Lived meanings: what teachers mean when they say they are learner‐centered

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  • Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice,Vol. 12, No. 5, October 2006, pp. 571592

    ISSN 1354-0602 (print)/ISSN 1470-1278 (online)/06/05057122 2006 Taylor & FrancisDOI: 10.1080/13540600600832296

    Lived meanings: what teachers mean when they say they are learner-centeredCynthia Parisa* and Barbara CombsbaUniversity of Delaware, USA; bUniversity of North Dakota, USATaylor and Francis LtdCTAT_A_183166.sgm10.1080/13540600600832296Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice1354-0602 (print)/1470-1278 (online)Editorial2006Taylor & Francis125000000October 2006CynthiaPariscparis@udel.edu

    While the term learner-centered is invoked in many curriculum standards documents, packagedcurriculum materials, mission statements and criticisms of educational practice, there is littleagreement on its meaning. Shallow understandings and conflicting practices abound. And rarely dothe meanings ascribed to the term take into account the meanings of thoughtful teachers who livelearner-centered approaches daily in their work. Here we introduce lived meanings of learner-centeredness found in the personal and professional histories of experienced teachers. Data weregathered in interviews that took the form of focused conversations which yielded elaborated storiesand reflections that suggest that learner-centeredness is a concept that cannot be captured in finite,static, unquestioned definitions. The teachers lived meanings are expressed in fine-grained detail,are embedded in particular settings and the teachers own personal and professional histories, gobeyond surface features of practice and are in motion and unfinished. Taken together, these livedmeanings have the potential to challenge and deepen current understandings of learner-centeredpractices. Further, they have the potential to bring humanity, humility and integrity to the work ofthose who engage in these practices and of those who would support or criticize them.

    Keywords: Learner-centered; Teacher thinking

    Introduction

    Much energy is being expended in efforts to move away from instructional methodsthat rely on mass transmission of knowledge toward those described by many aslearner-centered. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (1996),the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (Darling-Hammond, 1992a) and the National Commission on Teaching and AmericasFuture (1996) assume learner-centered approaches in their definitions of excellencein teaching. Early care and education professionals (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997) and

    *Corresponding author. 115 Alison Hall West, Department of Individual and Family Studies,University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19716, USA. Email: cparis@udel.edu

  • 572 C. Paris and B. Combs

    middle school educators (National Middle Schools Association, 2001) also advocatelearner-centered approaches, as do the authors of numerous state level standardsdocuments. Claiming to be learner-centered in ones personal philosophy or schoolor district mission statement is commonplace.

    The term learner-centered (and the related terms child-centered and student-centered) is nearly ubiquitous in professional writing and discourse. It is used in thediscourse of constructivist approaches, inquiry-based teaching, project curricula anddevelopmentally appropriate practice. In most cases the term is used freely and with-out definition, suggesting that the meaning is shared and unproblematic. Such apresumption of shared understanding masks a multitude of idiosyncratic and incom-patible meanings of the term (Paris & Combs, 2000). The term is used, for example,to describe:

    a student-as-consumer perspective leading to flexible scheduling and delivery ofservices in community colleges, vocational and continuing education (Pursaill &Potter, 1994; Workplace Training Project, 1998);

    instruction that is individualized through the use of interactive, computer deliveredmaterials (Watters et al., 1998);

    a state-wide standards-based, multi-measure assessment system (Falk, 1996); teaching approaches described in opposition to those that are content focused

    (Boudah et al., 1997); interactive learning experiences as opposed to individual student work (Clark,

    2001); teaching that simultaneously incorporates student voice and choice and focuses on

    meeting content standards (Starnes & Paris, 2000).

    The range of meaning is staggering, and dangerous.Unwarranted presumption of agreement limits our ability to communicate effec-

    tively within and outside the educational community and makes us vulnerable to co-option of the term by those who would vilify it or use it to political advantage. Ascathing New York Times commentary on the flaws of learner-centered practiceprovides a troubling example. The author observed a session of a teacher educationclass engaged in group work and reflection and concluded:

    In such a classroom, the teacher is not supposed to teach, since teaching is considered toohierarchical and authoritarian. Worse, traditional lecturing presumes that the teacher actu-ally knows something and students dont, an idea that is anathema to ed-school egalitari-anism. The ideal student-centered classroom lacks a fixed curriculum. The students owninterests determine what he or she learns with the teacher acting as mere facilitator.(MacDonald, 1998)

    Although one cannot be certain in this short piece if the author was attending onlyto the surface features without understanding the significance of what was seen or ifthe class observed was even enacting what others might agree was a learner-centeredapproach, the outcome was glib dismissal of all learner-centered teaching. Well-artic-ulated meanings of learner-centeredness on the part of the observer and the observedand the reading public might have led to different conclusions.

  • What teachers mean by learner-centered 573

    Clearly articulated meanings of learner-centeredness do exist within the educa-tional community. Large scale efforts by the National Center for RestructuringEducation, Schools, and Teaching (NCREST) and the American PsychologicalAssociation (APA) with the Mid-continent Regional Educational Laboratory(McREL) offer research-based meanings of learner-centeredness.

    NCREST has produced a series of documents on learner-centered instructionalpractices, supports, and accountability (Darling-Hammond, 1992b; Snyder et al.,1992a; Darling-Hammond et al., 1993; Lieberman, 1994; Ancess, 1995). In thesedocuments the authors provide descriptions of learner-centeredness derived fromcase studies of teachers and schools identified as learner-centered. These descriptionsconsist of a coherent set of beliefs, values, assumptions, knowledge, understandingsand patterns of thinking that guide and serve as indicators of learner-centeredness.These include an appreciation of and respect for childrens interests and needs andthe development of student autonomy, pedagogical decisions based on detailedknowledge of each student and the classroom community and an environmentallydependent view of learning and teaching in which students actively navigate the diffi-cult terrain of the construction of personal meaning in a learning community.

    McCombs and Whisler (1997), in work supported by the APA and the McREL,identified learner-centered approaches as those that require educators to look withthe learner at what learning means and how it can be enhanced from withindraw-ing on the learners unique perspectives, talents, capacities, and experiences (p. xi,original emphasis), rather than simply doing education to and for learners. Theseapproaches also include a deep understanding of the learning process itself (p. xii).In this work it is this dual focus that distinguishes learner-centeredness. The authorssought a research base for learner-centered practices in empirical studies thatdescribe learners and effective learning processes. They identified twelve learner-centered psychological principles that address metacognitive/cognitive, affective,developmental and personal/social factors, as well as individual differences. Theprinciples were presented to teachers, students and administrators to further distin-guish effective practice (p. xv). McCombs and Whisler distilled the following defi-nition from this work:

    The perspective that couples a focus on individual learners (the heredity, experiences,perspectives, backgrounds, talents, interests, capacities, and needs) with a focus on learn-ing (the best available knowledge about learning and how it occurs and about teachingpractices that are most effective in promoting the highest levels of motivation, learning,and achievement for all learners). This dual focus then informs and drives the educationaldecision-making. (p. 9)

    The work of NCREST and APA/McCREL offers meanings of learner-centered-ness, drawn from case studies of exemplary practice and analysis of research on bestpractice, which are remarkably consistent. Taken together, they provide a clarity thatmakes a shared meaning of learner-centeredness possible in discussions within thefield of education and beyond. Further, their robust and detailed descriptions oflearner-centered practices might serve as ideals against which practices might bemeasured.

  • 574 C. Paris and B. Combs

    Shared meanings and mutually agreed upon end-points are necessary, certainly,but perhaps not sufficient. Although these meanings may guide discourse and assess-ment of progress toward learner-centeredness, they may not be adequate for thepurposes of those who in their daily practice are striving toward learner-centerednessand those who hope to support them in that work. An additional dimension of mean-ing may be needed, that of thoughtful teachers who are committed to learner-centeredness engaging intellectually and affectively in this work and grappling everyday with what it means to focus on individual learners (APA/McCREL) and torespect childrens interests and develop student autonomy (NCREST). Themeanings of such teachers, grounded in their personal and professional histories andclosely examined daily practice, clarified in reflective conversation with others anddeepened in personal reflection, might provide another dimension of understanding.We refer here to such meaningscommitted, engaged, reflective and inextricably tiedto personal and professional experiencesas lived meanings. This study sought touncover lived meanings of learner-centeredness by analyzing teacher narratives ofpersonal and professional histories collected in open-ended interviews.

    The teachers

    The teachers in this study were all participants in Foxfire, a voluntary teacher supportorganization that at the time of the interviews offered workshops, conferences,publications and local networks to teachers throughout the country who sought toexamine and develop their teaching practices in ways that were respectful of andresponsive to learners. It is important to note that these teachers were not workingtoward learner-centeredness because they were required to do so by their schooldistricts or building administrators. They were seeking to become more learner-centered because of their own unique values and goals and personal and professionalhistories.

    The work they did together in this organization was guided by principles that wereconsistent with the APA/McCREP and NCREST meanings of learner-centeredness.There are four categories of principles. The first addresses the relationships amongteachers, learners, the curriculum and the community: students and teachers togetherconstruct a curriculum that grows out of and feeds into the community outside theschool in order to ensure that all students meet their academic goals. The second hasto do with the ways in which learning occurs: students are engaged in active learning,with purposes that are meaningful to the learner and content that spirals out ofprevious shared experiences. The third focuses on ultimate goals: the preparation oflearners for lives as citizens, as collaborative decision-makers who approach problemswith creativity and imagination. The last addresses teachers and learners engage-ment in ongoing reflection, assessment and evaluation (Starnes, 1999).

    Eighteen teachers were interviewed for this research. The teachers interviewed todate work in nine states (California, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, New Jersey, NewYork, North Carolina, South Dakota and Washington) in communities that varygreatly in cultural and class composition. Twelve were elementary teachers, four were

  • What teachers mean by learner-centered 575

    secondary teachers and two were teacher educators (one with early childhood andelementary teaching experience and one with secondary teaching experience).Sixteen of the participants were female, two were male and all were white. Eachresponded to an open invitation to the membership or a personal invitation to beinterviewed for research on learner-centered teachers.

    Although potential problems inherent in self-identification and in looking within aparticular community of teachers do exist, there were significant advantages. Lookingat teachers who were members of one particular professional organization thatsystematically declared its learner-centered theoretical base allowed us to locateteachers who had taken deliberate action to explore and identify themselves withlearner-centered teaching and who were accustomed to articulating their thinkingabout their teaching.

    As researchers, we recognized that we came to this work with our own stories ofbecoming learner-centered teachers that would color the questions we asked and theways in which we understood what we heard. We believed that by telling our ownstories prior to interviewing the others we could set out our own meanings so thatwe might remain alert to the frames each of us brought to the research while testingout our interview questions and developing possible prompts. Thus, possibleresearcher bias was addressed by submitting our own interviews to the same analysisapplied to all data in this study. By doing so, we could clearly identify the points atwhich our own beliefs were consistent with or differed from those of others. Alertedin this way to how our own thinking was related to the data, we could be moreconfident that our assumptions, experiences and meanings did not find their wayinto the results unless they were part of the larger meanings identified in the entirecorpus of the data.

    The data on which this paper is based were gathered as part of a larger study of howexperienced teachers grow towards learner-centeredness. The primary data sourceswere individual interviews and demographic information collected from each partic-ipant. All interviews were conducted in informal settings by one of the authors. Thenature of the discourse was that of focused conversation. Two questions provided thestructure for the interviews.

    You have identified yourself or have been identified by others as a learner-centeredteacher. Can you talk a bit about what learner-centered means to you?

    How is it that you came to be this kind of teacher?

    Teachers answers were explored through additional questioning designed to followtheir particular line of thinking (Rubin & Rubin, 1995). Some interviews were clearlymarked as separate discussions of the two questions, while others moved back andforth between the two. Almost all took the form of stories that wove together threadsof their personal and professional lives.

    The interview data were gathered using a multi-step, cooperative procedure (Rubin& Rubin, 1995). In the first phase the interviews were audiotaped and transcribed.During the second phase drafts of transcripts were mailed to the interviewees alongwith blank audiotapes and a stamped, self-addressed envelope. Participants were

  • 576 C. Paris and B. Combs

    given the opportunity to review the transcript and write or audiotape any corrections,elaborations or new information and return the annotated transcriptions.

    A constant comparative method was employed to explore the meanings teachersascribed to the term learner-centered (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Text segments thatcontained the words learner-centered were identified,1 followed by a reading of thecomplete transcripts to identify additional text in which teachers talked about learnersor their practice in the same ways they did when using the words learner-centered.2

    All text in which the teachers referred explicitly or implicitly to learner-centerednesswere combined, preliminary categories developed, their properties identified andrelated categories merged.

    Analysis yielded three broad and seemingly simple meanings of learner-centered-ness:

    the student is the starting point for curriculum making; the teacher and students are co-participants in the learning process; the teacher strives toward intense student engagement with the curriculum.

    Given the constraints of length and in keeping with our goal of demonstrating therichness of lived meanings, we elected to illustrate these meanings using excerptsfrom three interviews, rather than providing shorter snippets of data from all eighteen.We decided to search the full data set for stories of several teachers who came fromdifferent parts of the country, taught in different school settings and had different lifeexperiences. As we reread each transcript, Alice Sears, Olivia Post and AnnaMorrison3 emerged as the first three to fit those parameters, and so it is their storiesthat we offer here. They, like all the others in the study, can be characterized as seek-ers or explorers on a journey as learner-centered curriculum makers. When theirpaths crossed at Foxfire all three were at different points on their journeys whichwere, like those of others in the midst of professional growth, often non-linear,episodic, recursive and characterized by experimentation and discovery (Paris, 1993).

    Before examining the shared understandings found in all the teachers stories,detailed introductions of the three teachers are presented in order to preserve someof the wholeness of their identities, as well as their lived meanings of learner-centered-ness. These introductions are for the most part written in the teachers own words,indicated through the use of italics, to better communicate the individuality of each.

    Alice Sears

    I have been a student and a teacher all of my life even as a teenager I taught Sunday Schooland did things with other children, maybe as a peer tutor before there were such labeled things aspeer tutors. It just seemed to be in my nature to try to find knowledge and to share knowledge andto help other people acquire the knowledge that they wanted.

    In her 16 plus years in education Alice had taught special education, first, fourth andfifth grades and middle school science. When interviewed she was teaching fourthgrade in a rural county in the southeastern USA, identified as one of the poorest inthe country. She said that her journey towards learner-centered teaching was indirect.

  • What teachers mean by learner-centered 577

    I first had a degree in religious education. I was married, divorced and twenty years ago there wasnot a big field for divorced women in religious education, so I went back to school. I was left witha child and a very uncertain future. The president of the college, who had known me as a student,when he heard what had happened, called me at my parents and said, Ive heard whatshappened and Im very sorry about the situation, and I understand that youve always expressedan interest in teaching. So, if you would like to come back to pursue your teaching degree, we willhelp you find housing accommodation, and well get you a job on campus. And I just thought thatwas the handwriting on the wall, you know, that this is the route I needed to go. Somebody believedin me enough to invest his professional status in me, you know, and to come and take a chance onme, to help me come back to school and so thats how I got back in teaching.

    Her program was traditional and so too was her early teaching.

    I had come out of the traditional college, a traditional philosophy of how to teach and how todiscipline. So I taught by the book . You have a textbook and a teachers manual, andthe lesson inside the teachers manual. Pretty much, you wouldnt have to have a collegedegree to present a lesson. If you could just read the steps and go through the motions, andhand out the work at the designated time, and read this paragraph orally and discuss. Every-thing that you needed to do for that class will appear in the teachers manual, you know, sothats pretty much it.

    She became frustrated, however, when her students did not seem to retain coursematerial, even though she believed that she had taught the content thoroughly.

    I would invest all of these hours in my lesson plans and just work on it all the time. I tried to makelessons interesting, something the kids wanted to do. It just seemed like no matter how much effortI put into it, they just werent getting as much as I wanted them to get. Now, thats not to say thatthey werent learning and werent progressing, but they werent getting all of what I had hopedthey would get, and so I felt very frustrated because we were covering the material but it wasntsticking . They just kind of soaked up a minimal amount of information, you know, andprobably very little learning took place, and it was boring.

    Also, after reflecting upon her own need to be challenged in active learning settings,she wondered whether her students might not share the same learning need.

    I dont want to sit in a room for six hours a day with something boring, you know. And even nowas a teacher my lesson plans I could never use the same lesson plan two years in a row becausethe kids are different. The combination of children is different. I have different life experiences;those children have different life experiences. So, Im a person that likes to be challenged myself,and when I found out the missing key was to put the challenge to the children and let them answerthe call in their own way everything changed. They changed, I changed.

    Alice began to change her instructional approach when after six years in the class-room she took a Foxfire course.

    Instead of being a textbook and teacher-centered teacher I became a student-centered teacher,even in first grade, and it made all the difference in the world. You know, I found out thatthey were just like adults. If they were interested in it, they would learn it. They would remem-ber it; they could give it back to you, and thats been about ten or eleven years ago. And thesense of ownership and the sense of investing themselves, I think, is what makes the difference,along with the fact that they realize somebody trusts them enough to give them the opportunity . When you pay the cost for your learning, when you invest yourself and your time, andyou put a price on it yourself, even as children, even as first graders, the learning is justincredible.

  • 578 C. Paris and B. Combs

    Alice held a strong belief in the ability of her students to select and engage in tasksthat resulted not only in academic but also joyful learning.

    I feel like in some small ways that I am making a difference with the children, and teaching themthat they can make a difference with their lives. I want them to go away from me with that gift ofdreaming back, you know, I want them to believe that theyre capable of wonderful things, bigthings, if they just believe in themselves. And, of course, as an individual, I feel like a proudparent, a mama hen with a new brood of chicks. Any success they have just gives me the glowinside to keep going, to keep trying, to know that when the failures come along, thats ok, becausethe successes make up for it.

    Olivia Post

    At thirteen years of teaching now, Im almost more excited than I was when I first started. I mean,when I first started I was excited because I was going to get a job and do this sort of thing. Butnow Im excited because I have the job, I know what Im doing, and its always just a little bitdifferent and just a little bit more twist, and theres so much more that I can get out of it. And Ihope its always that way, you know.

    At the time of the interview Olivia taught fourth grade in a small, upper middle classsuburban school in the northwest. The area was experiencing rapid growth due to theinflux of families employed in technology industries. As Olivia looked back on herthirteen years of teaching she readily admitted that teaching was not a career she wasborn to.

    I am probably not one of those people that would say, Oh, I always knew I wanted to be ateacher. I think I did it in a lot of little ways. I like working with other people; I like sharing whatI can with other people, so I did little things on the way like, you know, my sister and I playedschool and, of course, she was younger so I just got to be the teacher. I played violin myself andthen I had a couple of violin students when I was a teenager so that was, just something that feltgood to me, that I liked to do. And I think in college it was just something that I sort of gravitatedtowards, you know, I dont know, sometimes I wonder if there was something I should haveexplored a little bit more, like would I have made a good engineer or a good something else, but Iknew that that was something that felt very comfortable and was something that I thought Iwanted to do.

    Once I got in the teaching program, I was not a natural in the classroom, as it turned out, and Iwas very nervous. Because I think Im kind of a perfectionist, I like to have organized things, andwhen you added a bunch of ten-year-olds to the picture it wasnt all that way. So, I mean, I havesome funny stories that I tell about the beginning of it, but I dont know if I was suited to it at thetime as well as I thought I would be. I thought you just went in there and the children loved you,and everything was hunky-dory, so it was a lot of naivet on my part.

    Olivia did not find a position immediately after graduation and substituted bothlong and short term for two years before beginning her full-time teaching career atthird grade.

    That was another little crash in my mind that, you know, you didnt get a job immediately whenyou graduated in June. I had lined that all out perfectthat I would get a job in September andit didnt happen that way. But, one of the things that for me was very good (because I thinkmanagement was an area that I wanted to make sure I was really solid on) [was] substitute teach-ing; [it] is something that taught me a lot of that.

  • What teachers mean by learner-centered 579

    She described her journey toward learner-centered teaching as a process of babysteps due, at first, to the not so gentle nudging and support of a colleague.

    My major breakthrough with Foxfire did not come from me searching for the right thing, it camefrom somebody else and she and I have this joke about when she came to passing the baton she justbumped me over the head with it. So, its not anything, for the records that says, you know, Thiswas this big breakthrough; this is what I need. At the same time, it was something I did see goingon, and Marcie was right in the building. I tend to be a see it to believe it kind of thing, and soI saw stuff going on in her class. I did take a [Foxfire] Level One class because she was offering itin the area. I thought, well, Ill take this, you know, and see what it is that her children are doingdown there with all of these fun looking things.

    After taking the Level One class, Olivia experimented with learner-centeredapproaches in stages, with a personal setback stalling but not stopping her journey.

    I tend to [need] a real safety factor in things. I dont want to try sixteen new things at once. Illtry a new thing with something I know. So I knew math, and I knew how to count money before,and I decided with the kids I wanted to do some regular math lessons and practice but that I wouldlike to find a way for them to show that they had learned about money .

    The other funny story with me is that while I was finishing the Level One class my life blew up,my personal life blew up. And, you know, I went to Marcie and I just said, I know Ive taken aclass, I dont remember anything of it, and my life is falling apart, so I need to take a step backfrom a lot of things. And I said, About the only thing I can do right now is just make school asnormal as possible and get through emotional stuff. So it would be fair to say that I took as faras being conscientious of what I was doing[what] Foxfire was, I took at least a six month hiatusfrom that. But, you know, once you start looking at things like getting kids involved in partnerstuff you dont take that away, you know, you dont go back to strictly everything out of the text-book, but I did back off from some of the larger scale things.

    So, then I took the class again. I went to fourth grade, took my third grade class and went to fourthgrade and started experimenting around with some more things. Same school, same kids, so thereI had all my safety factors, except that I added a grade level thing. I started doing more verypurposefully thinking about what was I trying to do and again [in] small steps. Im sure thereare a lot of other people out there that heard about this, fully embraced it, jumped into it andchanged everything about their teaching, but that is not my personality. It really helped thatMarcie was just down the hall, and I can stop her and say Whats going on here, this isnt work-ing?

    With Marcie as her safety net Olivia continued to experiment until she felt acomfort level that would not allow her to turn back.

    The enthusiasm that the kids took with it is enough to balance out the days that at the end youthought, Oh my gosh, what have I screwed up on now? Theyre very enthused at this ageanyway about learning but the fact that theyre going to have a hand in itthe ownership isthe student-centered thing. When they feel that excited about it, theyre talking about it in themiddle of lunch, theyre going out in recess and telling other kids. It almost felt like, not out ofcontrol, but it felt like once you have that offered, you cant renege.

    Anna Morrison

    Annas story is one of perseverance and gradual awareness about why she teaches theway she does and how she can better articulate her strong belief that what she engages

  • 580 C. Paris and B. Combs

    in is sound practice that is good for her students. At the time of the interview she hadtaught for a total of 12 years, the last four of those years spent teaching Grades 35at a reservation school in the mid-west.

    When I came out of college I was a traditional teacher because I didnt know any other way andI taught in a country school; a one room school house with 13 kids in the middle of the sand hills . I thought they quit riding horses in the 40s, you know. But, they rode horses to school andhad cold pancakes for lunch, took them off the griddle in the morning, rolled them up and atecold pancakes for lunch. That year was pretty much by the book, the way Id been taught atcollege .

    After her first year Anna left this full-time teaching position and substituted whileraising a family. Nearly a decade later she returned to another small, rural school.

    Probably while I was subbing is when I got more creative because, as a sub, I couldnt go in andfollow the lesson plans and read out of the manual because I was dead if I did. I got so I was doingmurals, a day long mural or I would wear a cowboy hat in to school as I got out of my car. Thenwed do creative writing about it.

    But then I went back in full time and I went back to a country school, and the same superinten-dent that Id had ten years before was now a full blown superintendent. At in-service she said,You have to get through the books, thats a requirement, and so, this is what I expect everybodyto do. And I had really good intentions. I fully intended to get through those books, but at Christ-mas time we made ginger bread houses, and I showed the school board, which happened to be allthe parents of the kids that were in there, that we were doing math and we were doing measure-ments . They were supposed to be houses, they turned into barns and mansions, but the kidswere so involved . It was just that they were so engaged and they were there every morning,thats what they wanted to do; they wanted to be there at that school, you know.

    The following year the superintendent diligently marked each of the textbooks,designating what pages she was to be on by what date.

    I didnt know then to say to the kids, and, oh, I wished I would have, We have to be to page 100.Ok, do you want to get it out of the way this week so we can do something else for the next six,seven weeks? But we struggled with it and it kept getting in our way.

    At the end of the year the country schoolhouse closed. Anna moved to a small townand again tried to teach by the book, but again found it wasnt working, helping herchildren learn to read.

    I got off Alpha Time. I liked that, but a letter a week seemed to be slowing us down. I took a classin visual phonics. Each sound had a sign, and that helped them get their letter sounds. We learnedthe visual phonics right along with the letter people. Then, the next year, we went to all day, everyday and I had a speech pathologist that had to come in and work with three kids. I started watch-ing her and she did pragmatic reading and writing from Apricot out in Oregon. They have apicture card and they talk about that card and tell the story of the card until they know it reallywell. Then, they draw it on a piece of their own paper, scribble write in a line and then break it upinto words. Wed put the word that it was supposed to be above it. Eventually, they got so theywrote that word. They learned those letters as they needed to know them, you know.

    I thought, All right, this is what its about. This is why we do this, this way. But, I had no back-up. I had no professional back-up. I had the speech pathologist, you know, it was just by hit andmiss. There was nobody to tell me if it was right or wrong. For me, what was lacking was the vali-dation, the saying that this is what was good for kids. It wasnt some half-baked idea that I

  • What teachers mean by learner-centered 581

    dreamed up on my own . And its so overwhelming to have to go out there and find all theprograms by yourself and not know if youre right.

    I ended up losing my job. I lost my job because I was so off-the-wall, and they used that part in apolitical fight. I didnt have a job. Nothing was happening, and I kept saying, It will. It will. Iknow it will. By August, you guys just watch and see, Im going to have this really, really high-powered teaching job. I didnt not for four years. I cleaned pots, I made beds, I did everything,and then I went back to college. My boss sent me back to college. I was working as an executivesecretary at a chute manufacturing place, a livestock chute manufacturing place. His son had beenin that kindergarten class where we wrote the Brown Bear, Brown Bear book, and he said, Idont think you should give it up. Go back to college .

    She went back to school and, after renewing her certificate, took a position in anelementary school on a reservation in the mid-west. She pulled out the picture cardsonce more and used an old Indian legend text from a college class to build childrensreading skills.

    I took a culture class, and what I learned in that class I took back and shot right into my room.Thats when we did our Sacred Sites field trips and we got an Indian legend book. We had oneratty version of an Indian legend book and we used that. And we went back to the pragmatic read-ing. Id tell the legend, the kids would act it out for two or three days then they would draw a story-board .

    About that time [the director of Foxfire] came in and [she] was like a whirlwind . She was allaround taking pictures, talking to the kids, asking them her magic questions, you know, Whatare you learning? How do you know youre learning it? What are you going to do with it? Shewas right down there on the floor . That afternoon she said, I love your room; love yourroom. And Im still going, What is Foxfire? Who are these people? Ive never heard of it before.From then on its been on Foxfire trying to convince me that what I do is valid . I wasnt ableto defend myself on academic integrity. I didnt have the vocabulary to do it. I didnt have theunderstanding. I may have had the gut instinct but I couldnt verbalize it and I couldnt justifywhat I was doing. Now I can I have the vocabulary; research to back me up.

    Alice Sears, Olivia Post and Anna Morrison, like all the others interviewed, workedin contexts that differed greatly and brought to that work myriad differences inpersonal and professional histories. And, like the others, these three teachers grappleddaily with what it means to be learner-centered.

    Lived meanings of learner-centeredness

    First we present the content of the teachers lived meanings and illustrate them withexcerpts from Alices, Olivias and Annas stories. Then we examine what these livedmeanings bring to the problem of building clear, shared and functional understand-ings of learner-centeredness.

    The student is the starting point for curriculum making

    Central to the meanings of learner-centeredness is the importance of the learnersplace at what Alice referred to as the focal point of the learning experience. Thecentrality of the learner in the teachers thinking was evident as the teachers described

  • 582 C. Paris and B. Combs

    their own work in terms of what the learners were doing, rather than in terms of whatthey themselves were doing. The stories they used convey their meanings of learner-centeredness as stories of students activity and students plans, shaped by studentsinterests.

    Alice, for example, offered a rich description of her students strategies for quiltmaking:

    I put all this time into getting all the equipment ready, and when I got everything out and put iton my desk, one little girl raised her hand and said, Wouldnt it just be a whole lot easier if youfolded that sheet in half, tore it in half, folded it again, tore it again?

    I said, Well, we need to figure out if there will be twenty-four equal pieces. So they got out piecesof paper and folded them, and in five minutes they did precisely what we needed to do. With myway of doing it, it probably would have taken us days of kids fighting over rulers and yardsticks.

    Olivia told the story of her students deliberations about designing their biographyT-shirts and dealing with the problem of her lack of expertise in fabric painting:

    The day that it came time for me to paint my shirt, I was nervous about picking the paint up andputting it on the shirt because I didnt want to mess it up. Some of my little girls came over andshowed me how to do it. In that moment I was thinking, They are teaching the teacher. I dontknow that they really saw that. They just wanted to help me pick out the green and tell me whatto do. But, it was so wonderful, the role reversal!

    Anna speaks proudly of those students who worked responsibly in their self-directed groups:

    We met at the top of every hour and discussed what we were going to do that day, what theyneeded, and whether they needed anything from me or the student teacher. Then they wouldwork in their groups. We would meet at the end of the hour, and they would give a report ofwhat they had accomplished that day and how much more time were they going to need to get itdone.

    Placing children at the center of the action and recognizing their unique contribu-tions is also expressed in each teachers invitations to students to bring their inter-ests into the classroom. Anna provided multiple opportunities in the study ofcelebrations for her students to follow their interestsfinding their classmatesfavorite celebrations, exploring why celebrations are special and learning about holi-days and traditional native celebrations. There was also ample room for students topursue other interests as they decided on the ways in which they would share whatthey learned.

    We divided up into groups, and I think there were five kids to a group, and they decided. Onegroup found out what the whole rooms favorite celebrations were. They started with their own andthen they graphed everybodys. Another group tried to find out what celebrations were special.Another group picked traditions of Christmas, Fourth of July, and Easter, and another groupwrote a play. It was so awesome to watch them do it and come to agree on how they were going todo it.

    Olivia, too, structured the study of biography in such a way that her students inter-ests dictated which biographies they read and how they demonstrated what theylearned.

  • What teachers mean by learner-centered 583

    When they do start taking over (I mean, the snowball is rolling) I need to get them going more.Theyll be selecting their own books. Thats child-centered. Im not saying, You have to do areport on President Lincoln. They will choose a subject in their own interest area. And then ofcourse, well be trying to decide what we want to do to show that weve learned biographywhatwell design to show others outside our classroom what weve learned.

    Students interests played an important role in Alices conception of learner-centeredness as well. She spoke with conviction that building on childrens interestsresults in students learning more and retaining what they learn. But it was not onlytheir individual interests that were important to Alice. So, too, were their dreams, andshe saw it as her responsibility to help children use their interests and rediscover theirdreams.

    Theres always give and take. Once we break down that barrier of mistrust or the feelings of havingno control at all over what surrounds them in school every day, its a different atmosphere. Its likethey get the dreams squished out of them. By nine years old you can already see that theyve hadtheir dreams just squelched. So, I see my job as a teacher being to help put the dreams back

    In these stories of curriculum making and curriculum in action children are thecentral characters. And characters they are. Real live children populate these stories,and the teachers careful attention to and respect for the detail of their childrensinterests, skills, ideas, problem-solving strategies, learning and dreams is clear.

    The teacher and students are co-participants in the learning process

    Alices give and take with her students and balancing of trust and initiative andOlivias cultivation of children as teachers suggest the complicated nature of theirunderstanding of the roles of teacher and learner. The roles are neither distinct norstatic. They are constructed moment by moment in the learning process.

    In the teachers stories teachers and children together share the work of learning.All have important roles and responsibilities. Contrary to some perceptions oflearner-centered teachers as taking passive roles or engaging in teacher-absentpractices such as allowing children to explore without guidance or purpose, theseteachers were decidedly present in their students learning (Graue, 2001). For theseteachers the meanings of teacher and teaching expand rather than contract in theirlearner-centered classrooms. The teachers stories tell of a multiplicity of roles thatoften changed moment by moment and tasks that varied greatly in type and complex-ity.

    Alices reflection on her roles in her students learning pointed out that she becamewhatever her students needed her to be:

    Sometimes Im a general overseer. Sometimes Im a dispute manager. Sometimes Im a keynotespeaker. Sometimes Im the cheerleading section. I think my role changes as the students needschange.

    Being a learner-centered teacher involves being proactive as well as reactive. Notall teacher activity is responsive; it also initiates and alters students thinking andactivity. Alices story tells of creating opportunities for learning, putting challenges

  • 584 C. Paris and B. Combs

    to children, breaking down barriers of mistrust between teacher and students; invit-ing students ideas for activities, gathering tools and materials and assessing thepotential of activities unfolding minute by minute while holding state mandatedcurriculum goals firmly in mind.

    At this moment, were going through massive educational reform and mandated material that wehave to cover, specific things that we have to do in fourth grade, like writing portfolios and assess-ment. A lot of accountability is placed on our grade. So, there are things that we know we mustdo, the givens that we have to do and have no choice about. However, I still have found thatstudents, if you tell them where you have to go and what you have to cover, and they learn tobelieve that you will listen, often have better ideas about how to get there than the prescribed thingsfrom the textbook. I may spend hours at home trying to think of ways to be creative while they cancome up with something more age appropriate in five minutes. Everything around them is a learn-ing opportunity.

    Olivia crafted invitations to students to draw them into study of the required curric-ulum, used the books and sports cards children brought from home to aid in theirconstruction of what constitutes a biography and invited her students to choose thebiographies they would read, how they would demonstrate what they learned at thecompletion of their study and how they would share what they learned with othersoutside the classroom.

    They designed the T-shirts, and they set the criteria for what would need to be on the T-shirts toget other people to notice them. The idea was that the T-shirts would get people to ask them aboutTy Cobb or Kristy Yamaguchi, or whoever. They selected their own subject and then designed theshirts. They wanted to have highlights and a slogan because they decided to advertise their learn-ing. You couldnt put a whole bunch of stuff on because people wouldnt ask you about that, butif you had a quick slogan, that would get them involved in asking. They made reports that theycarried with them to the school-wide Learning Fair.

    Anna invited her students to take part in planning how they would study celebra-tions, conducted class meetings at the beginning and end of each work session to setdirections for that work, led her students in the creation of a rubric to guide and assesstheir work, required each group to reflect on their work in discussion and listened andobserved in order to assess their progress.

    They made a rubric about what it would look like if the presentation was successful. The playgroup kept changing. Today they would have a wonderful idea. Tomorrow theyd have a betterone. They had six ideas cooking and not one went to completion. So when they were done, theyhad to say, This was a good plan, but if we had stuck with one play we would have had it done.

    Students and teachers together shared the work of curriculum making and assess-ment of their joint planning and of the student outcomes. Sometimes acting as initi-ator or manager and sometimes stepping aside to allow student leadership, theteachers and students roles shifted moment to moment. They engaged in a dance ofreciprocal invitations and responses as they planned for and evaluated learning. Andthey did so in ways that were intentionally designed to engage their students withdepth and intensity. In fact, the students roles as co-participants in the learningprocess cannot be fully understood without consideration of the third element ofmeaning.

  • What teachers mean by learner-centered 585

    The teacher strives towards intense student engagement with curriculum

    A third element of learner-centeredness is the teachers expectations that students willengage physically, intellectually and emotionally in their learning. Although all threeteachers described classrooms that buzzed with student activity, it was not the levelof that physical activity alone that was important in the teachers meanings of learner-centeredness. The activity they valued encompassed more than just the doing. Itrequired students active intellectual and emotional involvement as well.

    Alice provided opportunities early on that built trust and invited her students totake the initiative in their learning process.

    At the beginning of the year we do the experiential chart a list of objectives theyd like to do .And then theyll say, Youre not going to let us do this stuff, and I say, Well, I didnt say wewould, but well try. Well see how things work out. You just give me your ideas and let me writethem up here and at the end of the year you can check me and see how many of them we did. And about half-way through the year, we pulled it out and I put it back up on the boardand said, Well, this is a good time to check ourselves and see what weve done. When they startedchecking things on that list that they had already done, they were just sitting there going, Wow! and then when its over, Ill say, Now, what have you learned? They think Im really sneaky,but really theyre the ones that have directed what they learn and how much they learn.

    And she believed that when she encouraged such engagement, her students woulddo precisely what needed to be done.

    I found that they were just like adults, if they were interested in something, they would learn it,they would remember it, they would retain it, and they could give it back to you. Thats been aboutten or eleven years. Ive done Foxfire with first grade, fifth grade, fourth grade, sixth, seventh, andeighth and its always true that they accomplish far more than they are mandated to do. The senseof ownership and the sense of investing themselves, I think, is what makes the difference, alongwith the fact that they realize somebody trusts them enough to give them the opportunity.

    Olivia wanted her students excitement for learning to begin in but extend beyondtheir classroom walls. This required a blurring of the boundaries between thestudents lives inside and outside of school. Sometimes this meant that studentswould share the days learning activities at home with their parents or voluntarilyengage in further study at home.

    I like to see the kids getting excited where theyll go home and tell their parents what theyre doing.Or theyll go home and start trying to find a biography book or a sports card and bring this in andsay, Is this a biography? One of my little girls was reading something that actually turned out tobe an historical fiction. But she said, Is this a biography? We were trying to decide together whyit wasnt or was. She went home and found another book about Abe Lincoln and then we decidedthat one must be.

    At other times this meant allowing her students to provide the help and guidanceto knowledgeable others on their own initiative.

    And then as a whole group, they did a biography T-shirt project . I have no craft background,and they quickly discovered that. But they knew that I was good at helping them learn wordprocessing on the computer, and I would help them with the typing skills. A boy in my class decidedthat I was going to need some rescuing. I guess he talked to his mom about it. I had the impressionthat you get the shirts maybe one child a day would go in the back and be done. So this mom

  • 586 C. Paris and B. Combs

    shows up and said, Look, you dont know what youre getting yourself into. Her son arrangedfor her to come every day that week. She came in for a one- or two-hour block and we worked onshirts . And the child-centered part, obviously, is all the organizing they did. They got all thematerials. They realized my expertise wasnt there, so they got other help.

    Annas description of the framework of the theme study demonstrates her expecta-tion of intense student engagement. Each day students met as a class to discuss andplan out their work for the day. They met in their groups for an hour to implementtheir plans and then at the end of the hour reported their accomplishments to theclass. Although Anna provided the structure, the students were engaged fully in workthey had designed.

    It was really nice to see the kids going to the encyclopedia, going to the computers, knowing wherethey wanted to go, sitting there talking about what they wanted to do, and doing it without havingto focus on the teacher. And I really like the feeling that it gave me. And I liked looking at themwhen they got done. You know, like, Look what we did. That is what learner-centered has cometo mean now.

    The students and teachers together made decisions about the how if not alwaysthe what of learning in the classroom. The teachers did not abdicate their ownresponsibility as curriculum leaders. All were clear about the content and skills thatneeded to be taught. Alice repeatedly expressed concern about meeting statemandates, but, as described in the excerpt, she remained open to student suggestionsand she firmly believed that such a stance resulted in students not only meeting butsurpassing mandates.

    Im always aware of whats expected of me as a teacherwhere were expected to end up whenthe years over, but I found out through experience over time, that if you give students the oppor-tunity, you give them the trust, will get beyond where you had to be. They only need the opportu-nity to be the focal point of the learning experience.

    Olivias efforts to get kids going reflected her desire to see them take responsibilityin the biography unit. She did not ignore the curriculum, but used it to help studentsassume responsibility for the quality of their learning.

    I think about things that have the kids being very actively involved throughout so much of theprocess. If Im planning lessons, Im thinking, How am I going to share this with them and getthem going on things? What are they going to do to get engaged in it, and what are they going todo to take a hand in the responsibility? Ive got this idea, Ive got this lesson, Ive got this unit,Ive got this curriculum. How are they going to start grabbing into it and saying, Well, ok, welltake some of that?

    Anna, in collaboration with her colleagues, set the theme to be studied in the class-room. The students were given the responsibility for organizing the work done in theirgroups and creating the rubric that would determine the quality of that work. Notonly were her students responsible to themselves and each other for the content oftheir learning, they were also responsible for understanding where and why their workfell short.

    We did [final] reflections out loud since they could reflect within their group. The student teacherand I were able to go from group to group and hear their reflections. I thought it was really effective.

  • What teachers mean by learner-centered 587

    What I really liked was that I was there but I wasnt leading it. I guided it but I didnt have todo anything.

    It is important to notice that although Anna expected a good deal of independencefrom her students, she also provided support through daily class meetings and groupobservations that would help them understand just how effectively their learning goalshad been met.

    Intense engagement involved student initiative, excitement, ownership and mutualresponsibility for learning outcomes. When understood from the teachers perspec-tives on learner-centeredness, intense engagement is to be built upon the shared andreciprocal participation of both the teachers and the students in learning processesthat are grounded in the students experiences, interests and dreams.

    Looking across all of the teachers lived meanings of learner-centeredness, there isagreement on the following. Students are regarded with respect, genuine interest andtrust. Each student is valued for the ideas, experiences, hopes and dreams they bringinto the classroom and these all form the foundation for curriculum making. Curric-ulum is mutually constructed by teachers and students based on students questions,experiences, strengths and needs and the curriculum goals for which teachers andstudents alike share responsibility.

    The value of lived meanings

    The teachers lived meanings of learner-centeredness, developed and tested in day-to-day practice and embedded in their personal and professional histories, includemany of the concepts found in the NCREST and APA/McREL definitions oflearner-centered and recent standards and goals statements. They include theNCREST documents emphasis on appreciation and respect for students interestsand needs, efforts to develop student autonomy and an environmentally dependentview of learning. They also include elements of the APA/McCREL definitions thatstress the dual focus on the individual learner and on learning processes that motivateand promote high levels of achievement. However, upon closer examination theselived meanings can take us further:

    they offer a close-up view that provides fine-grained detail of the day-to-day livingof learner-centeredness;

    they allow us to take a step back to view learner-centeredness in context andembedded in the personal and professional histories of its practitioners;

    they take us beneath the surface of learner-centeredness to mine the assumptions,values and goals that drive the teachers work;

    they highlight the dynamic, in motion quality of the teachers meanings of learner-centeredness.

    The teachers lived meanings offer a close-up view of learner-centeredness thatbrings depth and immediacy. Teachers lived meanings of learner-centeredness shiftthe focus, as Maxine Greene urged, from seeing things small to seeing things big.

  • 588 C. Paris and B. Combs

    Seeing things small is to see from a distant and detached position, to watch behaviorsfrom the perspectives of a system, to be concerned with trends and tendencies ratherthan intentionality and concreteness of everyday life (Greene, 1995, p. 10). Seeingbig requires seeing close up, seeing people and events in their particularity andintegrity in the midst of what is happening in the initiatives they take, the uncer-tainties they face (p. 10). The teachers lived meanings enlarge and breathe life intothe NCREST and APA/McREL definitions by contributing meanings that are popu-lated with real students and teachers in messy, complicated, troublesome, joyousactivity with the ragged edges, contradictions and uncertainties revealed.

    The teachers lived meanings of learner-centeredness are embedded in the presentcontexts of their work at the time of the interview and in the historical context of eachteachers personal and professional life. As the teachers in this study described theirlearner-centeredness they stressed, explicitly and implicitly, that their meanings couldnot be understood in isolation. Their understandings and practices at any point intime were shared with the backdrop of the school contexts in which they currentlyworked and the events and situations in their personal lives. Whether it be a difficultdivorce, a crisis of confidence as a teacher, teaching within an unfamiliar culture of aone-room school or reservation school or responding to the pressures of a growingfocus on accountability, the details of the teachers contexts were significant parts oftheir stories, included to aid in the listeners understanding of those stories. The livesof Alices students inside and outside school that had very nearly squelched theirability to dream contributed insight into Alices thinking about the role of children asthe starting point for curriculum making. The depth of Annas commitment tolearner-centeredness was revealed against the backdrop of the loss of one teachingposition because her practices were seen as too off the wall and her eventual returnto the same practices.

    The teachers lived meanings go beneath the surface features of learner-centeredpractices. In doing so they defy simplification as lists of discrete practices or ideas.Starnes (1998) warned of the dangers of relying on simplified meanings for complexideas when considering educational practice. She told the story of South Sea Islanderswho observed military cargo drops during World War II. When the deliveriesstopped, they attempted to restore them by building torch-lit runways, wearing coco-nut headsets and scanning the sky for planes. She likened educators who reducecomplex, nuanced and contextualized educational practices to the reproduction ofsurface features to the South Sea Islanders who attended only to the outward mani-festations of World War II cargo drops. Considerations of learner-centeredness thatrely on descriptions of surface features alone lack what Starnes called the essentialelementsthe complexities of meaning, intention and feelingare not adequate tothe task of advancing learner-centered practice.

    Bussis et al.s (1976) construct, deep structure of curriculum, offers one conceptionof what these essential elements might look like. In contrast to the surface content orobservable features of the curriculum, the deep structure or organizing content theydescribe is intentionality driven by particular assumptions and values and expressedin particular goals. Assumptions about learners, teachers and the curriculum and the

  • What teachers mean by learner-centered 589

    relationships among them were evident in the teachers meanings of learner-centered-ness. These relationships are consistent with an enactment conception of a curricu-lum.4 Teachers and students are in an active, empowered relationship to thecurriculum. Teachers are agents of curriculum making rather than mere implement-ers, creating a curriculum that supports their students growth towards learning goals.Teachers and students alike are constructors of knowledge about content and peda-gogy and joint participants in building the curriculum.

    Finally, the teachers lived meanings are dynamic. They are in motion andunfinished. That is not to say that their practice varied widely from year to year orschool to school. For the most part they held to their fundamental beliefs and at sometimes, with certain children and families, in certain communities or particular schoolcultures, they struggled more to act on those beliefs. At times they compromised orquestioned or took fewer risks. The challenges of particular personal or professionalcontexts were sometimes catalysts to deepening and enriching personal understand-ings of learner-centeredness. In other cases periods of personal and professionalstrength and support or simply lack of obstacles allowed time to focus and reflect onand advance evolving understanding and practice.

    The dynamic, in-progress quality of these meanings is illustrated in the way theteachers framed many of their stories. Insight and surprise are present in many of theteachers stories. Alices response to a childs idea for cutting quilt squares andOlivias delight in seeing her children assume the role of teacher illustrate the open-ness to and expectation of new understandings of learner-centeredness. The teachersfrequently offered their meanings as musings, explorations of ideas or reflective exam-inations of events shared as much for the benefit of the tellers understanding as thelisteners. And after 5, 10 or 20 years of practice the teachers were still on a journeytowards understanding that does not have a predetermined end.

    These interviews caught teachers at a particular point in their ever-evolving under-standings of learner-centeredness. The teachers were quite aware of being in motion.None, no matter how many years they had been practicing learner-centered teaching,claimed that they had reached some elusive image of perfect learner-centeredness.Further, their thinking about learner-centeredness and how to enact it, alwaysmeasured against and responsive to their contexts, was in motion because thestudents they taught, the communities in which they taught them and their ownexperiences and understandings were ever changing. Given the dynamic and contex-tualized nature of their lived meanings, it is not surprising that the teachers conveyedthose meanings in stories laced with reflections on those events at the time theyoccurred, as well as from the vantage point of the interview, routinely questioning,finding humor, pride or disappointment in their past efforts.

    The teachers lived meanings of learner-centeredness, then, although consistent incontent with the meanings of NCREST and APA/McCREL, serve to enlarge thosemeanings in significant ways. They call attention to the deep structure of assumptionsand intentionality and the details of the practices that these assumptions and inten-tions inform. And like all personal and practical knowledge developed and honed inparticular contexts (Connelly & Clandinin, 1988), they assume neither universality

  • 590 C. Paris and B. Combs

    nor certainty. The teachers stories suggest that learner-centeredness is a concept thatcannot be captured in finite or static statements or definitions. The contextualizedand dynamic nature of the teachers lived meanings gives them a more open qualitythat invites others into the journey, rather than simply describing the destination. Infact, these lived meanings call into question whether there might even be a finite endpoint to the journey. For teachers and others pursuing rather than describing orassessing learner-centeredness, lived meanings provide entry points and illuminatedetails of the journey that are often obscured in academic definitions.

    How do these lived meanings get us closer to shared understanding, meaningfulcommunication and protect from co-option or caricature or the reduction oflearner-centeredness to mere slogans? Although rigorously drawn meanings oflearner-centeredness provided in the work of NCREST authors and APAdocuments provide clarity that can inform professional and public discussion, teach-ers lived meanings enlarge and complicate them in ways that might keep theconversation open and growing. Delattre challenged educators to avoid the dangersof psittacismusing language without attention to what the words mean. Wordsand phrases used repeatedly without reasoned consideration, he argued are inert;powerless to capture reality; doomed to obscure truth, complexity, and subtlety; andtherefore destined to mislead those who take them as substitutes for thinking(Delattre, 1997, p. 36). Learner-centeredness has suffered such a fate in mucheducational discourse. Teachers lived meanings, if attended to, can serve to chal-lenge careless presumption of agreement, enlarge academic definitions, introducehumility and invite integrity into the work of those who would engage in or supportlearner-centered practices.

    Notes

    1. For this investigation QSR NUD*IST 4 (Sage Publications Software, Thousand Oaks, CA,1997) was used.

    2. For example, one teacher described learner-centeredness in terms of student choice, as in thisquote: so I think of the student-centered stuff being the stuff that allows students choices.Later she used the word choices again as she told the story of a particular classroom event.She stated, I started thinking about that, but that was really a way for them to make choices.Although she did not use the term learner-centered, she repeated a key idea from the previousexcerpt, so we coded the text unit within the sub-category learner making choices.

    3. The names used here are pseudonyms and all details of their stories that might allow them tobe identified have been removed.

    4. See, for example, Snyder et al. (1992b, 1996); Aiken (1942); Bussis et al. (1976); Paris (1989,1993).

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