Teacher-centered v. “learner-centered”

Teacher-centered classrooms provide direct instruction.
Learner-centered classrooms provide minimal guidance.

From: Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching by Paul A. Kirschner, John Sweller, and Richard E. Clark:

Disputes about the impact of instructional guidance during teaching have been ongoing for at least the past half-century . . . . On one side of this argument are those advocating the hypothesis that people learn best in an unguided or minimally guided environment, generally defined as one in which learners, rather than being presented with essential information, must discover or construct essential information for themselves . . . . On the other side are those suggesting that novice learners should be provided with direct instructional guidance on the concepts and procedures required by a particular discipline and should not be left to discover those procedures by themselves . . . . Direct instructional guidance is defined as providing information that fully explains the concepts and procedures that students are required to learn aswell as learning strategy support that is compatible with human cognitive architecture. Learning, in turn, is defined as a change in long-term memory.

The minimally guided approach has been called by various names including discovery learning; problem-based learning (PBL); inquiry learning; experiential learning; and constructivist learning.”


The Roots of the Education Wars by E.D. Hirsch (speech)


Most parents and taxpayers want direct instruction. 

Unfortunately, most public school administrators (and most technology companies, it seems) want “learner-centered” classrooms. 

The difference between these two philosophies isn’t simply a difference in teaching.

Inside public schools, it’s also a difference in what is taught.

Teacher-centered classrooms teach knowledge; learner-centered classrooms focus on “21st century skills.”

That’s the case here in Irvington.

3/5/2013: Superintendent asks: What does success look like?
Excerpted from: 3.5.2013 – Supts._Proposed__budget__presentation_FINAL

9/24/2013: “Focus and Success” (superintendent presentation)

9/24/2013: “Rigor Redefined” by Tony Wagner (central administration’s vision for IUFSD schools – annotated)

1/2014: “I am a child-centered professional” (flipped classrooms in IUFSD)

1/28/2014: Creating an IUFSD Vision for Technology 

6/15/2015: District Technology Plan
Inquiry learning; problem-based learning; project learning; student “independence and interdependence,”; “collective inquiry and sharing of knowledge”; ISTE “standards” integrated into all K-12 curricula 
(ISTE “Mission Sponsors”: Microsoft, Samsung, SMART)


One of the best ways to understand what constructivism and student-centered learning are is to look at marketing materials written by tech companies that profit from student-centered schools. 

Here’s a typical marketing paper on student-centered learning written by a tech company: WP-itslearning-Student-Centric-Learning

The target customers are public schools.

Not parents, and certainly not taxpayers.


Raina K, curriculum director

1/2014: “I am a child-centered professional”

1/2014: Irvington Insight | Flipped Classrooms | 1.2014

1/28/2014: Creating an IUFSD Vision for Technology 

1/28/2014: Creating an IUFSD Vision for Technology (annotated) ####

2/8/2014: Response to technology report

Granted tenure by three people (6/9/2015):
Bob Grados
Phil Whitney
Maria Kashkin


A master teacher on constructivism (scroll down)

Constructivism versus Students by Siegfried Engelmann

What do future math teachers learn in education school?

Radical constructivism: A Way of Knowing and Learning by Ernst von Glaserfeld (London: The Falmer Press, 1995) 


Letter to The Rivertowns Enterprise:

To the Editor:

At the September 23, 2013 meeting of the Board of Education, Superintendent Kris Harrison briefed the board on his plan for the district.

His plan is drawn from Tony Wagner’s 2008 opinion piece, “Rigor Redefined,” available here. (Original here.)

Wagner believes the world is changing so rapidly that by the time today’s children reach adulthood, most of the knowledge they learned in school will be obsolete.

Thus the school’s traditional mission of imparting knowledge to a new generation should be subordinated to a new mission: helping students master seven “21st century skills” Wagner claims to have identified. (Wagner spends the second half of his essay denigrating Advanced Placement classes and their teachers.)

Two years later, the superintendent has acted on at least five of Wagner’s seven “skills.” This has had the effect of actually increasing the need for tutors, because teaching knowledge is not the district’s priority. Teaching “21st century skills” is. That’s why we now have flipped classrooms, learning stations in 6th-grade math, children sitting in pods peering at iPads and Chromebooks, guidance counselors ordered not to help students draw up lists of colleges, and a Shark Tank project in the middle school. (The last two innovations fall under skill number 4: “Initiative and Entrepreneurialism.”)

What unifies Wagner’s list of seven “skills” is the absence of knowledge, and that’s the first problem. Cognitive scientists have spent years trying to explain that knowledge stored in long-term memory is different from knowledge stored on Google. To think critically, you need the former. When you think without knowledge, all you’re doing is taking your clichés for a walk.

A second problem: Wagner’s piece was published before the crash. It was wrong then (as a few minutes on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website reveals), but it’s even further off base today. The 21st century Wagner imagined, with its happy, humming global society and its ever-increasing “abundance,” is not the 21st century we got. Our children got world recession and Charlie Hebdo.

But the most important problem is the fact that all of these changes are being made without the consent of the people. No member of the board has expressed enthusiasm for changing the mission of the school to the teaching of 21st century skills, yet three members of the board have allowed the superintendent to proceed.

I hope the next board will have the strength to change course.

Catherine Johnson, Ph.D.
Irvington, NY The Rivertowns Enterprise | Friday May 1, 2015 | p28


Constructivism in Irvington

Posts on constructivism

4 days of learning stations, 1 day of direct instruction


Why do administrators and teachers believe the things they do?

The simplest answer is that all public school administrators and teachers have degrees in education, and all education departments teach constructivism. Constructivism is what progressive education became after the 1960s.

A Century of Skills Movements by Diane Ravitch | with notes

A Century of Skills movements by Diane Ravitch | American Educator | Spring 2010


Powerpoint presentations on constructivism at Slideshare:

Constructivism in the classroom

‘Constructivism’: The educator as Facilitator

ICT and Constructivism


Board Docs (See: September 23, 2013 Work Session/Special Meeting)

Rigor Redefined by Tony Wagner | Educational Leadership | October 2008 | Volume 66 | Number 2

District Goal Development Presentation September 24 2013 v2

VIDEO of Irvington USFD School Board meeting – September 24, 2013 2:13:30 – Superintendent presentation on “Rigor Redefined” begins

Irvington UFSD | BOE meeting videos

Irvington Parents Forum at Yahoo Groups
Irvington Parents Forum on Facebook
Irvington Union Free School District
Irvington USFD Board Meetings – YouTube


REDACTED Superintendent Review 6 24 15

Excerpt from School Law:

9:31. Is a school board required to evaluate its superintendent?

Yes. The commissioner’s regulations require school boards to annually review the performance of their superintendents according to procedures developed by the school board in consultation with the superintendent. The evaluation procedures must be filed in the district office and available for public review no later than September 10 of each year (8 NYCRR § 100.2(o)(1)(iv), (2)(vi)).