Spring cleaning our teaching Part 4: teaching with style(s)

First posted on Tales From The Reach on 9 May 2019.

The term teaching styles, which is NOT to be confused with learning styles, is interchangeable with teaching methods. Essentially, a teaching style comprises the methods and strategies used for instruction in the classroom. Common examples would include demonstration, recitation, memorisation and ways of facilitating class participation or group work.

Most books or websites on teaching styles start by distinguishing between ‘teacher-centred’ approaches and ‘pupil-centred’ approaches. However, the reality is that most teachers mix these two approaches up and, although many criticise either pupil-centred or teacher-centred approaches, they both have there uses. Of course, outstanding teachers tend to use combinations of these either within a lesson or across a scheme of work; the methods of teaching you use will largely depend on the activity your using, where the pupils are in their learning and, importantly, the context of the class.

To help us fully understand these different styles it is worth looking at the ideas of Anthony Grasha in his book Teaching With Style (1996). Although developed for teaching in higher education institutions, they are still useful for thinking about secondary teaching. Grasha identifies five main ‘styles’, which include ‘expert’, ‘formal authority’, ‘personal model’, ‘facilitator’ and ‘delegator’. These five models can be fitted into the teacher and student centred approaches respectively.

Teacher-centred approaches

Quite literally, in this approach, teachers are the centre of attention. The teacher’s function is to instruct or lecture pupils on the subject to be taught and the pupil’s role is to receive the information; they may listen, take notes or even answer questions that the teacher asks. Importantly, the teacher is the font of knowledge and the pupils are like glasses that need filling up.

Teacher-centred approach
Formal Authority: these teachers are a source of authority and leadership. They have more knowledge than the pupils and they want to directly impart it. Classroom management is through traditional rules and expectations as is the classroom layout. The model centres on the power and authority of the teacher. It is very similar to the premises of ‘Direct Instruction‘.
Expert: this teacher sees themselves as there to guide and direct their pupils in their learning. The teacher is seen as knowing everything and the pupils have complete faith and trust in their ability to deliver knowledge. The pupils are the beneficiaries of the teacher’s expertise. Unlike the above, this model centres on deference to the teacher’s own knowledge and experience.
Personal model: this model sees the teacher as a role model. They demonstrate how to find information, how to analyse it and how to understand it. The pupils will learn by watching, listening to and copying what the teacher does.

The above table is adapted from http://www.teach.com (see the further reading section below).

Pupil-centred approaches

These approaches shift the focus from the teacher to the pupils. Of course, the teacher still retains authority in the classroom, but they will set up and facilitate activities the pupils will carry out themselves. The teacher’s main function is to coordinate pupil learning and ensure that they learn through the tasks set. Obvious examples of pupil -centred approaches include pair work (including, ‘think, pair, share’), group work, pupil projects and pupil organised debates.

Pupil-centred approach
Facilitator: teachers who use a facilitator teaching style tend to focus on pupil centred activities. Teachers set up activities and let the pupils get on with them. Ideally, there will be minimal input from the teacher once the pupils have started the activity. Therefore, pupils take responsibility for finding information, analysing it and deciding what it means. They must use their initiative to achieve the goal of the activity. This type of approach often involves active learning, such as group discussion and/or varied collaborative activities.
Delegator: this approach places responsibility for learning with the pupils. It is slightly different to the facilitator as the teacher delegates specific responsibilities to individuals or groups of pupils. Whereas the facilitator will design, set up and ensure there is a uniform progression during the activities, the delegator will allow pupils to choose, design and implement their own activities, which will often centre on in-depth projects. The teacher’s main role is to act as an advisor or consultant when requested by the pupils.

Adapted from http://www.teach.com (see the further reading section below).

Although all of these teaching styles can be useful when conceptualising how we approach our practice in the classroom, the styles we use in our day-to-day teaching are obviously going to be far more mixed up and varied than the five narrowly identified by Grasha (for an alternative take on teaching styles, see Leask, 2013). Therefore, we need an approach that allows us to mix-and-match various styles within lessons in a way that fits with our pupils needs and the contexts of our classroom. Here, following on from some previous blogs on thinking about how we teach over the Spring and early Summer term, it is worth considering the style (or methods) we use in the classroom: are they the most affective?

It is also worth noting that 15 to 10 years ago pupil-centred teaching methods were encouraged. However, their is now increasing evidence that teacher-centred teaching is fair more beneficial to learning as a whole. Nonetheless, I would still argue that all styles/methods have their place – some more than others – and as someone who is more teacher-centred, I will not shy away from some ‘facilitated’ activities with the right pupils at the right time. As David Didau (who is no fan of facilitated learning) suggests, ‘it’s not what you do, it’s why you do it’ that matters.


Grasha, A. F. (1996). Teaching with Style. Pittsburgh: Alliance Publishers.

Leask, M. (2013). ‘Teaching Styles’ in Capel, S., Leask, M. and Turner, T. (eds.) Learning to Teach in the Secondary School: A Companion to School Experience. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 345 – 359.

Further Reading

Didau, D. (2017). ‘Reframing the debate: It’s not what you do, it’s why you do it’. LearningSpy blog: Click here.

Gill, E. (2013). ‘What is Your Teaching Style? 5 Effective Teaching Methods for Your Classroom’Room 241 – A Concordia University blog: click here.

Hallahan, G. (2018). ‘What do we mean by teaching styles?’ TES Online: click here.

www.teach.com: This website, run by 2U Inc. and USC Rossier, has a section on ‘Teaching Methods’ that explains Grasha’s ideas on teaching styles concisely and clearly. Grasha’s book is, of course, very interesting, but at the same time very technical and full of data. The ‘Teaching Methods’ web page is available online at: http://teach.com/what/teachers-teach/teaching-methods [retrieved 23/06/16].

Image credit: Public Domain Pictures – used under a Creative Commons Licence. 

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