. Weimer draws on her own experience quite often. Her advice is highly practical, focusing on what will work rather than pretty-sounding catchphrases.


As the title suggests, Weimer is concerned with learner-centered teaching. As is typical with the approach, she places less emphasis on lectures, more emphasis on giving students the skills needed to learn for themselves after leaving your class, and is less concerned with covering a certain amount of content. It is particularly important to Weimer to distribute the power in the classroom so that not all of it resides with the professor.  She recognizes this can be difficult, as professors by nature want to show off their knowledge and be center stage.


From the first class Weimer offers suggestions to engage students and establish that this learning experience will not be like others.  Examples include letting the students make some of the decisions about class policies on things like attendance, class participatoin and which text books to use (from a short list picked by the professor). She recommends giving students the choice between a wide range of assignments, requiring them to do only a few, and then letting them choose how hard they have to work to get the grade they want. She also suggests that it can be fruitful to have students design an exam that they will take in groups. Finally, she thinks it is important for students to learn how to realistically assess their own work and that of their peers.


Weimer's suggestions are not terribly different from those found in any learner-centered pedagogy. What is more unusual is her pragmatism. Besides just telling us what the best teaching techniques are, Weimer cautions junior faculty about the realities of rocking the boat, and gives some advice on how to start implementing changes without unduly worrying the higher-ups. She also spends a fair bit of the book discussing how a teacher can overcome resistance to these new techniques not just from other faculty, but from the students themselves, and she also offers advice on how to prevent students from taking advantage of these new teaching techniques. Furthermore, she suggests that what kind of teaching is appropriate varies from discipline to discipline. She emphasizes the importance of feedback, and makes several good suggestions about how to make students learn from their mistakes. Of particular interest is her idea to return work with comments, but without a grade, and then have the students write a report on the comments and argue for what grade they should get. At the very least, this would ensure that students think about what the teacher tells them.


At the end of the book Weimer provides the outline of her class syllabus that she references at many points in the book as well as pages of resources for further reading broken down by subject area.


Added by Elliot Cross - 4/23/08


Edited by Daniel Feuer (12/06/08)


Edited by Elisa Martin - 9/26/09


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