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Transform Your Teaching with Learner Focused Strategies

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: Laurie Patsalides • updated: 9/11/2012

The teacher shouldn't be doing all the work. It's the students, after all, who are supposed to be getting an education. Learner centered teaching strategies take the focus off the teacher and puts it on the learners.

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    It was 2nd period at Teacherknowall High School and Mr. Lecturetoomuch's armpits were approaching saturation levels heretofore unknown in the school district. He approached his subject matter--English Romanticism--with more zeal than an ant at a picnic. His students? One anxiously scribbled notes. Thirty-four had fallen asleep. Five had stopped breathing.

    Later on that week Mr. Lecturetoomuch bemoaned the quality of his students' work while applauding himself for his vigor and passion for poetry. Don't be like Mr. Lecturetoomuch. Instead find some better teaching strategies that will get your students actively engaged.

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    Self Assessment

    The key to a learner centered classroom is student engagement. An engaged class, that is, a class that's centered on learning and not teaching, will have the following characteristics:


    1. Teachers facilitate learning through higher level questioning and by giving constructive feedback.
    2. Teachers are enthusiastic and incorporate a variety of activities.
    3. Teachers are effective time managers and plan engaging activities prior to class.
    4. Teachers interact with students.


    1. Students make meaningful connections and explain what they are learning.
    2. Students are self directed, actively participate, and share their opinions and ideas.
    3. Students are excited (this is the ideal) about the activity/lesson/assignment and are willing to take risks.
    4. Students know exactly what is expected of them on an assignment, understand the process and goals of the assignment, and are able to track their own progress.

    If your classes show consistent evidence of engaged learners then you have a learner centered classroom. That doesn't, however, mean you can't improve. The following strategies and activities will take the burden off teaching and put it on learning.

    Source: Information in this section came from the Area Service Center 2 Student Engagement Rubric from the Clark County School District and is not copyrighted.

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    Note Taking Strategies

    The dreaded teacher lecture usually involves the least amount of student interaction, but sometimes you just gotta deliver a lot of information in a short amount of time. That's when it's time to inject a few of these strategies. It's not that hard.

    • Feedback Lecture - Give students a reading assignment and an outline of the notes before you begin the lecture. Lecture for ten minutes. Divide students in to groups and have them discuss a lecture related question for twenty minutes. Repeat.
    • Guided Lecture - Write a list of objectives on the board. Lecture for twenty minutes without students writing anything down. Give students five minutes to write everything down they remember. Pair students up and have them fill in any missing information.
    • Pause-Procedure Lecture - Stop the lecture every 5-10 minutes. Have students stand up and face a partner. Give each person a minute to tell his or her partner everything about the notes so far.
    • Cornell Notes or Two-column notes - The format of your notes can be conducive to interactive learning.

    Regardless of the note-taking strategy, teachers need to employ good note-giving skills in order to focus the class on learning and not the teacher.

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    Reading Strategies

    In class reading, although necessary, can be made more interactive by using these simple strategies.

    • Stand Up and Talk - Students can only go so long before they tune out. Students learn more when they stop to summarize occasionally. The Stand Up and Talk activity helps keep students tuned in and summarizing occasionally. It's simple.
      1. Every 10-15 minutes or when it's obvious students have completely zoned out, tell everyone to stand up and face a partner. Assign partners, if necessary (the person sitting next to you, for example).
      2. Make up a silly category, such as "the person whose birthday is closer is partner A" or "whoever likes Barney the purple dinosaur more is partner A."
      3. Give partners A and B relevant names to the subject you're teaching. For example, if you're reading Romeo and Juliet, partner A can be Romeo and partner B can be Juliet. If you're studying the American Revolution, partner A can be George Washington and partner B can be Benedict Arnold.
      4. Instruct partner A to tell partner B, in 60 seconds, everything he or she knows about what you've read that day. Reverse roles. Be creative. Options include role plays, telephone conversations, speaking in character, etc.
      5. Instruct students to give their partner a high-five, a silly compliment, and have a seat.
      6. Continue reading.
    • White Board Mania - Deep down inside, students really do want to participate. They just don't feel they have anything to offer. This activity proves otherwise.
      1. Give each student an individual size white board (they're not very expensive) and a dry erase marker.
      2. As you or they read aloud, stop them at critical moments and have them answer a question, ask a question, make a comment, draw a picture, identify a literary device, etc.
      3. Instruct each student to hold their board in the air. This activity works well with true-false, yes-no, and opinion questions.
      4. Options include having contests for the best picture or question.

    Of course, the key to any reading strategy is the reading part. These learner centered strategies should encourage students to do just that.

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    Tools for Learner Engagement

    Implementing these strategies requires the following teaching tools.

    Graphic Organizers

    Graphic organizers help students (and teachers) establish organization patterns for thinking, reading, writing, and discussing and provide an easy to understand structure for recording information or ideas. Common uses for graphic organizers include structured note-taking, guided writing assignments, guided reading assignments and unit reviews.


    An important aspect of a learner centered classroom is students knowing exactly what is expected of them. A rubric communicates this knowledge clearly. Making a rubric requires a little bit of time up front, but will save you a lot of time the rest of your life. In addition to helping students know exactly what is expected. Rubrics make grading easier. Rubrics can be used for more than major projects. Things like notebook checks and homework are made easier with a rubric.


    Essays and tests play an important role in student assessment. They, however, can become tedious (for teacher and student) and lose their evaluation efficiency. Authentic assessments in addition to traditional assessments will be useful. The following example projects just might engage heretofore unreachable students:

    • Create a Newspaper - The newspaper should be a collaborative effort--four to a group. Incorporate learning styles. Give individual grades for demonstration of mastery of specific concepts.
    • Conduct a Survey - Literature and Social Studies classes deal with subjects for which there may be a reasonable difference of opinion. Instruct students to conduct a survey and write about it or make a chart or present findings to the class.
    • Make a Picture Book - This makes for a great review assignment (review assignments, by the way, are great learner centered activities). It could be an alphabet book for a specific unit of study, a children's version of a popular novel, or a simplified explanation of a difficult concept.

    Make these tools and strategies a part of your classroom arsenal and change the focus from teaching to learning.

Differentiated Instruction

If you keep doing things the same way, you're going to get the same results. These suggestions for differentiated instruction will make the transition possible.
  1. High School Grading Policies: Formative vs. Summative Assignments
  2. You Can Provide Individualized Instruction and Still Keep your Sanity!
  3. Four Successful Review Activities for Middle or High School Students
  4. Transform Your Teaching with Learner Focused Strategies