The CUNY Humanities Alliance team is often asked to share our favorite resources on student-centered pedagogy. After discussing what we consider foundational texts—and crowdsourcing the question, too—we compiled the following selection. We plan to continue to develop this list, and hope readers will share their own favorites in the comments section below.
Stay tuned to this site as we work on a third list of texts on structural analyses of higher education, with a focus on questions of access and equity in teaching for digital literacy and social justice.
The first bibliography includes annotations written by Kitana Ananda, Mellon Humanities Alliance Postdoctoral Fellow, with contributions and edits to both bibliographies from Elizabeth Alsop, Cathy Davidson, Kaysi Holman, Katina Rogers, and Luke Waltzer of the Humanities Alliance. We also thank Danica Savonick, Graduate Fellow at the Futures Initiative, CUNY, for her help in getting this list started.
Student-Centered Pedagogy: Theory and Practice
Bain, Ken. What the Best College Teachers Do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004.
- In this bestselling book, Bain shares the results of his research into what the best college teachers do. Bain considers what these teachers know and understand, how they prepare to teach, their expectations for students, their teaching practices, and how they assess student progress. He finds that the best teachers do not only teach facts: they stimulate deep thinking and create scaffolding for students to construct knowledge for purposive action. In other words, they help students “learn the facts while learning to use them to make decisions about what they understand or what they should do” (29). The best teachers develop in their students a desire to learn based on internal motivation, rather than extrinsic rewards or punishment, and believe strongly that all students can learn.
Dewey, John. Democracy and Education. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1916.
Also available through Project Gutenberg: Full text of Democracy and Education.
See also: Experience and Education [Free Press, 1997 (1938)].
- An important text in educational philosophy that provides a foundation for student-centered learning pedagogy today (including such practices as active learning, inquiry-based learning, experiential learning, etc). Dewey examines, critiques, and expands upon Plato’s and Rousseau’s philosophies of education, framing education as a process of developmental unfolding and continuous growth, and discusses the social purpose of education. As he argues, “[e]ducation is a constant reorganizing or reconstructing of experience” (76) that improves society and results in human progress.
Dweck, C.S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success–How We Can Learn to Fulfill Our Potential. New York: Random House, 2006.
- Dweck’s research provides a strong rationale for student-centered approaches to education that emphasize active and self-directed learning. An important antidote to “outcome-based” standardized testing in education, Dweck’s research on achievement and success shows that success depends not only on talent or innate abilities, but on one’s approach—namely, whether we approach learning and life with a “fixed” or “growth” mindset. Dweck argues that a fixed mindset (which presumes intelligence is predetermined and unchangeable) does not foster self-esteem or accomplishment, and in fact, may hinder success. By contrast, a growth mindset cultivates a love of learning and resilience.
Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum, 1968 (1970).
See also Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Continuum, 1994) and Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage (Rowman & Littlefield, 1998).
- In this foundational text in critical pedagogy—often seen as the canonical text on engaged, activist, student-centered learning—Freire seeks to transform the relationship between students, teachers, and society. He develops a pedagogy to combat oppression and create liberation through praxis, defined as “reflection and action directed at the structures to be transformed” (126). In praxis, oppressed people develop a critical consciousness about their conditions of living and struggle for liberation. Freire describes the traditional model of education as a hierarchical “banking system” in which students are passive recipients of knowledge deposited by the teacher. In contrast to this approach, Freire advocates for a “problem-posing education” that encourages learners to participate in critical dialogue and become co-creators of knowledge.
Giroux, Henry A. Teachers as Intellectuals: Toward a Critical Pedagogy of Learning. Westport, Conn.: Bergin & Garvey, 1988.
See also: Pedagogy and the Politics of Hope: Theory, Culture, and Schooling–A Critical Reader (Westview, 1997), and On Critical Pedagogy (Bloomsbury Academic, 2011).
- Giroux’s work is heavily influenced by the work of Paulo Freire. He argues for teachers to be “transformative intellectuals who develop counterhegemonic pedagogies that not only empower students by giving them the knowledge and social skills they will need to be able to function in the larger society as critical agents, but also educate them for transformative action” (xxxiii). A critical pedagogy of learning guides students to take risks and struggle for institutional and social change.
hooks, bell. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge, 1994.
See also Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope (Routledge, 2003) and Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom (Routledge, 2007).
- Drawing from Freire, bell hooks emphasizes teaching as a practice of freedom, which can combat racism, sexism, and other kinds of limiting, dehumanizing practices, and promote the development of counter-hegemonic worldviews. She builds upon the work of Freire, which, she explains, allowed her to connect her life experiences to larger processes of colonization. She argues that classrooms need to be imagined through (rather than erase) the presence of the body, focus on individual and collective spiritual growth, serve as supportive learning communities, be inclusive of multicultural difference, and involve praxis in order to create a democratic liberal arts learning experience (38).
Illich, Ivan. Deschooling Society, New York: Harper and Row,1971.
- In this radical critique of institutionalized education and the use of compulsory schooling in modern capitalist societies, Illich argues that most learning is not a result of instruction. As opposed to schooling, learning is open-ended and self-directed. Illich also attempts to describe alternative systems that would encourage independent learning among peers. He writes: “The most radical alternative to school would be a network or service which gave each man the same opportunity to share his current concern with others motivated by the same concern.”
Jones, Leo. The Student-Centered Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
- Jones develops a student-centered approach to a language class. He defines the student-centered classroom as a place where the needs of students are prioritized and students are encouraged to participate in the learning process at all times. His aim is to create a classroom that is collaborative, creative, motivating, and effective for a variety of learners. Chapters consider topics such as autonomous learning, classroom management, and the role of the teacher as a facilitator who guides students in active learning.
Montessori, Maria, and Anne E George. The Montessori Method. New York: Schocken Books, 1964.
- A classic of educational philosophy that sets out Montessori’s holistic, child-centered educational approach. First published in 1909, and translated into English in 1912, it is based on Dr. Montessori’s observations of human development from early childhood to adulthood. Montessori emphasizes the importance of creating learning environments oriented toward children, and that foster their sense of independence and joy of learning through self-directed activity, hands-on learning, and collaborative play. Of particular note is her discussion of an “education of the senses.”
Rancière, Jacques. The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1991.
- The title, The Ignorant Schoolmaster, refers to Rancière’s reading of a 19th-century French educator, Jacotet, who adopted the approach of “teaching what you don’t know how to teach.” According to Rancière, the “pedagogical myth” of explication divides the world into the knowing and the ignorant. Explication assumes the inferiority of the student and the intellectual superiority of the teacher. Against this myth, Rancière (following Jacotet) posits that all people share intellectual capabilities. He introduces readers to Jacotet’s approach of “universal teaching” as a practice for the emancipation of students and schoolmasters alike, in contrast to “instruction,” which establishes inequality, and “explication,” which he describes as “not only the stultifying weapon of the pedagogues but the very bond of the social order” (117).
Weimer, Maryellen. Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002.
- A comprehensive text that examines the meaning and transformative practice of learner-centered teaching in the college classroom. Weimer asks “What changes when teaching is learner-centered?” and draws on empirical research and her own classroom experiences to answer this question with five key areas requiring change: the balance of power within classrooms, the function of content (which is used to develop learning skills, rather than covered), the role of the teacher (as guide, facilitator, and designer of learning experiences), the responsibility for learning (as shared with students who make more decisions about the terms and conditions of their learning), and the purpose and processes of evaluation. The book provides a number of practical suggestions for implementing these changes, including a process for constructing an “open syllabus” and learning logs.
Teaching With and About Technology for Digital Literacy
Barnett, Fiona, ed. The Pedagogy Project. Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC), last modified April 1, 2014.
- A collaborative online resource for student-centered pedagogy, created by over seventy-five HASTAC graduate students teaching undergraduate humanities courses.
Bass, Randy. “Engines of Inquiry: Teaching, Technology, and Learner-Centered Approaches to Culture and History,” Unpublished paper.
Bass, Randy and Bret Eynon. “Open and Integrative: Designing Liberal Education for the New Digital Ecosystem.” Association of American College and Universities, 2016.
boyd, danah. It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014.
Daniels, Jessie, and Polly Thistlethwaite. Being a Scholar in the Digital Era: Transforming Scholarly Practice for the Public Good. Chicago: Policy Press, 2016.
Davidson, Cathy N. Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. New York: Viking Penguin, 2011.
Davidson, Cathy N., and David Theo Goldberg. The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions in a Digital Age. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2010.
Ito, Mizuko, and Kris Gutierrez, Sonia Livingstone, Bill Penuel, Jean Rhodes, Katie Salen, Juliet Schor, Julian Sefton-Green, and S. Craig Watkins. Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design. Report. Digital Media and Learning Research Hub, 2012.
Pinkard, Nichole. Preparing Urban Youth to Be Multiliterate. Macarthur Foundation: Spotlight on Digital Media and Learning. 2007.
Papert, Seymour. Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas. New York: Basic Books, 1980.
Rheingold, Howard. Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012.
Teaching & Learning Center at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. Teaching & Learning Center Guides: Educational Technology, accessed October 30, 2016.
Watters, Audrey. HackEducation.com, accessed October 30, 2016.