The simplest way to differentiate between teaching styles is to compare student-centered to teacher-centered.
- Student-centered teaching focuses on the student and their needs.
- Teacher-centered teaching puts the teacher center stage.
Arguably, many of the remaining teaching styles examples on this list sit along a spectrum from highly student-centered to highly teacher-centered.
Other examples of teaching styles examples include inquiry-based, didactic, democratic, facilitative, and andragogic (the art of teaching adults).
Teachers can switch between teaching styles depending on the needs of their students, but often a teacher will have one preferred style that they default to in the classroom.
Teaching Styles Examples
Student-centered teaching occurs when the student is the main focus. The student is center stage while the teacher stands on the sidelines and supports the students as they learn.
It means there will be more focus on the student doing things (i.e.active learning) as opposed to the teacher standing out the front talking.
For example, the teacher might set up a scenario for learning and provide the building blocks, resources, and instructions, but the student must learn by doing the task rather than just listening to the teacher speak.
The teacher-centered approach involves the teacher taking center stage. This is the traditional approach that you might see in classrooms from generations past and is often called the banking model of education.
In this classroom, the teacher talks, and the student listen. There might be a lot of passive learning in this classroom, meaning the students don’t learn by doing but rather by listening.
Major criticisms of this approach include:
- Students are passive and not learning by doing
- It is hard to differentiate instruction when it’s just the teacher talking and the students listening.
- It is hard to or collect just-in-time feedback.
While this approach often gets a lot of negative attention, it can still be valuable sometimes. For example, sometimes some basic teacher-centered instruction is required before an active learning scenario can begin to give students an orientation.
A student-led teaching style will involve encouraging students to not only learn through doing, but also direct what should be learned.
For example, a student-led approach might involve the teacher consulting the students about what inspires them or interests them, and then the teacher structuring a learning environment where they can conduct inquiries into these things.
The student-led approach is more common among young children (e.gchild initiated play). As students get older, the demands of curricula and standardized tests mean there are less opportunities for unstructured learning and more pressure to follow a set curriculum.
Didactic teaching is mostly teacher-centered. It involves an educator imparting (or, perhaps, imposing) their wisdom or knowledge from a podium.
Didacticism is most commonly associated with moral instruction. It is the approach used by priests and ministers for example, when they stand on the altar and give their sermons every Sunday.
But didactic models are also seen during lectures at universities and even in podcasts, where a teacher imparts their wisdom without receiving just-in-time feedback from their listeners.
The democratic teaching style involves treating the classroom like a democracy where the students can vote and share their views openly.
This approach focuses on giving students agency and critical thinking skills. By treating the classroom like a democratic forum, students have to make decisions and live by the consequences.
For example, a democratic educator would allow students to set the class rules and class culture. The students would have to debate the merits of various rules before they are set, which leads to students who can think more critically and have buy-in for why they are following the rules.
Like the democratic teaching style, the progressive teaching style focuses on promoting critical thinking and social justice. These values are intertwined into the class culture as well as the lesson content.
A progressive educator, for example, might put greater emphasis on critical and sociological thinking than a teacher-centered educator whose main job would be to simply teach to the test.
Progressive education has recently faced backlash for some of its methods, such as teaching CRT in the classroom and ensuring their books have protagonists who are people of color.
The teacher who is the demonstrator sits between teacher-centered and student-centered. They won’t just teach from the front of the classroom with theoretical examples. Instead, they will demonstrate how to do things and then give students a chance to have a go themselves.
A common teaching method from this approach is the gradual release of responsibility model (Commonly called the I Do, We Do, You Do method). This is a three-step approach going from teacher-centered to student-centered:
- I Do: The teacher demonstrates the task while the students watch (teacher-centered)
- We Do: The class does the task together with the teacher’s guidance (hybrid)
- You Do: The students attempt the task independently (student-centered)
The moderator is a student-centered techer who observes and supports students as they learn through the use of prompting questions or strategic interventions.
This teacher tries to be student-centered while also being supportive. They often use scaffolding – a teaching method where the teacher provides targeted support depending on the student’s needs. As the student gets more competent, the moderator teacher takes more and more of a backseat role.
Commonly, the moderator (also known as the facilitator) will ask prompting, open-ended questions like “Explain to me why you did it that way?” in order to get students thinking more deeply about their activities.
The delegator teaching style involves a student-centered teacher who delegates task roles to students, who often work in groups to achieve their goals.
This style is similar to the moderator style because the teacher takes a backseat and allows the students to take the lead. However, the delegator has a stronger focus on structuring students into groups and ensuring each student knows their roles within the groups.
Once the delegator has set the conditions for learning and interactions between students, they can observe and intervene when necessary to ensure the student interactions are efficient and fit for purpose.
The laissez-faire teacher is your stereotypical detached and disinterested educator. It is analogous to the famous neglectful parenting style.
A laissez-faire teacher often lacks direction and classroom management skills. Instead, their focus is often on ‘getting through the day’ or placating the students to make their own lives easier.
In this sense, the teaching style is teacher-centered. It’s about ensuring the teacher has the easiest possible time, and generally represents a failure of pedagogical skills.
The collaborative teaching style is common among teachers who like to have students work in groups to discuss and peer teach.
This teaching style gets its name from the fact that this teacher is always encouraging students to collaborate. The classroom layout may include a seating plan where students sit in table groups. The teacher presents challenges or questions, then uses methods such as think-pair-share and expert jigsaw to have students discuss topics, compare notes, and challenge one another in small groups.
The coaching teaching style places a strong focus on motivation as the teacher’s central task.
The ‘coach’ gives students the motivation and mental strength to succeed, which can help them push through difficulty and succeed in their learning.
A big benefit of the coaching style is that it doesn’t only teach information but also a lifelong learner mindset.
13. Formal Authority (Lecturer)
The formal authority style represents a traditional teacher-centered style with a strong focus on teacher knowledge at the expense of much emphasis on teacher pedagogy.
In other words, students are expected to listen to the teacher because they’re an authority on the topic and not beacuse they’re a good teacher per se. As a result, the teacher is often hard to understand and speaks using jargon that the student or layperson may struggle to understand.
14. Hybrid (Both Student and Teacher-Centered)
In teaching style taxonomies, you will often come across the ‘hybrid’ teaching style as a style that refers to a style that fluctuates between student- and teacher-centered depending on the scenario.
According to this approach, there is a time and place for both teacher- and student-centered learning scenarios.
For example, an introduction to a module may necessarily be teacher-centered because there is a requirement for introductory notes to be provided. Follow-up lessons may be more student-centered because the students have the basics and can now transition to a student-centered environment.
15. Flipped Teaching
The flipped teaching style involves ‘flipping’ teaching time and homework time. In other words, students learn new things by reading and watching videos in their home time; then at school, the students do practice tasks with teacher guidance.
This teaching style allows the teacher to maximize the amount of student-centered learning that takes place in the classroom, and quarantines all the teacher-centered instruction for home time. It’s a style that’s enabled by technology, because it’s often very reliant on videos for homework.
16. Socratic Teaching
The Socratic teaching method takes inspiration from Socrates himself – one of history’s greatest teachers. A socratic teacher focuses on questioning, probing, and challenging students’ assuptions.
The goal of a socratic teaching style is to get students to clarify their viewpoints and think more deeply about a topic. To do this, the teacher prods at the student’s assumptions, challenges their belief systems, and attempts to find flaws in their arguments so the students can amend their views and make them as solid as possible.
The six socratic questions that a socratic teacher might use are:
- Clarifying concepts: Asking students to clarify any terms or ideas they present (e.g. “how do you define that?”
- Probing assumptions: Having students identify where their assumptions come from and whether their assumptions have a sound basis.
- Probing rationale, reasons and evidence: Ensuring students have evidence for their claims and a sound reason for making those claims.
- Questioning viewpoints and perspectives: Asking students to acknowledge their perspective and alternative perspectives, and having them weigh up the strengths and weaknesses of their perspectives.
- Probing Implications and consequences: Having students reflect on the consequences of their actions and beliefs to ensure an ethical lens is cast on their views..
- Questioning the question: Asking students if they’re asking the right question, or asking it in the right way.
17. Team Teaching
The team teaching style involves having multiple teachers teach one or more classes on a rotational or co-teaching basis.
One benefit of this teaching style is that you can leverage each teacher’s subject-level and even pedagogical strengths. For example, if one teacher is excellent at math and another is excellent at literature, the teachers can split the workload and each gets to focus their attention on their strength.
As an educator, I also find this model useful because it enables teachers to efficiently split the workload and minimize planning duplication.
Furthermore, this model often enables more student-centered time because there is always a support teacher who can act as an assistant who can walk around the class and help remedial students.
An inquiry-based teaching style focuses on creating lessons based upon student inquiry. In other words, lessons revolve around researching and investigating topics to find information and answers.
This is a student-centered approach.
A typical example of an inquiry-based teaching style involves the teacher creating a detective lesson where students are given clues or questions and they have to conduct research online or in textbooks to find the answers.
Another example is when the teacher has students conduct research to create a poster presentation on their topic.
Project-based teaching involves structuring lessons based around projects that students must complete.
While it is similar to inquiry-based teaching, it has more of a constructivist focus where the students have to produce something by the end of the lesson. It often involves creating a physical product such as a garden or artwork. Similarly, it might involve having students complete a project like cleaning the trash from a certain area of the school or building a model airplane.
Andragogy is a teaching style that is specifically focused on the teaching of adults.
Popularized by Malcolm Knowles (1980), this style acknowledges that adults have different motivations than children and adjusts its methods accordingly.
Key assumptions of andragogy include:
- Self-concept: Adults have developed a clear self-concept, meaning they are more autonomous and independent than children.
- Prior knowledge: Adults are full of experiences (indicating prior knowledge) that they leverage when learning.
- Readiness to learn: Adults don’t have compulsory education. They generally learn when they want to learn, meaning they’re often more receptive to the content being delivered.
- Just in Time Learning: Adults learn information in otder to apply it immediately in their jobs, not in order to store it for the future.
- Intrinsic motivation: Adults’ motivations are more likely to come from inside rather than outside (they’re less easily coaxed by candy!).
- Need to Know: Adults are more inclined to question ‘why’ they’re learning something.
The apprenticeship teaching style involves having students learn in a workplace environment. It is the traditional teaching style that occurred before formal educaiton began.
We commonly see this teaching style in the trades, such as plumbing and carpentry, where the apprentice learns on the job alongside a journeyman worker.
Lave and Wegner introduce the term ‘situational learning’ to describe how this occurs. Often, the apprentice starts on the outskirts of the community, being given basic tasks. As they get more ingrained in the culture and trusted by the senior workers, they’re given more and more tasks and roles until they become the expert and they take on an apprentice of their own.
The developmental teaching style embraces a belief in stage-based cognitive or physical development (e.g. Piaget’s stages of learning). It relies on these stages to underpin the teacher’s methodology.
Formally, we often see this when teachers create curricula. They will use tools like bloom’s taxonomy or Biggs’ SOLO taxonomy to create lessons that increase in difficulty as students move up the steps in their learning.
While this approach helps educators to structure a general progression into their teaching, it may fail to acknowledge students’ agency and abilities that may transcend stage-based assuptions about learning. For example, a 6 year old may “read at a 12 year old level”, so a teacher needs to make adjustments to their developmental model to accommodate for this.
The nurturing teaching style, often based on a humanist philosophy, involves leveraging unconditional positive regard and inclusive spaces to ensure students feel safe and secure in the learning environment.
The underpinning idea of the nurturing teacher is that students’ basic needs such as comfort and safety needs must be met in order for them to learn at their optimal levels. This approach was made famous by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which demonstrated that the most successful people in life reach success by having a very nurturing and safe environment to explore, take risks, and develop.
The Montessori teaching style is based on the philosophy of Maria Montessori. It is characterized by student-centered and student-led play in resource rich environemnts.
One thing you will notice in a true Montessori classroom is that the teacher will try not to interfere when a student is struggling. Instead, the teacher will ensure the student has the resources available to find their way over or past their obstacles. By allowing the student to struggle, fail, and try again, Montessori believed that she could raise strong-willed and competent children.
The post-structuralist teaching style’s focus is on having students deconstruct their assumptions.
According to post-structuralist educators, students are provided ‘metanarratives’ in life (by parents, television, books, etc.) that should be critiqued. For example, one metanarrative that we’re all taught in school is that we should work hard, get good grades, then get a good job. This metanarrative has a fatal flaw: it fails to teach people how to be entrepreneurs!
Similarly, post-structuralist educators are very concerned about metanarratives about race, class, and gender, and throughout their teaching they encourage students to deconstruct these metanarratives and think critically about their assumptions.
Every teacher will develop their own teaching style. This may depend on personal teaching philosophy, the needs of the students, and the demands of the school they’re in. Skilled teachers can also alternate between teaching styles in order to match the style to the lesson they are required to teach at any one time.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]