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From:Friday, February 26, 1999 5:45 PM -0800
Subject:Teacher-Led Instruction 
Below you will find the Education Committee Hot Topic Discussion Paper:  Teacher-Led Instruction.

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School District No. 38 (Richmond)

Discussion Paper: Teacher-Led Instruction
to be used in conjunction with
Introduction to a Discussion on Topics of Interest to Parents

Possible Questions to Initiate a Discussion

The following questions might be used to initiate a discussion about teacher-led instruction.

What does “teacher-led instruction” mean to you?

What do you see as the benefit to teacher-led instruction?  What are its limitations?

When would teacher-led instruction be appropriate?  When would it be inappropriate?

What does “child-centered instruction” mean to you?

What do you see as the benefit to child-centered instruction?  What are its limitations?

When would child-centered instruction be appropriate?  When would it be inappropriate?

What further questions do you have about teacher-led or child-centered instruction?

Policy and Regulations

Relevant provincial policy is summarized below.

Section 17 of the School Act defines a teacher’s responsibilities as including “designing, supervising and assessing educational programs and providing instruction to individual students and groups of students.”  The School Regulation expands upon the duties of teachers in Section 4, which includes the following.

•       providing teaching and other educational services, including advice and instructional assistance, to the students assigned to the teacher, as required or assigned by the board or the minister

•       assisting to provide programs to promote students’ intellectual development, human and social development and career development

•       evaluating students’ intellectual development, human and social development and career development and evaluating educational programs for students as required by the minister or the board

•       regularly providing the parents or guardians of a student with reports in respect of the student’s school progress as required by the minister or the board

While there are a considerable number of provincial and local regulations governing the manner in which teachers perform their duties, there are none which direct the instructional style or assessment strategies which a teacher may use.  Neither “best” nor required practice is defined.  In fact, the only regulatory reference is the guarantee of professional autonomy in matters of instruction and assessment within the Collective Agreement with the Teachers’ Association.

An overview which presents related ideas and issues is provided below.  It might be useful either as a preparation for or follow-up to discussion activities.

In one sense, all instruction is “teacher-led” since it is the teacher who determines what learning activities will occur in the classroom.  While IRPs provide learning objectives and content guidance, the design of learning activities is left up the teacher.  This is the fundamental professional skill and responsibility which defines teaching.  Depending upon the age of the students, the topic and the learning objectives to be served, instructional style may vary widely.  Good teaching involves a combination of evocative (leading out) and narrative (telling) practices.

A highly structured classroom style may suggest that learning objectives have also been carefully sequenced, whereas a more active and exploratory classroom environment may suggest a less carefully structured approach to the curriculum.  This, however, is not necessarily true.

Although teachers design the learning activities in all classrooms, the teacher’s role in this planning may not always be overt.  The careful structuring and preparation which a teacher must undertake in order to enable students to participate in a highly active program is often unseen.  There may be (indeed should be) a very carefully structured design to even the most active and open-ended learning activity.  Moreover, in order for students to undertake independent activities they must be given very clear guidance as to what is expected of that activity and how to go about it, and in order to interact with other students they must be taught beforehand how to behave and how to interact appropriately.  Students cannot simply be turned loose without this careful preparation.  Thus, in highly active classrooms the teacher’s leadership may be exercised more before than during instruction.

The following Principles of Learning are provided by the Ministry of Education to guide instructional practices.

•       Learning requires the active participation of the student.
•       People learn in a variety of ways and at different rates.
•       Learning is both an individual and a group process.

The fact of diversity in the classroom and the requirement for active engagement in learning combine to suggest that while teachers have a clear responsibility for designing and directing learning activities, they must also provide a level of flexibility and variety which will serve the needs of their students.

A wide variety of teaching styles are acceptable and can be successful.  In fact, it is beneficial for any particular student to experience a range of styles and, when considering the school system as a whole, it is desirable for the diversity of instructional styles and strategies which teachers employ to mirror the diversity of learning styles and preferences which students bring to the classroom.

There is a somewhat confusing array of ill-defined terms which various people may use to describe instructional style.  Because the terms are ill-defined they may be taken to have different meanings by different people and thus confuse, rather than assist, communication.  Some of those terms, with proposed meanings, follow.  

Teacher-led instruction:   This generally refers to an instructional style in which the teacher takes an active and central role in providing information and instructions to a class.  It might also be described in some contexts as “lecturing.”
Teacher-centered instruction:  This is probably intended to be the same as “teacher-led instruction.”

Child-centered instruction:  This term is not intended to contrast with “teacher-led instruction,” but rather to contrast with “program-centered instruction.”  In child-centered instruction the characteristics and needs of students are considered in balance with the prescribed learning objectives in the curriculum in order to develop learning activities for students.  The educational program in the classroom is adapted (but not compromised) in order to meet the needs of students rather than requiring all students to conform to the dictates of the program.  Child-centered instruction may be provided in a teacher-led, or direct instruction, manner or in any of a wide variety of other ways.  Generally speaking, in order to adapt a program to the needs of students it is necessary to utilize a wide range of strategies in addition to teacher-led instruction.  

Direct instruction:   This term is generally taken to refer to a teacher-led, lecture-oriented, method of providing information directly to students in a highly structured and carefully sequenced manner.  

Active learning:  This term does not refer to physical activity, but rather to mental activity.  An active learning approach involves children in collecting and critiquing information, and constructing personal understandings of concepts.  It is the active engagement of individual students in constructing personal understandings which distinguishes active learning.

Instruction which is consistent with the Principles of Learning must stimulate active learning, and it must be child-centered in that it must be flexible enough to support students with diverse learning rates and styles.

Teacher-led, or direct, instruction can have both of these attributes.  Instructional strategies which involve more independent student activity may, or may not, stimulate active learning, and may, or may not, support diverse learning styles and rates.  It is not possible to determine the level of active learning or child centeredness in a classroom simply by watching.  A more careful observation must be made of the way in which information is provided, questions are asked, and the teacher interacts with students as individuals and groups.  If the teacher is attentive to students and unique learners and responsive to their individual needs and abilities when designing and supervising learning activities then the instructional style can be described as “child-centered” whether it involves direct instruction or project and discussion activities.

There is a clear tension between the need to attend to the curriculum as defined, and the simultaneous necessity to attend to the range of needs and abilities of individual students.  The diversity which gives rise to this tension cannot be eliminated.  Even twins are liable to be diverse learners, and even the most homogeneous of groupings will include students with a wide range of individual abilities and interests.  According to studies reported by John Goodlad in The Non-graded Elementary School (1987), a typical classroom of students of the same age can be expected to cover a developmental range of approximately five years in terms of overall academic ability without even considering exceptional students, and an even wider range in terms of individual skills, understandings, experiences and attitudes.  A combined class of students in two different grades may have a developmental range of six years.

Adaptation of instruction to individual needs and abilities brings with it the danger of laxity or absence of expectations and standards.  Professionalism in teaching lies in the ability to maintain high expectations and provide challenge and opportunity at an individually appropriate level within a diverse classroom.  It requires careful planning, ongoing assessment and the artistic use of a wide range of technical skills to accomplish this task.  That this is challenging is obvious.  That it is possible is demonstrated by the classrooms in which it is being done every day.  That it is expected is made clear in the following extracts from the District Statement of Philosophy.

... teachers are responsible for facilitating student learning, designing effective learning environments and participating in program development ...

We believe that an effective learning environment should engage the learner in an active, purposeful process of building positive, realistic attitudes towards both self and society; forming personal understandings; developing life-long skills; and acquiring a strong knowledge base. ... Since students vary widely in their backgrounds, needs and abilities, and since there is no single approach to learning, schools should adapt, their educational programs and services to the needs of each student insofar as an equitable application of  resources will allow.

Instruction which is consistent with the Principles of Learning must also allow for both individual and group learning activities.

There are important learning outcomes that cannot be learned without group interaction.  Objectives which deal with skills such as communication and cooperation and leadership cannot be learned by an individual working alone  They require interaction with others.  Other learning outcomes, which might well be approached individually, are enhanced or reinforced by the process of sharing them with others.  It is a valuable learning activity to explain what we know to others and it can be very enriching to hear how other students are making sense of information and classroom activities.

The provincial requirement to design instruction in light of the Principles of Learning does not mean that teacher-led instruction is inappropriate - it certainly is appropriate and necessary - but it does mean that it is insufficient and that a wider array of strategies is required in order to provide high quality education to a diverse population of students.


© 2001 The Board of School Trustees of School District No. 38 (Richmond)