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Middle School Resources

Creating Learner-Centered Middle School Classrooms

Learner-centered teaching strategies are those that focus instruction on the needs, preferences, and interests of the learner. Teachers act as facilitators of the learning process, providing direction and feedback rather than just instruction. Learning activities emphasize cognitive processes that prompt learners to construct new meanings from the information they acquire. Students are given multiple opportunities to discover knowledge and practice skills in an environment designed to appeal to them.

Creating a Learner-Centered Classroom
To create a classroom that is learner-centered, teachers must incorporate lessons that are age-appropriate and relevant to student needs and interests. Connecting life experiences to learning is a critical step in creating an engaging educational experience. Students become skilled at thinking purposefully as they are provided with connections to real-world experiences. Learner-centered activities often include student-produced products that demonstrate the results of their learning.

Benefits of Learner-Centered Strategies
  • become actively engaged in the learning process.
  • take responsibility for their own understanding.
  • learn how to learn.
  • develop a desire for life-long learning.
  • retain knowledge and understanding.
  • gain social skills by working with others.

Examples of Learner-Centered Instructional Strategies
Teachers can encourage students to become purposeful, life-long learners using a variety of instructional strategies. Many of the teaching techniques listed below contain similar features and overlap one another in function and design.

  • Problem-Based Learning. Students are challenged to learn by working cooperatively to find solutions to real-life problems. Curiosity and interest in the process occurs naturally as students work in teams to solve authentic dilemmas.

    Sample Problem Based-Learning questions include:
    • What challenges did Native Americans face that remain today?
    • Who should control the rain forest?
    • What was Thomas Jefferson's greatest achievement and how does it influence contemporary society or politics today?
    • What issues should be considered before food is genetically altered?
    • How can buildings be wired to maximize efficiency?

  • Inquiry/Discovery Methods. Asking puzzling questions sparks students' mental stimulation and quickly gets them thinking critically. Once a situation has been presented, students gather information by formulating their own questions. They then research answers in cooperative groups, pairs, or individually.

    A less complicated form of inquiry involves a questioning format whereby students ask the teacher questions they have formulated and make educated guesses. Similar to the popular children's game, "20 Questions," the teacher may say: "I'm thinking about a form of government." The students may then ask yes or no questions to discover the correct response.

  • Inductive Methods. Like inquiry strategies, inductive models of teaching begin with a question or series of unknown facts or concepts and move toward known information. Learners search for answers to these "unknowns" in an active fashion. Instead of lecturing, teachers take on the role of facilitator or coach when using inductive methods.

  • Role-Play. Role-play situations require students to step out of the confines of traditional roles and take on the characteristics of someone else. Role-play encourages creativity and high levels of thought on the part of the student. This strategy is most successful when students are given time to research the character they must portray.

  • Simulation. Similar to role-play, simulations involve approximating real-life scenarios in the classroom. Students are involved in the reproduction of possible situations. Simulations often include scripted representations that enable learners to closely experience world events.

  • Cooperative Learning. Working together in pairs or small groups to collaborate on a specific task benefits students socially as well as cognitively. Learners depend on each other to reach their goals and practice social interaction skills. Activities such as K-W-L charts; Think Pair Share partners; and the formation of "expert groups" of students, created to teach fragments of materials to other students, are examples of learners working together toward a common goal.
Student-Produced Responses
The creation of products that reflect the knowledge and information constructed by students is one of the focal points of learner-centered instruction. Students are encouraged to show the outcome of their insights by generating an original product.

Ideas for products
  • Political cartoon
  • Song lyrics
  • Outline
  • Visual graphic
  • Drawing
  • Diagram
  • Interview
  • Play script
  • Newspaper article
  • Advertisement
  • Spreadsheet
  • Historic document
  • Letter to the editor
  • Journal entry
  • Report/written summary
  • Comparison chart
  • Free-form map
  • Flowchart
  • Analogy in any form
  • Picture
  • Comic strip
  • Persuasive letter
  • Venn diagram
  • Foldable booklet
  • Flip chart
  • Painting
  • Mural
  • Lesson plan
  • Multimedia presentation
  • Digital video
  • Pilot TV Show
  • Itinerary
  • Travel guide
  • Floor plan
  • Tapestry
  • Bulletin board
  • Weather forecast
  • Quilt
  • Performance
  • Crossword puzzle
  • Game
  • Illustrated Time Line
  • Recipe
  • Menu
  • Obituary

Assessing Student Products
Rubrics, or other established guides to assessments are helpful tools for teachers and students alike. Assessment guides help teachers take the guesswork out of grading and let students know what is expected. For more information about creating custom-made rubrics, read The Rudiments of Rubrics.

This article was contributed by Tara Musslewhite, Social Studies Department Chair at Atascocita Middle School in Humble, Texas. She is also an instructor of Pedagogy and Professional Responsibilities at Kingwood College.

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