Friday, April 8, 2011

Child-Centered Approach to Teaching

Child Centered Approach to Teaching

The Child Centered Approach to Teaching is also known as Child Centered Learning and the Student Centered Learning. This approach concentrates on the student’s needs rather than a curriculum prescribed by administration, such as the state. The student’s home environment, the neighbor where the student lives and the condition of the school attended by the student are all taken into consideration when developing curriculum. Dewey preached that students living in slum tenements shouldn’t be taught and couldn’t learn the same was as those students living in affluent neighborhoods. “Dewey complained that adults have created an educational world that has excluded Education herself until students are believed to be ready for her. Sadly, he claimed, adults have intentionally designed schooling in such a way that children are never considered prepared to meet Education. Education is always someone to be met in the future, never in the present.” (Simpson, Douglas J., John Dewey Primer)
This approach was originally labeled as “Progressive Education”. The approach was or has been broken down into various segments; for example the “Constructivists” set up learning situations. “The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are
capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.” Jean Piaget. Piaget believed in training students to take their place in the working world. Piaget developed a theory of child development. Blooms Taxonomy was a classification of levels of intellectual behavior and the steps of learning. This was used to develop lesson plans.

The other major group, identified as “Progressive s” allows the students to determine what is to be taught (pedagogy). The teacher becomes a learner and not an authority figure with all the answers. The defining force of the second group is the pedagogy determines the curriculum. The teacher becomes a facilitator and allows discussion of a subject and provides manipulative which help in the learning process. At present this approach is mostly found in private “progressive” schools and in some “Life-long Learner” college courses.

In my own experience I didn’t encounter this “Progressive” approach until I started Art lessons as an adult. My instructor was a facilitator and only intervened when asked questions or when he spotted students needing help. In graduate school many of my professors had been influenced personally by Carl Rogers. “If we value independence, if we are disturbed by the growing conformity of knowledge, of values, of attitudes, which our present system induces, then we may wish to set up conditions of learning which make for uniqueness, for self-initiated learning.” (Carl Rogers)
I took one class in college which was identified as “Conceptual Art.” In this class, the instructor would give us one word such as ”attraction.” We had two weeks to come up with an interpretation of the word. This taught me to think “out-of-the-box.”

When I became a classroom teacher, my experience from Art school plus the influence of Carl Rogers encouraged me to use the inquiry method in the classroom. My first teaching assignment was in a high school print-making class. I would introduce the students to the tools they would use. What they created was up to their imagination. Many students were fearful of making the transition from being told what to create to making their own decisions. Luckily, some students took off with their projects and influenced other to experiment.

I had the opportunity to teach art to K-5 students. The kindergarteners were the most creative. I would have them recite nursery rhymes and then they would choose a character or creature from the rhyme and draw or paint it. They had fun chattering amongst themselves and sometimes they broke into song. On another occasion, we had a strong thunderstorm the previous night. I asked them if they would like to draw the storm. I asked them to illustrate the storm; they could use paint or markers to make their drawings. I realize this was their introduction to conceptual art and I had been taught they were too young to express themselves conceptually. They produced
very imaginative work. It was a joy working with them.

I taught Learning Disabled/Emotionally Disturbed Special Education students for eight years. In this situation I used many manipulatives. For example, one student was “mathematically challenged.” He had no concept that numbers represent “things.” I used two rolls of pennies and asked him to separate them into groups. By the time we were finished he knew how to add, subtract and divide. It was like a light bulb went on.

In teaching science to seventh graders LD/ED, the state curriculum required they learn about bugs – they chose insects and arachnids. They wanted to make models of them. We discussed what supplies they would need, which I supplied. They went to the library for illustrations of insects and arachnids. They proceeded to make both. They hung the insects from the ceiling with fishing cord and the arachnids were Velcrod to the walls. They asked the principal to visit the classroom to see their handiwork. She was full of praise for their work and quizzed them on explaining what they were and how to spell “arachnid.” They passed. Their experience of using the library was a mile stone in their learning since under previous teachers they weren’t allowed out of the classroom unescorted. There was on student who was autistic and he was a very enthusiastic participant. In another lesson, they had to study the human organs. I had them lay on butcher paper and another student outlined them. The papers were hung on the walls of the classroom. Their objective was to locate and draw the organs. They did have the text book but the chose to talk with the school nurse. She was very cooperative and loaned them some books. The autistic student made a work of art out of his drawing. He ran out of room and had some organs out of place. He labeled all the organs. When the semester was over, his mother informed me that all of his work was proudly displayed in his bedroom.

I’m a firm believer in the Learner-Centered approach to teaching. It allows the learner to use their imaginations and prior knowledge. They are encouraged to discuss any subject the individual or group finds interesting. I allowed my students to discuss everything from the weather, how the bus driver behaved and who their new boy/girlfriend was. I knew I couldn’t get them involved in a math or history lesson until they talked about what was happening in their real world. I tried to incorporate what was happening in their daily life into the lesson for the day. I guess I could be termed a subversive teacher. I turned in lesson plans to the administration but instead of adhering strictly to the plans I allowed open discussions.


John Dewey Primer, Simpson; Douglas J. Peter Lang publisher.

Essays on Major Curriculum Theorists; Shiro, Michael Stephen

Blooms Taxonomy 1956

Piaget, Jean (1896-1980)

Rogers, Carl (1902-1987)


  1. I really enjoyed your paper, Jack. Our teaching approaches are almost identical! I liked how you included ways that you have incorporated this approach in your teaching. I really liked the part where you asked the Kindergarteners to paint the thunderstorm and I wish I could see some of the results of that. I thought it was inspiring reading about you teaching the “mathematically challenged” student how to add, subtract and divide. Great work, Jack!

  2. I liked reading about all the different experiences you have with this approach. I plan on starting an advanced art class next year where I am more of a facilitator then a teacher. Thanks for some ideas!

  3. I also liked reading your stories that went with the teaching methods. Thanks!

  4. Jack, you hit the sweet spot on this approach. And I enjoyed how you used autobiography to help talk about it. Great job. In elementary art, for example, the child-centered approach has devolved into stereotypic school art projects. Your history reminds us of what the beginnings of that approach are that make it invaluable today.

  5. Jack, references are not APA Style. But I can't do them here either but will try a few. Books should look like this:

    Dewey, J. (1925). Art as experience (the title in italics). New York: Jasper Publishing. (The second line is indented five spaces.)

    Minor issue.

  6. Your personal experience makes the topic more interesting and easier to understand, as well as providing inspiration for my classroom application of student-centered learning approach.

  7. Do you know if Progressive Education is related to the montessori approach?

    Your Kindergarten class sounds like a lot of fun!

  8. I picture you around a campfire telling stories on a crazy boy/girlscout trip with these kids...they really do, as do I, appreciate when we put ourselves into our work and take the time to know them. Good Job!

  9. That quote from John Dewey is great. His is one of the approaches I'm pretty familiar with, and while it's not perfect, it's one that I personally like a lot.

    I love reading about personal experiences. It really helps me to understand the approach better. You sound like a great teacher. You understand what your students need and throw yourself into making sure that they get it.