Learner-centered teachers present students with “just manageable difficulties” —that is, challenging enough to maintain engagement, but not so difficult as to lead to discouragement. They must therefore have an understanding of their students’ knowledge, skill levels, and interests (Duckworth, 1987).
2. To provide a knowledge-centered classroom environment, attention must be given to what is taught (information, subject matter), why it is taught (understanding), and what competence or mastery looks like. As mentioned above, research discussed in the following chapters shows clearly that expertise involves well-organized knowledge that supports understanding, and that learning with understanding is important for the development of expertise because it makes new learning easier (i.e., supports transfer).
Learning with understanding is often harder to accomplish than simply memorizing, and it takes more time. Many curricula fail to support learning with understanding because they present too many disconnected facts in too short a time—the “mile wide, inch deep” problem. Tests often reinforce memorizing rather than understanding. The knowledge-centered environment provides the necessary depth of study, assessing student understanding rather than factual memory. It incorporates the teaching of meta-cognitive strategies that further facilitate future learning.
Knowledge-centered environments also look beyond engagement as the primary index of successful teaching (Prawaf et al., 1992). Students’ interest or engagement in a task is clearly important. Nevertheless, it does not guarantee that students will acquire the kinds of knowledge that will support new learning. There are important differences between tasks and projects that encourage hands-on doing and those that encourage doing with understanding; the knowledge-centered environment emphasizes the latter (Greeno, 1991).
3. Formative assessments—ongoing assessments designed to make students’ thinking visible to both teachers and students—are essential. They permit the teacher to grasp the students’ preconcep tions, understand where the students are in the “developmental cor ridor” from informal to formal thinking, and design instruction accordingly. In the assessment-centered classroom environment, for mative assessments help both teachers and students monitor progress.
An important feature of assessments in these classrooms is that they be learner-friendly: they are not the Friday quiz for which information is memorized the night before, and for which the student is given a grade that ranks him or her with respect to classmates. Rather, these assessments should