3.1 Student-centred education

On this page

  1. Importance of student-centred education
    1.1 Student-centred education
    1.2 No student-centred education
    1.3 Starting with student-centred education
  2. Your activities in student-centred education
    2.1 Preparation for working independently
    2.2 Your roles during working independently
    2.3 Your actions during working independently
    2.4 Observing students during working independently
    2.5 Visibly reinforcing positive behaviour during working independently
    2.6 Pitfall student-centred education
  3. Student’s activities in student-centred education
    3,1 Students assess themselves
    3.2 Collaboration in student-centred education
    3.3 Students adhere to the framework
    3.4 Expectation management folder
    3.5 Formal and informal learning
    3.6 Make an implementation plan (whole task first)
    3.7 Find information, ask for help from experts
    3.8 Learning style
    3.9 Intrinsic motivation
    3.10 Exchange of expertise
    3.11 No affinity with the subject matter
  4. Quotes about learning
  5. Talent
    1 Pupate
  6. Question based education
  7. Combining multiple perspectives of FFT
  8. Summary student-centred education
  9. Credits

Teachers alternate ‘Teacher-Centred Education’ with ‘Student-Centred Education’. When the students are working independently, teachers give them a certain amount of freedom and in return ask their students to use that freedom in a responsible manner. In this way, teachers increase students’ intrinsic motivation. For this to happen, it is important that the lessons take place in good order. In ‘Student-Centred Education’, a student sets goals (in part) by himself and realizes them with the help of peers and experts. Teachers act as coaches. This reveals individual talents that require individual assessment. ‘Student-Centred Education’ involves both open assignments and closed assignments. The latter can be tested centrally. The emphasis in this module is on the educational objective of Subjectivation.


On the one hand, I provide my students with instruction (Teacher-centred education), and on the other hand, I offer them a learning environment through which they engage constructively with my subject (Student-centred education). When my students are working independently I ask them to deal responsibly with the freedom I offer.
When working independently, students make their own schedule and work on it at their own pace. I advise my students to consult fellow students and/or experts. In the role of coach, I mainly ask my students questions. Making their own decisions motivates my students and allows each student to emerge as a unique individual. Autonomy, competence and relationship are central to the learning environment I prepare for my students (Ryan and Deci).

 The American psychologist with whom the revolution in thinking about motivation began, Edward Deci, believes the question is no longer how we motivate each other. The real question is: How do we create a society in which people motivate themselves? This question is not left or right, nor is it capitalist or communist. We are talking about a new movement. About a new realism. Because nothing is more powerful than people who do what they do because they want to do it.” Bregman (2019), Rutger

The most effective way to plunge a youngster into ruin: teach him to esteem like-minded people more than dissenters…….Let the young soul look back on his life and ask the question: what have you truly loved so far, what has attracted your soul, what has controlled it and made it happy at the same time? Put these things in order, and perhaps, by their nature and order, they yield a law, the fundamental law of your very self.” Prideaux (2018)

Hanna Holborn Gray:
Education is not meant to put people at ease; it is meant to make them think.” Lukianoff (2018), Greg

Van Jones:
I don’t want you to be ideologically safe, I don’t want you to be emotionally safe. I want you to be strong. That is something else. I’m not going to pave the path through the jungle for you. Put on boots and learn to deal with adversity. I’m not going to take the weights out of the gym, that’s what the gym is all about. This is gym.” Lukianoff (2018), Greg

Current approach:

Until now, how did I give my students control over (part of) their learning?

Future approach:

How do I give my students control over (part of) their learning in the future?

Introduction video

News items about student-centred education:


A student profits from this challenging assignment:
‘In your own discipline, create something with social relevance. Choose a subject that itches, that does something to you. Do your best and try to get the best out of yourself.’
This assignment led to a student writing a book: read more: Haas goes undercover

a site with focus on ‘Student-Centred Education’:

  1. Khan Academy

Introduction to student-centred education

Student-Centred Education is one of the four modules of the ‘Planning lessons’ perspective of Friendly and Fair Teaching (FFT).

Figure 32: Planning lessons (overview)

FFT distinguishes between ‘Student-Centred Education’ and ‘Teacher-Centred Education’. Elements of both ways of working are alternated per period, per lesson or within a lesson. In a number of places on this site two corresponding ways of class control, are indicated with two columns.

With this module you give students the opportunity to shape (in part) their own educational process. The emphasis in this module is on the educational objective of Subjectivation. This includes independence, responsibility and also maturity. With ‘Student-Centred Education’, you make it possible for students to work at their own pace on what interests them. You make it possible for them to work at their own level. This increases their intrinsic motivation and prevents frustration.

Attention span

In vocational education, the amount of material to cover is limited. In secondary education, students may be taught for seven hours at a time by different teachers who all teach frontally and require students to pay attention. Students have a limited attention span. If you do a lot of broadcasting and your students have to listen to you for a long time, you thereby invoke control problems. Therefore, FFT advocates opportunities for students to work independently with their own schedule and at their own pace.

Own interests

Figure 35: Assessment 

In ‘Student-Centred Education’, each student chooses something that suits him or her (learning style). Therefore, level differences are less noticeable and disruptive, most students are motivated and feel comfortable right away. When students choose their own topic, ask them to set a goal. The more often students set goals and self-assess whether the goal has been achieved, the more students get a realistic picture of their own abilities.

You have final responsibility for each student during the time you teach them. Therefore, you provide them with sufficient explanation and a structure that ensures that basic skills are adequately covered. You also utilize each student’s capacity to take responsibility for themselves.  Students who make choices and who are able to master the compulsory assignments on their own, thus follow their course without getting lost. With these skills and with greater self-confidence, students will strike out on their own in new directions, even outside your subject specialism. If the subjects students choose are in line with their own experiences, prior knowledge and needs, their motivation increases.

What is the effect of student-centred education?

With ‘Student-Centred Education’, you empower your students to acquire skills on their own and reduce their dependence. You give them freedom and ask them to use that freedom responsibly. With the combination of ‘Teacher-Centred Education’ plus ‘Student-Centred Education’, you stimulate both formal and informal learning: Because the assignments  match the students’ own wishes, they continue to work at home even after an assessment. They do this of their own free will, because they chose the subject themselves.
Because your students are in charge, make their own decisions and because they pay sufficient attention to the compulsory assignments, their results improve.

In ‘Student-Centred Education’, students see that classmates make other choices and thus get the idea to choose their topic themselves next time. Trends and groups with different areas of expertise emerge. By encouraging (voluntary) cooperation among students during independent work, exchange of knowledge takes place. Students constantly discover new ways to work.

With ‘Student-Centred Education’, a student shapes education rather than undergoes it. This type of education is in line with an understandable desire of every human being expressed by Simon & Garfunkel in the song El condor pasa: I’d rather be a hammer than a nail (I would rather be active than passive). With ‘Student-Centred Education’, you make students responsible. By giving them control over (part of) their time, and taking responsibility for themselves, they gain self-confidence.

In ‘Student-Centred Education’, you have high expectations of your students and you have confidence in them. Giving trust to your students means letting go of them (in part) and no longer having them (constantly) ‘on a leash’. Giving freedom in this sense can be understood as an act of creation:

The act of creation implies a separation. Anything that remains connected to the creator is only half created. To create is to take over something that did not exist before, and therefore it is new. And the new is inseparable from pain, for it is alone.” Berger (2021), John

Effect of student-centred education on class control

By giving students the opportunity to shape part of their learning, there is less incentive to disrupt the lesson. To give all students the opportunity to work constructively and with concentration, a quiet environment is necessary. Therefore, your job is to monitor the framework and reinforce positive behaviour when a student disrupts other students when working independently.

Stop teaching

When you discover a student knows more about your own subject specialism then yourself, it is time to refer to a more specialized colleague.

Every teacher must learn how to stop teaching when the time comes. (Biesta) 2022

Following this quote, read the blog: Former student Kizzo pushed out of the nest

Students work on their own projects as well as on compulsary assignments

A challenge during independent work is to let students work on their own projects as well as let them pay sufficient attention to the compulsory assignments. You help your students planning their work by:

  1. agreeing on a period of time during which they work on compulsory assignments,
  2. asking them to show you their progress at a time of their choosing.

This way your students will meet the set requirements at the end of a reporting period. The results of a test you take at the end of the reporting period will show that most students have met the requirements.

Minimum requirements but no uniformity

With ‘Student-Centred Education’, you set minimum standards but you don’t force uniformity on students. Instead of determining minute by minute what everyone does, you act as a coach for your students. Working independently is adventurous for students. Their results will surprise you.

How would a (model) student describe this process?

“By practicing with compulsory assignments, I master the necessary skills. When choosing a topic, I set a goal taking into account my prior knowledge. During independent work, I follow my own path. Because I evaluate my presentation together with the teacher, I get a realistic picture of my abilities. Because after each period I evaluate the result myself, I can better assess what is my next goal. This gives me control over and insight into (part of) my own learning process. After each period, the teacher asks me for suggestions how to improve the learning material.”

1. Importance of student-centred education

1.1 Student-centred education

It is important for students to be heard and seen. You contribute to this by coaching them. When students work on a subject for a longer period of time, they notice that they can achieve something. Then their behaviour changes. It is only possible to achieve this result if students are given sufficient time to work in this way. This is why you reserve a large part of the available teaching time for the students to work independently.

Prior to working independently you give, if necessary, a short general explanation. You provide a challenging environment where there is something to choose. Every student can work at his or her own pace on the compulsory assignments or on a self-chosen subject. Over time the more choices a student makes in different subjects, the more personalized the result. You have now created a situation where your students show you what they can do with your subject specialism. This leads to students surprising you with results not previously achieved. Not only the students discover new aspects, through the students you discover new aspects too. By placing the initiative in independent work with the students, you are not the only transmitter, the students are also transmitting. If you notice a new promising initiative from a student, in the next series of lessons you translate that initiative into an assignment that other students can also choose. With their knowledge and intrinsic motivation, students inspire you and inspire each other.

‘Student-Centred Education’ brings students into contact with multiple aspects of your profession. In the process, they break new ground and make new discoveries. They get the chance to discover their talents. This creates an attractive learning climate in which you can consider yourself lucky to be working with an enthusiastic, close-knit group that shows enthusiasm for your profession.

During independent work, the students’ attention is focused on:

  1. working on a self-chosen topic. There is ample attention for the educational goal Subjectification.
  2. When working on the compulsory assignments the emphasis is on Qualification.

1.2 No student-centred education

Most of the time you focus on ‘Teacher-Centred Education’. Maybe you feel obliged to do so by the government, your supervisor, or your section. Rules and procedures, no matter how useful they seem, can have a negative effect on your mental leeway. Gradually, a narrowing of consciousness occurs. You decide what your students do, and in doing so, you limit your students’ freedom to explore on their own. When you control students too much, students have little opportunity to make decisions independently. See pitfall ‘Teacher-Centred Education’

Slaves used to be literally on a chain:

Enslave a man and you destroy his ambition, his enterprise, his abilities.” Lepore (2018), Jill

1.3 Starting with student-centred education

Prior to independent work, during whole class teaching, you let your students silently choose a topic and formulate a goal in the process. Before your students get started, ask them to engage in a serious way on two types of assignments:

  1. Self-selected open assignments
  2. Closed assignments set by you (Compulsory assignments).

A curriculum describes the basic knowledge required for a school or course. You can start with ‘Student-Centred Education’ if your students can choose from several options and if it is clear what you ask of them in terms of compulsory assignments.

What do students do during student-centred education?

  1. Students make a schedule that includes sufficient attention to the compulsory assignments.
  2. Students work on their planning for quite some time. During independent work, students have time to freely decide what to do, how to do it and at what pace to do it. See examples above.

With the form in which you assess students, you can prevent your students from focusing exclusively on either option. You clearly state the minimum effort you expect from your students each period. You keep track of their progress. You decide which assignments are compulsory and which free assignments they can choose from.

It is important that your students work undisturbed. Therefore, when you start working with a group, you first discuss the framework. You reinforce positive behaviour with students who do not follow the framework. You ask your students not to disturb each other during independent work. During independent work you give your students freedom and at the same time you make sure they stick to the framework. By monitoring the framework, you prevent students from feeling free to disrupt the lesson. With any context, including a ‘Student-Centred Education’ context, there are restrictions: What is and isn’t allowed? How do you resist students’ impulsive tendencies? How do you teach them to deal with delaying desires? With this module ‘Student-Centred Education’ there is a clear distinction between frontal teaching and independent work. Working independently requires its own approach. We indicate these differences in two columns. The ones on the right represents ‘Student-Centred Education’.

Quote from Meirieu on the duty to resist:
Educators do not leave children to nature, imagining that these same children could then spontaneously build a democratic society – indeed, everything points to the opposite -, but they create situations that are both approachable and challenging, and in which children can at the same time both learn what has been imposed on them and explore their freedom.” Meirieu (2016).

Meirieu finds project based education for students an appropriate form for exploring their freedom

Ask colleagues to work together to improve the various assignments associated with your (your) positive learning environment. Divide the improvement of assignments among yourselves and share experiences in implementing them.

She [psychology professor Angela Duckworth, author of the book Gritt] wants young people to “devote themselves to pursuits that are intrinsically fulfilling.” Lukianoff (2018), Greg and Jonathan Haidt.

Her book Gritt is about parents’ desire to give children “grit,” which too often manifests as perseverance without passion. With FFT, you strive to combine perseverance with passion.

2. Your activities in student-centred education

Before you start independent work, ask yourself these questions:

  1. How do I prepare?
  2. What roles do I play in ‘Student-Centred Education’?
  3. How do I act during Student-Centred Education’?
  4. What do I look for when observing students?
  5. How do I reinforce positive behaviour during independent work?
  6. What would happen if I only let the students work independently? This is what FFT calls the pitfall of ‘Student-Centred Education’.

2.1 Preparation for working independently

You strive for a learning environment that ensures that each student maintains an independent course of action as well as that every action contributes to meeting the requirements set in the curriculum.
When preparing working independently, you look for opportunities to focus on the educational goal of Subjectivation. You are aware that self-direction requires a good relationship between you and the students. To maintain that good relationship, it is important that you resolve any disruptions as imperceptibly as possible so as not to disturb other students who are working well.

When preparing, keep in mind that students have different learning styles. Within each topic you let your students decide for themselves how they study your subject. This can be through closed or open assignments, through beaten pathways or according their own ideas.

With ‘Student-Centred education’, you respond to the abilities, prior knowledge and desires of your students. You provide materials with which each student makes a personal trek. You create a positive learning environment with opportunities for creativity and enough structure to prevent them from getting lost. Your teaching materials provide starting points for students with different learning styles. You prepare topics and prepare them online. At the beginning of a period, you indicate which compulsary assignments your students should have mastered by the end of the period.

As you prepare, you follow this strategy:

  1. You look for a way of grading that motivates your students and where their efforts translate directly into a better grade. Read more: check marks
  2. You provide a balance between structure and creativity. Structure makes creativity possible. A student who makes something himself, creates something, shapes a project, can be proud of it. Acquiring individuality is more rewarding than imitating others. Individuality contributes to Subjectivation.
  3. You indicate the minimum requirements that your students’ work must meet and you indicate when they should be done with it.

Before you start this approach, prepare several topics. This is especially labour-intensive the first time. Therefore, consider using programs with Artificial Intelligence such as the Khan Academy or partner with other teachers.

Finally, a quote that fits with your considerations as you prepare working independently:
It requires educational wisdom from the teacher who always makes and determines the choices, brings in something new and helps the young person break free from the logic of their own whims. An educational wisdom that allows for risk.” Biesta (2013)

2.2 Your roles during working independently


Disciplining students and giving students freedom seem contradictory. If you (too often) see it as your job to discipline students, there is a chance that by doing so you are robbing students of (some of) their freedom. They may engage in discipline, but they remain dependent on you. You are not making them independent. Good results can be achieved with (external) discipline, but these are the pitfalls with (too much) discipline:

  1. What happens when a student doesn’t meet your expectations?
  2. To what extent are your students willing to do what you ask of them?
  3. How independent are your students when they are on their own?

Freedom and discipline can reinforce each other

At first glance, it may seem that freedom and discipline are opposites. That’s not the case if your students work in a disciplined way among themselves and give each other opportunities to take turns in charge.

If students like the way you teach frontally, they will use elements of it (such as the way you use gestures) among themselves when working independently, allowing them to cooperate better. Students can use the silence gesture to ask a fellow students for silence.

In all of this, be aware that each student is ultimately on their own. You prepare students for that reality by giving them more and more responsibility. Therefore, you make time available for independent work. The more independent students become, the more freedom you give them, with the dot on the horizon being the moment when your students can do it themselves. To make all this possible, you use these roles when students work independently: Coach, Gardener, Roadside assistance, Maker of an educational context and Midwife:

1 Coach

In ‘Student-Centred Education’, you act modestly and see the student as an individual. Instead of an exalted “sage on the stage,” you are an approachable “guide on the side” for a student. In doing so, you make students (in part) owners of their own development (Motivation Coach).

2 Metaphor gardener

‘Student-Centred Education’ is based on the idea that students shape (part of) their own development. Your role as a teacher when working independently can be compared to that of a gardener.

  1. A gardener gives time to grow and does not force growth.
  2. A gardener provides the right conditions.
  3. As a gardener, you know that your students grow according to an inner plan.
    You cannot speed up the growth process of your plants by pulling them out of the ground. Better you let the growth proceed quietly and organically. You avoid slowing down the growth process or worse, preventing it.
  4. Everything that receives attention grows; a gardener knows that.
  5. A gardener guides students partly inaudibly, for example, with gestures. This inconspicuous acting has a necessity: If you are too dominantly present, you take up space that you precisely want to give to your students. If that leads to a conflict, then by being dominant you disturb students who are working independently even more.

3 Metaphor roadside assistance

When working independently each student makes a personal trek. When a student is working in his own way on a subject and gets stuck, you play the role of ‘Roadside assistance’. If necessary, you help this student get back on track. For you this is a varied job because students always come with different questions. You first answer their questions with a counter-question that puts the student on the track of an answer. Students are happy with your help and continue on their own afterwards. You are there for your students when they need you.

4 Maker of a pedagogical context

In addition to being a “gardener” and “motivational coach,” you are also a “maker of a pedagogical context” where you seek a reciprocal pedagogical relationship with students. In that relationship, you ask students questions and are open to their questions and suggestions.
Your students experience the time in which they work independently as a personal trek all the more so because they continue to work with appropriate motivation at home and elsewhere (formal- informal learning).

5 Midwife

This noble tease [Socrates] had deeply understood what is the highest thing that one man can do for another: to make him free, to help him stand alone. But also in this understanding he had understood himself, that is, he had understood that for this to be realized, the helper must know how to hide himself, must magnanimously want to make himself into nothing. In a spiritual sense he was a midwife – that is what he called himself – and in this service he exerted himself selflessly with all sacrifice. The selflessness lay precisely in the fact that it remained hidden from the one he helped that he had been helped and how.” Kierkegaard (2007), Soren

Comment on this quote:

By not prompting a student at the beginning of a report period you set yourself up as a midwife. You quietly wait for the moment of delivery. That doesn’t mean you do nothing. There will come a time when you hasten the delivery.

2.3 Your actions during working independently

What do your students see you doing?

  1. Using the expectation management folder, you indicate that students have the opportunity to work independently. In the page you show with the folder, the students read that you expect them to work seriously.
  2. During working independently, you adopt a modest and expectant attitude. If you adopt a dominant attitude, it is at odds with the freedom you want to offer. During working independently, avoid seeking the attention of the whole group as much as possible.
  3. You guard the framework and reinforcing positive behaviour. Class control begins with observation, if needed reinforce positive behaviour. Note: Class control in working independently differs from class control in whole class teaching: You write down Tips directly on a list and not first in the Tip Book. The advantage of a list is that students see that you are monitoring the framework so that everyone can concentrate.
  4. If everything is going well, you don’t intervene. Parenting is the art of letting go more and more.
  5. You take the attitude of the “lazy teacher. You ask questions and probe. In doing so, you encourage your students to actively come up with their own solutions. Not paying attention to a student can be a conscious pedagogical choice.
  6. You talk softly (so as not to disturb others).
  7. You give compliments with a thumbs up.
  8. You monitor who is on track. You ask your students to inform you about their progress at regular intervals. Your notes show you who is on track and who is falling behind.
  9. At the end of a period, you ask a fast student to help a lagging student. In doing so, you offer the fast student the space to switch roles; from the role of student to that of teacher. For the fast student, giving explanations is instructive. Both students benefit from working together and you prevent lagging students from dropping out.
  10. You treat your students equally. You create a good relationship between you and the students and you create a good relationship between students.
  11. Your students notice that you have a lot of time to guide them.

2.4 Observing students during working independently

You ensure that students make a minimum effort. You indicate clearly what you minimally expect from your students in your subject specialism. They are given the responsibility by you in the first part of a report period to decide for themselves how they exert themselves and to what extent. Little effort at the beginning of a period does not necessarily mean that a student learns nothing. The extent of a student’s effort is related to motivation, talent, prior knowledge, learning style and personal obstacles. Only in the latter part of a report period you coach a student who did not show you any results, so that at least a minimal result is achieved.

During independent work, pay attention to:

  1. Do students not disturb each other? This is at the top for the following reason. If you help one student first while another student is disrupting, then multiple students may be affected by the disruption. Paying attention to disruptions is your primary task during independent work. Only when no one is disrupting you are able to coach your students.
  2. Is there mutual trust?
  3. What initiative do students take, are they task-oriented and intrinsically motivated?
  4. Do they demonstrate sufficient knowledge of compulsary assignments?
  5. Do they make minimal effort?
  6. Do they determine the timing of testing themselves? Do they give you feedback on their progress?
  7. Do they choose topics in your subject specialism that suit their needs and their own learning style?
  8. Do they complete a self-chosen topic with a presentation?
  9. Do they discover their talent on their own?
  10. Are they able to assess both themselves and your teaching materials?
  11. Do they discover new aspects of your subject specialism? Do they gain expertise that is new to you?

In ‘Student-Centred Education’, you take the risk of students temporarily doing nothing. You expect that over time they will find their own course and then apply themselves to the maximum. They then more than compensate for the temporary inaction.
The following is an example shows what you might see during working independently:

Case study secondary education

Student does not work but also does not disturb.
A student chooses to play the guitar. He puts the guitar next to him and looks around like a Buddha for the first four lessons. At that moment Kees van der Meer is researching my lessons and asks me: did you see that student not doing anything? I indicate that I have seen that. He asks me if I shouldn’t do something about that. I reply that “being bored” has value. By not prompting the student directly, I give him a chance to quietly consider what is important to him. With this restraint, I respect the freedom each learner needs to discover his own learning style.
In practice, I did encourage this student in the latter part of a period to make at least minimal effort anyway. In a subsequent report period, this student did go straight to work.

2.5 Visible reinforcing positive behaviour during independent work

Both you and the students adopt a friendly and clear attitude during independent work. Exceptions notwithstanding, everyone speaks softly during independent work. If a student disturbs another student, for example by talking too loudly, you reinforce positive behaviour with:

  1. body language,
  2. a (softly spoken) Tip that you write down on a list. Advance the Abacus folder one Tip. After the fourth Tip you interrupt the independent work and continue with whole class teaching. Then it is apparently too busy to work independently,
  3. per student you give a maximum of one Tip per lesson during independent work. The first two Tips a student get for free, if you address a student for the third time for disruptive behaviour, you give a ‘Future Behaviour Letter’. Only from the third time that you work independently with the class, it is possible that a student, who has already received two Tips, is eligible for this letter,
  4. help from your supervisor is a student fails to turn in the letter.

In the case of a serious disruption, you pause working independently and talk with the class. You take time to reflect on what has just happened as well as your own reaction.

2.6 Pitfall of student-centred education

Certain skills are best demonstrated in ‘Teacher-Centred Education’. If you only teach ‘Student-Centred Education’, you deprive yourself of the opportunity to explain something to the whole group. This can lead to a lack of knowledge and skills. Some activities are ideally suited for whole class teaching.


Making student more independent with ‘Student-Centred Education’ can be misunderstood by  colleagues who do not trust your approach.

Similarly, the authors, Paul A. Kirschner , John Sweller & Richard E. Clark, of the article “Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching,” which is available for download as a pdf. don’t have confidence in experiments where you give students space. To support this, they combine data from many studies.

To overcome these concerns, FFT recommends combining ‘Student-Centred Education’ with ‘Teacher-Centred Education’. Also read about the pitfall of a one-sided approach with ‘Teacher-Centred Education‘. Don’t rush the move to more freedom for your students. Before starting with ‘Student-Centred Education’, consider your ability to reinforce positive behaviour during independent work. Only when you master that skill does it pay off to give your students more freedom.

3. Student’s activities in student-centred education

What do students do during student-directed instruction?

3.1 Students assess themselves

Students plans their own work in which they sometimes work together. They self-assess compulsory assignments with an app and regularly show their progress to you. In their chosen work, they place different emphases and their results will vary. Students notice that you assess them personally and that you think along with their plans. They appreciate that.

Before a student presents a self-selected topic to you (or in front of the whole class), they give themselves an assessment that you discuss with them. You ultimately decide whether the assignment was properly made. You also note on the quality of the assignment (Assessment).

Because students also assess you, they also influence the educational process.

3.2 Collaboration in student-centred education

In student-centred education, students decide with whom they collaborate. In exercises following your explanation you decide who works with whom. By thus influencing the composition of groups in ‘Teacher-centred Education’, you ensure that students get to know each other. When they are working independently, that acquaintance can translate into a long-term collaboration chosen by the students themselves (Collaboration).

3.3 Students adhere to the framework

Students need to concentrate. The framework provides the initial impetus for this. Before you start with ‘Student-Centred Education’, discuss the framework “Friendly +Fair” with your students. You then indicate that you intent to be friendly and fair and that your students may address you if you fail. Conversely, you ask your students to be friendly and fair and, if necessary, you reinforce positive behaviour. Your students will understand that you are guarding the framework on their behalf. While working independently students experience a positive learning environment where they:

  1. do not disturb anyone.
  2. can concentrate well.
  3. make choices freely.
  4. plan their activities.
  5. work at their own pace.
  6. responsible for assessing their assignments and for showing them to you.
  7. assess your teaching materials.

Creating a framework for positive behaviour

3.4 Expectation management folder

Working independently, students can read your instructions on the page of the management folder. It tells them to spend their time well on the chosen topics (Managing expectations).

3.5 Formal and informal learning

Students making their own decisions will continue their education outside of school. With their intrinsic motivation, they achieve good results at school and elsewhere.

3.6 Make a plan of execution (whole task first)

Once accustomed to ‘Student-Centred Education’, your students are capable of arranging more and more of their own. The question for them is:

  1. What is my next challenge?
  2. What is a realistic goal in doing so?
  3. How do I test and evaluate myself?
  4. How do I motivate myself?
  5. How do I organize help from peers or external experts?

At the beginning of a new period, when your students have set a goal, they make a time schedule (whole task first).

3.7 Find information, get help from experts

Your students consult the material you prepare for them. In doing so, they consult classmates, experts, parents and acquaintances. In addition, they seek answers to questions online.

Learning to ask questions online

With your students you can practice the skill of searching for information online as follows: Ask your students a random question and have them search for the answer on the Internet. Whoever knows the answer first, ask them to indicate which search term led to the answer. The student who finds the answer gets to work independently first. The others get a new question. This continues until everyone is the first to find something on the Internet. This way you increase your students’ ability to find answers on their own.

3.8 Learning Style

Practice shows that the majority of students choose closed assignments and clear structure. A smaller group of students goes out to investigate and choose open assignments. In this way,  students discover different aspects of your subject specialism. Creative students get plenty of opportunity to use their talents with ‘Student-centred Education’.

Different forms of Intelligence

Learning styles are related to “forms of intelligence. Students possess different types of intelligence: musical, physical-kinaesthetic, logical-mathematical, linguistic, spatial, interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence.” Gardner (1993)
The degree to which one possesses a particular intelligence varies from person to person. When students share abilities related to different intelligences, the whole group benefits.

3.9 Intrinsic motivation

Students get the most out of themselves when they are intrinsically motivated. In this overview, Ryan & Deci distinguish these forms of motivation:

Figure 36: Motivation continuum Ryan & Deci

If you set a challenging learning environment, some students will have problems with the freedom offered. Some students are not used to make decisions independently. These students can initially feel uncomfortable and can have problems starting. For these students, getting used to the idea of being at the helm themselves can be a lengthy process. You give these student time to get used to making decisions. First you wait and see if a student can solve the problem. After some time, if the student does not get started,  you address this student and offer support.

That this completely free will is a figment of the mind, a dream image, can be seen very clearly, for example, in the difficulties, the often extremely long process of continued striving that it takes to unlearn a habit, even if you have made such a serious decision to do so.” Visser (2019), Andries

3.10 Exchange of expertise

While working independently, students develop expertise in different areas. During whole class teaching, one student or a group of students can share their expertise with the whole group with a (interactive)  presentation.

During independent work exchange of expertise also occurs when fast students teach lagging students.

3.11 No affinity for the subject matter.

Not every student goes straight to work. This does not necessarily mean that a student has no affinity with the learning objective. If you notice that a student is not working, you first give the student the opportunity to find a solution. If that fails, you offer support until the student knows enough to proceed independently. This is often an initial helping hand to get a student over a threshold (example 1).

4. Quotes about learning

Two quotes from Mark Mieras

Science journalist Mark Mieras indicates that your brain functions best when balancing between order and disorder:

Much of what brains do can be characterized as balancing between order and chaos. The brain cells try to maintain an optimal level of order. Too much disorder is downright dangerous. Too much order makes one vulnerable in the long run by reducing adaptability and creativity.” (Mark Mieras)

Both ‘Teacher-Centred Education’ and ‘Student-Centred Education’ allow students to balance between chaos and order.

  1. in ‘Teacher-Centred Education’ you initially guide students and prevent them from getting lost.
  2. in ‘Student-Centred Education’ you allow students to make their own choices, to take charge, and thereby they create order out of chaos.

Making mistakes is a prerequisite for the brain to make meaning and learn.” (Mark Mieras)

Quote 3

‘Student-Centred Education’ involves wandering, getting lost and making mistakes.

To give birth to a dancing star, you must first carry chaos within you. Lack of consistency, change of mind and an urge to roam were a matter of duty. A fixed opinion was a dead opinion, a determined mind a dead spirit, worth less than an insect; it should be crushed under your foot and totally destroyed.” Prideaux (2018)

Quote 4

The now following quote from Camus can be understood as a plea for limitation. It is precisely by limiting yourself that you get a grip on something. Therefore, in ‘Student-Centred Education’, make clear to your students this advantage of limitation.

That is precisely the genius, the intellect that knows its limits. An artist, who knows his limits, never oversteps them, and in that uncertain playground to which their mind is set, possesses a marvellous and masterful ease.” Camus (1942), Albert

5. Talent

You can distinguish two types of talent:

  1. Talent already present
  2. Potential talent

In both cases, a student can exceed your level in a particular subject specialism.

Already present talent

In the Introduction module, FFT recommends exploring at the beginning of the school year what your students have already mastered in your subject specialism. Even at the first meeting, a student may have more skills than you in a particular area. Therefore, scout for talent and offer students with talent that is already present the opportunity to take the lead in your lessons right away and give them the chance to help their classmates. When you do this, you show that you recognize their talent by bringing it into the lesson. If you don’t, talented students who have already developed their talents in your subject area will feel ignored.

Potential talent

Each time students choose a new subject, give them a chance to discover if they have talent for new subjects as well.
If a student demonstrates talent, look for opportunities where that student shares expertise with classmates or look for opportunities for that student to use this expertise at a higher level, such as in performance.
Talent takes time to develop. This requires always to be able to make choices. Therefore, make independent work a recurring part of your lessons. The more space you give, the greater the chance that talent will manifest itself.

5.1 Pupate

A consequence of ‘Student-Centred Education’ is that some students choose new directions all the time. Here the image of a pupation or shedding of a skin fits. You may get the impression that a student is not working efficiently and is missing opportunities. It is better to wait with a judgment and leave the chosen course to the student as much as possible. A student who has determined the final chosen path himself possesses intrinsic motivation, autonomy, self-determination. These are important aspects of Subjectivation.

6. Question based education

If you notice that some students have a similar problem during independent work, you take these students aside and give them a special explanation about it. Students who don’t need this explanation continue working independently in the meantime. In question based teaching, you give a small group of students the information they need just in time.

Question based education unites aspects of ‘Teacher-Centred Education’ and ‘Student-Centred Education’:

You teach a (small) group, therefore it has similarities with teacher-centred education. Meanwhile, the other students work independently. This is only possible if the group working independently does not disrupt your teaching.

Therefore question based teaching is only possible you have a good relationship with the whole group.
If nevertheless a student disrupts your teaching, you finish the instruction to the small group earlier and let everyone work independently again.

7. Combining multiple perspectives FFT

To successfully apply ‘Student-Centred Education’, combine all perspectives of FFT. You combine a positive learning environment with class control in which you:

  1. encourage students to make good use of the learning environment,
  2. reinforce positive behaviour with a student who disturbs other students.

Figure 5: Observing learning

8. Summary student-centred education

FFT lets students work harmoniously together during ‘Student-Centred Education’. Your students set their own goals and decide how to work. You give them the opportunity to choose topics that match their level,  prior knowledge and learning style. Over time, this leads to increasing intrinsic motivation. You are coaching this process. Working this way, you increase the chance that students also continue working on their assignments at home on their own initiative (informal learning).

9. Credits

Gert Biesta

Gert Biesta has contributed to the way in which the module ‘Learner-Centred Education’ has been designed.

In an email to Johan ‘t Hart in 2015, Gert Biesta wrote:
‘It requires educational wisdom of the teacher who always makes and determines the choices, brings in something new and helps the young person to break free from the logic of his own whims. An educational wisdom that allows for risk.

Nick Sorensen – Emeritus Professor of Education Bath Spa University

Nick is involved in translating the Dutch site ‘Vriendelijkordehouden.nl’ into ‘Friendlyandfairteaching.com’,

In 2014, Nick sent Johan ‘t Hart an article on Assessment: ARF_beyond_blackbox.pdf
Johan put these ideas into practice. This led to this module ‘Student-Centred Education’

Nick published the book The Improvising Teacher in 2023.

Evert Bisschop-Boele – Prince Claus Conservatory of Music

Evert Bisschop Boele wants to make education relevant to students. He advocates appealing to the identity of the individual student (idio-culture) and to make student choices decisive.

Kees van der Meer

In 2017, Kees van der Meer did research on the music practice of Johan ‘t Hart at the invitation of Evert Bisschop-Boele. The reason for the research was that in 2015 Evert wrote a article in the magazine Kunstzone that largely coincided in content with Johan’s plans for his coming lessons. Then Johan contacted Evert.

In response, Evert asked Kees van der Meer to research Johan’s musical practice. The questions Kees and Evert asked Johan about his music practice and about his form of ‘Student-Centred Education’ helped Johan shaping it.

Kees is now in charge of teacher education in the conservatory in Groningen.