Initial Publication Date: October 6, 2011

Creating a Student-Centered Classroom

A Pathway to Change

One approach for a teacher that is considering changes to their teaching takes advantage of five topic areas that characterize teaching that are measured by the Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol (RTOP) instrument. Making changes to your teaching practice in any or all of these areas can significantly increase the student-centeredness of your classroom (and will increase RTOP scores for those instructors using the tool). Learn more about the five topic areas in the RTOP instrument:

We recommend that faculty start with the "low hanging fruit" - addressing issues that require the least invasive changes in their current practice. Our preliminary analysis of more than thirty geoscience instructors reveals that most will score reasonably well on the Propositional Knowledge subscale. However, scores show much more variability on the other four subscales. Some, most likely Student-Student Classroom Interaction and Student/Teacher Relationships, will typically require the least invasive alterations to your classroom. Making the easy adjustments first can help provide the incentive to take on some of these more difficult alterations.

As you consider changes, the recommended changes may include those that are broader and more sweeping, but with a correspondingly larger impact on the student-centeredness of your classroom. For example, improvements in an area such as Lesson Design and Implementation or Procedural Knowledge would likely require time to retool a teaching module or a whole course. As you read through the pages that follow, you will notice that certain themes repeat in multiple sections of the scale. Activities that can be addressed by students working collaboratively and using multiple modes of investigation to create predictions or hypotheses to solve open-ended problems may generate improved learning opportunities in all five topic areas. So, focusing on one really good activity per lesson may also be a successful strategy to significantly increase the student centeredness of your class.

In the pages that follow, we will give you examples of classes that exhibit a range of charcteristics in these five topic areas and suggest specific instructional practices that will make your class more student centered. Different instructors may select different options depending upon the context of the course, class, and classroom. Try a few things from each thematic topic area! Good luck with your changes!