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Cultivating the Learner-Centered Classroom

Cultivating the Learner-Centered Classroom
From Theory to Practice

December 2007 | 216 pages | Corwin
Cultivating the Learner-Centered Classroom, a progressively-oriented guide for teaching, provides teachers with concrete strategies for making a fundamental shift in educational thought and in practice: from behaviorism to constructivism, from control to cooperation, from following recipes to understanding the learning process, from meeting standards to individualizing expectations and instruction, and from coercing students' obedience to facilitating their authority and autonomy. The authors offer practical procedures and strategies that are aligned with progressive educational thought, and bridge theory and practice concerning the following aspects of teaching:

1) facilitating community development in the classroom

2) facilitating community development with parents

3) classroom organization

4) observing and assessing student growth 5) planning instruction

6) individual, small group, and whole group instruction

7) evaluating and reporting student growth

Time to Learn

Fighting for Hope

About the Authors
Introduction: Progressivism and Traditionalism—A Continuum of Educational Thought
1. Facilitating Community Development in the Classroom
The Teacher’s Essential Attributes: Confidence and Humility, Compassion and Faith

The Basis of the Teacher-Student Relationship: Motivation or Coercion?

Who Decides Who Belongs? A Note on Inclusive Education

From Theory to Practice: Strategies for Facilitating Relationship and Community

2. Classroom Organization
Finding You in Your Classroom

From Theory to Practice: Strategies for Organizing a Learner-Centered Classroom

3. Observing and Assessing What Students Know and Can Do
Understanding Terminology

Assumption #1: You Can’t Teach Someone You Don’t Know

Assumption #2: You Will Assess What You Value

Assumption #3: You Will Never Finish Learning How to Assess Students’ Knowledge

From Theory to Practice: Strategies for Assessing What Students Know and Can Do

4. Planning Instruction
From Theory to Practice: Strategies for Planning Instruction

5. Evaluating and Reporting Student Growth
Common Assumptions About Grades

A Brief History of Grading

Evaluation as Grading: Critiquing Traditional Purposes of Letter Grades

Learner-Centered Evaluation: Reframing the Purpose of Grading

From Theory to Practice: Strategies for Evaluating and Reporting Student Progress

6. Facilitating Community Development With Parents
From Theory to Practice: Strategies for Facilitating Community Development With Parents

7. Holding On: Leading With Heart
On Becoming a “Real” Leader

Democratic Faith: The Final, Essential Component of Leadership

From Theory to Practice: Strategies for Holding On and Leading With Heart


"Acknowledges and nourishes the teacher's ability to help children take control of their lives. This book is both inspirational and practical, helping teachers take charge in their classrooms and guide their students in becoming independent and responsible."

Susan Ohanian, Senior Fellow
Vermont Society for the Study of Education

"Provides a readable, practical how-to manual for educators who truly want to put the needs and hopes of students at the center of their craft. By providing specific examples of strategies for community building, classroom management, lesson design, and working with parents, this book bridges the chasm between theory and the day-to-day realities of teachers and administrators."

Dale Jones, Principal
Nimitz School, Sunnyvale, CA

"This book is an invitation for educators at all levels of instruction to reevaluate what teaching and learning truly mean. In the midst of instructional collaboration with colleagues, both entry-level teachers and veterans will be impacted by the encouragement Tollefson and Osborn offer for building and improving our educational systems."

Kamara Yri, Teacher
Bismarck High School, ND

"Tollefson and Osborn demystify the concept of a 'learner-centered classroom' with their rich, practical examples and time-tested strategies. A true resource for new teachers or those seeking clarity, this guide tackles the many aspects of progressive education in a realistic and straightforward manner."

Beth Huston, Learning Coach
Mission Hill School, Boston, MA

"A superb book that does exactly what it promises: takes the reader from theory to practice. Rich with clear prose, strong research, and thoughtful reflection, this useful tool is for teachers who want to engage students more deeply with each other, the content, and the world—all for the sake of real learning. In our time, when classrooms have become dangerously test-centered, we need books like this if we want to serve children truly and well. So read this book, put it to good use, and join the ranks of teachers who understand that any education that is not learner-centered is no education at all."

Parker J. Palmer
Author, The Courage to Teach

"A very practical approach to actively involving students, teachers, and parents in the learning process. The suggested strategies give students knowledge and a voice in their learning."

Marian Liebowitz, Educational Consultant
Marian Liebowitz Associates

"The learner-centered approach, which is the basis of this excellent book, provides a powerful and vivid vision that impacts students learning in a very positive manner. This book allows you to ponder and remember the great responsibility and wonderful opportunity of motivating each and every student. I strongly recommend this book for K-12 educators, as well as those who are interested and involved in making a positive difference in education."

Gilberto Lobo, Math and Science Teacher
Truman Middle School, Albuquerque, NM

"Tollefson and Osborn have written a truly useful book for preservice and beginning teachers. The authors' attention to the daily experiences of teachers, illuminated by stories from the classroom and embedded in a theoretical rationale and discussion, will be appreciated by professional educators and their students."

Connie Krosney, Professor of Graduate Studies
Union Institute & University

"What could be more important to teaching and learning than a focus on the student, keeping their needs and their development as learners at the center of all we do? The authors have done a masterful job of pulling together the theoretical foundations and best practices from a wealth of sources to articulate a clear and easily understood framework for practitioners. The book is a testament to the difference that hope, commitment, and compassion will make in the classroom, in each of us as professionals, and in the lives of learners."

Jack Walsh, Superintendent
Bristol Bay Borough School District, Naknek, AK

"As someone who is continuously striving to create a learner-centered classroom and share my enthusiasm with other teachers, I am really excited to find a book that so accessibly provides both the reasons and practical strategies for developing a community of learners within the confines of most district requirements. I enjoy sharing its wisdom with new teachers as well as with my more seasoned colleagues."

Judith Barnes, Eighth-Grade Teacher
Cupertino School District, CA

Sample Materials & Chapters



Kaia A. Tollefson

Kaia Tollefson’s career in education began in Kodiak, Alaska, in 1983. She was a middle school teacher there for nine years and worked in administration for the next five—first as a curriculum and staff development coordinator and then as an elementary school principal. She discovered a passion for teacher education while pursuing her doctoral degree in language, literacy, and sociocultural studies, awarded by the University of New Mexico in 2004. Her most recent experience in teaching children was in 2002, when she returned to the classroom to teach fifth grade. One of her professional goals is to find ways to refresh and reground her... More About Author

Monica K. Osborn

Monica Osborn has been teaching at Puesta del Sol Elementary School in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, since 1994. She earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in education from the University of New Mexico in 1994 and 1995, respectively, and an education specialist degree in educational leadership in 2007. She is a certified Reading Recovery teacher, currently teaching grades K–2 in a multiage inclusion classroom. She is also certified through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and is recognized as a Level III teacher-leader in the state of New Mexico. In addition to her work as a classroom teacher, Monica serves as an... More About Author