Student-Centered Teaching

Jason N. Bolt

Every industry has its jargon, the words that sound fancy but communicate no real meaning. The field of education is no exception. When educators say things like, “Implementing curriculum planning practices that support expected student outcomes is essential to developing effective pedagogy and assessment methods,” no one can be faulted for concluding that we must have some kind of generator that sifts through the dictionary looking for words with the least clear meanings and then puts them together in random order for educators to publish.

Another phrase that seems to have come from the jargon-generator is student-centered teaching. Since teaching takes place for the benefit of the student, common sense would say that teaching should be student-centered, but what exactly is student-centered teaching? Depending on who is asked, it could mean a number of things. It could mean that teachers customize their instruction in ways that best fit each learner’s individual needs, that teachers involve students in both planning and instruction, or even that students are allowed to decide what they learn and how they learn it.

At BCS, we did not pull student-centered teaching from the jargon-generator. The phrase has real meaning that accurately describes what we aim to do in the classroom. When we talk about student-centered teaching, we are talking about the structure and environment of the classroom in which students are active participants in the learning process. We aim to engage them with the material and have them molded into the image of Christ through their interaction with the material. 

Jesus takes the same approach with his disciples in the gospels, engaging them with the material and using their interaction with the material to mold them into his image. Matthew 15–16 is one clear example. Jesus heals the crowds and feeds four thousand people as an illustration of who he is, of his divine and all-sufficient nature (15:29–39). He then forces his disciples to interact with the material, asking them, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is, [and] who do you say that I am?” (16:13–15). After they wrestle with the material (16:16), Jesus tells them what they are to do with that material in their lives, “Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (16:18). Jesus masterfully teaches his disciples by engaging them with the material and then using the material to shape them. When we talk about student-centered teaching at BCS, this is what we mean.