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The Shift From Content To Purpose: A Continuum of Choice

by TeachThought Staff

What is the difference between a teacher-centered and learner-driven classroom?

We’ve taken a look at examples of student-centered teaching before. It’s both a subtle (in theory) and dramatic (in function) shift in the entire ecology of a classroom, curriculum, and sense of student identity in the process of learning. This idea isn’t new in and of itself. John Dewey espoused many of these same ideas century ago. It’s an idea that continues to pick up steam with proponents of ‘progressive education.’

Sylvia Duckworth–who has created dozens of useful, minimalist sort of sketch notes/illustrations that convey ideas in education–has taken the thinking from Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey  and created a complimentary visual. (In fact, you can go straight to the source and read more from Bray and McClaskey on Choice is More than a Menu of Options.)

What happens when you empower students with choice and purpose? What do the new roles and responsibilities look like? The overview below (from the image above) offers some clarity on what changes. The biggest takeaway might be the change in focus from content delivery to purpose discovery.

This isn’t an easy transition for many educators to accept, especially with such a clear focus on moving the ‘achievement’ needle in most schools and districts. Telling a struggling school or teacher to focus less on content is a tough sell, and one worth examining in greater detail. One place to start may be to ask how the other way (actually focusing on content) has worked for them in the past.

The text from the graphic appears below.

Empowering Students With Choice & Purpose



  • provides a menu of options
  • provides choices to access, engage and express


The teacher…

  • points to options and then gets out of the way
  • invites input from learners


The learner…

  • chooses topic based on interest or questions
  • identifies ideas for designing


The learner…

  • identifies challenges or problems
  • chooses strategies and people to develop action plan for advocacy


The learner…

  • self-regulates learning based on passion and purpose
  • expands purpose by creating business

The Shift From Content To Purpose: A Continuum of Choice; image attribution flickr user sylviaduckworth

*previously published at


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