Child-centered teaching practices

Good teaching practices

Good teaching practices support a child’s learning and motivation to study in your classroom. Good teaching is based on the sociocultural approach to learning (Vygotsky, 1978), in which learning is seen to happen through social interaction between the teacher and the child, as well as among the children. Good teaching practices provide a framework to create a safe learning environment that promotes opportunities for each child to participate, learn, and achieve the most from a classroom experience and teaching. If the child has learning difficulties or struggles to learn to read, it is even more important that the teacher–child relationship is positive and the teacher supports the child’s learning by using carefully planned strategies and interventions.

Child-centred teaching practices

Child-centred teaching practices are grounded on principles suitable to each child’s developmental level. Teaching practices should be developmentally appropriate. Child-centred teaching is based on the socio-constructivist theory, where children are seen as active constructors of knowledge. In child-centred teaching, the teacher assists and facilitates the child’s learning by actively providing support and guidance, challenging the zone of proximal development (a learning area that emerges when a child is assisted by a teacher or more skilled child) by building opportunities to learn and practise new skills together with other children. A child-centred teacher is sensitive to each child’s needs for support in learning and interests; moreover, they actively support children’s learning efforts, social skills, sense of belonging, and sense of mastery. Child-centred teaching practices have been found to benefit children’s academic and social skills development and learning motivation. Child-centred teaching which takes place in the zone of proximal development has been found to support, for example, children’s interaction with the teacher and other children, as well as their willingness to join a group (Rasku-Puttonen et al., 2012), self-directedness (Salonen et al., 2005), academic skills (Lerkkanen et al., 2016), and interest in reading and mathematics (Lerkkanen et al., 2012).

Teacher-directed teaching practices

Teacher-directed teaching practices are rooted in the premise that basic academic skills need to be mastered before more advanced learning can occur. Such practices are based on the behaviourist notion that the teacher has a strong directing role, and they stress children’s repeated practice. In this didactically-oriented approach, teachers emphasize the provision of information and use structured, drill-and-practice group lessons that are fast-paced, teach discrete skills in small steps, and include praise when predetermined goals are reached. In this approach, interaction is mainly one-way, from teacher to learners, and children’s ideas or interests, as well as support for the development of social skills, receive little attention. Furthermore, peer interaction in learning situations is not applied. However, teacher-directed teaching practices are seen to be effective in children’s learning of the basic academic skills and when children have learning difficulties, struggle with learning tasks, or display task-avoiding behaviour (Kikas et al., 2014). Then, the child benefits from a clear teaching structure and intensive, direct, strong support for learning from the teacher.

The quality of the learning environment

It is not easy to identify effective teaching, although better teaching practices are needed to tackle the possible learning crisis in low- and middle-income countries. In recent research, attention has been directed to learning environments from both structural and process viewpoints. The structural quality factors defining the quality of learning environments can include recourse, teacher’s educational level and work experience, class size, number of assistants in the class, number of children with learning difficulties, number of learning materials or technical devices, suitability, stimulation, safety of the physical surroundings, and curriculum aims. Although the factors which concern the school and classrooms have some significance to a child’s learning and motivation, they explain only a small fraction of the variation in learning outcomes. However, recent research stresses the process quality of the interaction between teacher and children, which plays a crucial role in explaining this variation (Hamre et al., 2013), possibly because the quality of the interaction processes supporting learning is rooted in how teachers apply the curriculum in class, and what kind of goals and study they stress.

Teaching through interaction

The teaching through interaction (TTI)framework(Hamre et al., 2013) conceptualizes the quality of teacher–child interactions by dividing them into three broad domains: emotional support, classroom organization, and instructional support. These key domains direct teachers’ teaching practices and children’s learning processes. Based on the TTI framework, effective teaching requires tailored strategies and well-targeted support from the teacher to strengthen children’s learning. The Classroom Observation System (CLASS) (Pianta, LaParo, & Hamre, 2008) instrument is based on the TTI framework, with these three domains, and has been shown to be a reliable instrument to observe the effectiveness of teaching in several educational contexts around the world.

Emotional support stresses the qualities of the interactions that promote a child’s social and emotional functions in the classroom. In the CLASS, it is built on four dimensions: positive and negative climate in the classroom; teacher sensitivity; and regard for the child’s perspective. Its theoretical foundation is based on attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969), which posits that a child needs a safe, predictable, and consistent learning environment. Such environments are marked by an absence of negativity, such as punitive control or disrespect in communication, and are, instead, seen to support a child’s self-reliance and ability to take risks. Moreover, from the perspective of self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985), this domain highlights that children are driven by an innate psychological need to experience competence, autonomy, and relatedness. These needs further support a child’s motivation and engagement in learning (Hamre et al., 2013). Emotional support, made up of a positive and supportive classroom atmosphere and positive teacher–child and peer relationships, has been associated with a child’s willingness to participate in classroom activities (Hamre & Pianta, 2005), academic achievement (Hamre & Pianta, 2005), social competence (Mashburn et al., 2008), and motivation (Pakarinen et al., 2010). Although emotional support has been shown to be important for all learners, it has been found to be especially important for children who are vulnerable and risk failing at school (Hamre & Pianta, 2005).

Classroom organization includes a wide variety of classroom processes related to proactive behavioural management, productivity, maximizing time for learning, and a variety of engaging instructional learning formats. Theoretically, this domain is related to how children’s self-regulation skills develop, the way environment regulates learning, and constructivist ideas regarding how children best attach to learning when they can participate in planning goals, monitoring, and regulating their learning process, as well as regulating and controlling, by themselves, their actions, learning, and motivation (Pianta et al., 2008). Learners have better self-regulating skills in well-functioning classrooms; thus, they have better opportunities to learn things. Learners are not passive in learning situations; rather, they are active agents of their learning and strongly attached to learning situations. High-quality classroom organization (e.g., clear rules and routines and inherently interesting activities) is associated with greater interest in learning activities among children (Pakarinen et al., 2010), on-task behaviour (Rimm-Kaufman et al., 2009), and better academic outcomes (Cadima et al., 2010).

Instructional support focuses on teacher–child interactions in relation to linguistic and cognitive development. Moreover, it emphasizes the development of metacognitive skills, and awareness and understanding of learners’ own thinking processes. For these reasons, the dimensions of instructional support are different across different ages. In pre-primary and primary school, it is defined as learning vocabulary, quality of feedback, and linguistic modelling, while in lower secondary school, understanding content, quality of feedback, analysing, differentiating, and problem solving, as well as dialogue of teaching, are stressed.Instructional practices in which a child’s learning is supported by scaffolding enable them to comprehend content deeply and interconnect new constructs with previously acquired knowledge.

Vocabulary learning concerns a teacher’s ability to use instructional discussions and different ways of working to develop learners’ knowledge of concepts and thinking skills. High-quality feedback includes scaffolding, interaction, and feedback loops, and it progresses thinking processes. Feedback deepens learners’ knowledge and understanding and also encourages persistence, trying, and participating. A teacher asks learners to describe and explain their thinking and challenges them to evaluate solutions or what strategy might work with a given task. A teacher asks questions to support learners’ understanding and gives new knowledge to deepen that understanding.

Linguistic modelling includes techniques for learning (such as open questions, repetitions, widenings, and enriching vocabulary) through which a teacher gives linguistic stimulations and supports the development of language. Understanding content refers to the depth of content given during a lesson as well as a teacher’s way of helping learners understand the central things, concepts, principles, and working models. With differentiation and problem solving, a teacher progresses learners’ higher-level thinking and metacognitions.

In dialogue of teaching, a teacher uses the sharing of goal-oriented views and ideas via structural questioning and discussion to progress learners’ understanding of content and their thinking skills. Instructional support of high quality has been found to be related, to a great extent, to positive interactions between child and teacher, as well as more active classroom engagement (Downer et al., 2007) and better academic outcomes among children (Muhonen et al., 2018).

TEACH tool for teachers’ professional development

TEACH is an opensource classroom observation tool developed by The World Bank to holistically measure what happens in the classroom in low- and mid-income countries (Molina et al., 2019). It is intended to be used as an educational evaluation system and for teachers’ professional development. TEACH captures the quality of teaching practices, as well as practices that nurture children’s cognitive and socioemotional skills. The three domains of TEACH, namely the classroom culture, instruction, and socioemotional skills, are similar to the classroom organization, instructional support, and emotional support domains of the CLASS observation instrument (Pianta et al., 2008). However, TEACH differs from CLASS in that it captures both the time teachers spend on learning and the extent to which students are on task, and the quality of teaching practices (focusing on classroom culture, instruction, and socioemotional skills) that help develop students’ outcomes.

First, the teacher creates a classroom culture that is conducive to learning. The focus is not on the teacher correcting learners’ negative behaviours but, rather, the extent to which the teacher creates: (1) a supportive learning environment, by treating all learners respectfully, consistently using positive language, responding to learners’ needs, and both challenging gender stereotypes and not exhibiting gender bias in the classroom; and (2) positive behavioural expectations, by setting clear behavioural expectations, acknowledging positive learner behaviour, and effectively redirecting misbehaviour (Molina et al., 2019).

Second, the teacher instructsin a way that deepens learner understanding and encourages critical thinking and analysis. The focus is on the extent to which the teacher: (1) facilitates the lesson, by explicitly articulating lesson objectives that are aligned to the learning activity, clearly explaining content, connecting the learning activity to other content knowledge or learners’ daily lives, and modelling the learning activity through enacting or thinking aloud; (2) checks for understanding by using questions, prompts, or other strategies to determine learners’ level of understanding, by monitoring learners during group and independent work, and by adjusting their teaching to the level of learners; (3) gives feedback, by providing specific comments or prompts to help clarify learners’ misunderstandings or identify their successes; and (4) encourages learners to think critically, by asking open-ended questions and providing learners with thinking tasks that require them to actively analyse content (Molina et al., 2019).

Third, to fosters learners’ socioemotional skills the teacher: (1) instils autonomy, by providing learners with opportunities to make choices and take on meaningful roles in the classroom; (2) promotes perseverance, by acknowledging learners’ efforts; by having a positive attitude toward learners’ challenges by framing failure and frustrations as part of the learning process; and by encouraging learners to set goals; and (3) fosters social and collaborative skills, by encouraging collaboration through peer interaction and by promoting interpersonal skills (Molina et al., 2019).

Factors supporting learning

Time used in learning. When learners have learning difficulties, they often need more time to practise basic skills and adopt the learned things. Sometimes, just giving them extra time to do exercises or in the assessment situation may be enough support. Similarly, flexible transitions as well as clear functioning models and routines give extra time for learning. It is useful to note that many learners needing support cannot pay attention for a long time, especially if the learning situation requires the passive following of teaching. Using different learner-activating work habits helps learners to pay consistent attention and adopt things. Giving them breaks and spacing the practice are necessary not only to enable learners to keep paying attention but also so they can manage the to-be-learned thing in the mind.

The teacherchild relationship. According to attachment theory (Bowlby, 1974), child individualisation and maturation mainly happen in early emotional relationships. The warm relationship between the mother and child emphasises a sensitive closeness towards a child’s emotional expressions and actions as well as the significance of open communication to a child’s self-image and communication skills. A warm relationship between a teacher and child consists of closeness and open communication, while conflicts in the relationship may be seen as rare mutual agreement and discordant interaction (Pianta, 2001). A close teacher–student relationship strengthens a child’s emotional security in the group and enables the child to focus on studying and practising skills. Positive emotional support from a teacher promotes children’s reciprocal social support for each other and, thus, supports learner motivation and bonding to the school. It is also possible that when the teacher–student relationship is positive, the teacher shows more sensitivity to learners’ individual needs and can thus better support them. These results underline the significance of the teacher–student relationship as a modifying factor in children’s favourable development and a compensating factor for possible problems in other environments.

A teacher clearly plays a significant role in forming and maintaining positive interaction relationships in the classroom. They can, through their own actions, also support learners’ interaction relationships with each other. It is known that teacher’s beliefs in regard to a learner’s success are associated with how much a teacher encourages and gives positive feedback to the learner. Deci and Ryan (1985) found that learners who are the object of positive beliefs from a teacher receive more attention, positive feedback, and encouragement than learners for whom the teacher has low expectations of learning.

Learner’s gender, behaviour, and learning difficulties seem to affect the interaction and relationship between a teacher and child. The emotional relationships between teacher and child, as well as the approval of the former, are particularly important to children who have difficulties in their learning. Moreover, when a family has a child who needs support in school, the building of a positive, trusting relationship requires the teacher to initiate and sensitively maintain the interaction relationship with the child and parents (Lerkkanen et al., 2013). It is important to note that the beneficial results of positive interaction processes with a school tend to accumulate and affect the child’s learning and success throughout their school career.

Self-regulation skills. Goal-setting, perseverance, and persistence in learning require self-regulation skills. Self-regulation skills begin to develop in early childhood and have a clear connection to the development of linguistic and academic skills. The development of self-regulation skills enables children to learn to set goals themselves and evaluate their own progress. Children can be helped to concretise goals regarding behaviour or skill learning by dividing the latter into sub-goals. When goals are reachable and special attention is directed to reaching them, learners also commit to them, and reaching them becomes rewarding. Many experiences of failure may cause children to form weak or even negative perceptions of themselves as learners. Sometimes, low expectations from the environment may also support this kind of self-perception.

Learning strategies. All children benefit from good teaching strategies: children become aware of the significance of different strategies related to learning and why they work, as well as when and where they can be used. However, it is not very useful to teach strategies as separate skills; rather, they should always be connected to certain skills to be learned, such as reading or understanding text (Mitchell, 2014). For example, internal memory strategies (mind maps, word lists, or hint words) help in memorizing and recollecting things from memory, while external memory strategies (notes, underlining, or making summaries) help learners retain things in their memory.

Clarity and consistency of instructions. All children benefit from clarity and consistency in instructions; moreover, clear and consistent instructions can be seen as an example of a better working environment in the classroom. Clarity and consistency are especially important to children who have difficulties in learning or behaviour regulation. They often need strong instruction and structuring from the teacher. In practice, this may mean, for example, use of concrete working instructions, dividing the instructions into subparts, or clarification and demonstration of behavioural expectations. In this way, structures are created which, after repetition, help children to function in familiar surroundings and situations, directing their attention to the learned things and supporting understanding and remembering, especially if they have difficulties remembering or understanding linguistic instructions.

Demonstrating teaching and modelling behaviour. Demonstrating the to-be-learned things in different ways supports all children’s learning. Young children learn by modelling; later on, moreover, modelling is an efficient way to learn many skills. In addition to modelling behaviour, it can be described and commented on linguistically. Combining behaviour and language supports in this way also develops executive functioning. As learning difficulties often include linguistic difficulties, teaching cannot be based solely on spoken or written language. Use of the senses, emotional experiences, and movements support learning, as do pictures, functionality, and learning by doing.

Repetition and rehearsing of the learned skills. Management of the basic skills is a prerequisite for later learning. As skills develop, it is possible to deepen and widen them, and apply them to learn new skills. Repetition and rehearsal are needed for the learned skill to become automatic and to make sure that the learned thing is understood and can be retrieved from the memory. As a weak working memory is often related to learning difficulties, there may be a considerable need for repetition and rehearsal. Although the similarity of learning situations gives the child a sense of control and helps them to concentrate on the topic, some children who need support for their learning may have a tendency to cling to familiar ways of acting or repeating things. Rehearsal may mean returning to the same thing repeatedly in different ways. Rehearsal and practice are not only needed by those who have difficulties in their learning; rather, for example, talented musicians and athletes practise all the time to keep up their skills and achieve mastery.

Although a skill may already have been acquired, practice usually continues to ensure it is mastered. Short, frequently repeated, practices are usually more efficient than practices which are longer but rarely performed. Repetition-based practices are well suited, for example, to increasing the accuracy and fluency of reading syllables or words. The number of repetitions has to be estimated for each child so it is sufficient, but neither too high nor over too long a duration, to make the practice reasonable and encourage concentration and motivation.

Homework is one way to increase the number of repetitions and to rehearse learned things. However, homework suitable for the learner must be planned, both as regards quality and quantity, and the child must be able to do it independently. Parental support with homework is also important. Parents should monitor homework and encourage independent practice, particularly for children who have learning difficulties (Silinskas et al., 2015).

Usually, new skills are learned when they are persistently repeated and rehearsed. On the other hand, it is not clear how learned skills are generalised, and how they can be used and applied in new and different situations. For this reason, it is not usually enough to practise a single skill; rather, their usage and applying is useful to develop simultaneously. It is good to remember that as the basic skills strengthen, their application skill can also be supported. This means, for example, that while children learn to read words and sentences, their reading comprehension is also developed, or when they learn basic calculation skills, they are also practising problem solving skills.

Supporting learning difficulties. When it is noticed that a child is struggling in learning, it is first important to find out which skill or thing to learn is causing the difficulty. When planning individual and more intensive support, it is essential to assess carefully the nature of the problem so that suitable forms of support can be chosen, and it is known how the effectiveness of the support can be monitored and evaluated. After this, the teacher can enhance their teaching and adjust their practices to better suit the support needs of this particular child. Adjusting practices can entail, for example, enhancing the practice, repetition, or demonstration by ability grouping or giving the learner other possibilities of extra practice. Moreover, it is important to reinvigorate learner motivation, which may have disappeared, and motivate the child to engage in interesting practices. Sometimes, it may be enough to increase concrete and positive feedback about success and progress. If these procedures are not enough, consideration must be given to how the support could be enhanced. The basics of enhancement are increasing individualisation and the amount of support given.

Evaluation of the effectiveness of support is a vital part of a successful support process. It is easy to assess the starting point and carry out regular follow-up assessments with normal exercises while the learner is practising the skill. In this way, the teacher gets time-serial information about the child’s progress, which makes it possible to predict as early as within a couple of weeks whether the desired result will be achieved or the support should be enhanced or changed.

If there is a high number of students in a classroom, it is possible that in a small group, a child can learn and efficiently practise skills which they find difficult to learn. Individualised and very intensive support has also been shown to be effective for, for example, those learners who have shown challenging behaviour or attention deficit.


Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Rasku-Puttonen, H., Lerkkanen, M.-K., Poikkeus, A.-M. & Siekkinen, M. (2012). Dialogical patterns of interaction in preschool classrooms. International Journal of Educational Research, 53, 138–149.

Salonen, P., Vauras, M. & Efklides, A. (2005). Social interaction – What can it tell us about metacognition and co-regulation in learning? European Psychologist, 10, 199–208.

Lerkkanen, M.-K., Kiuru, N., Pakarinen, E., Poikkeus, A.-M., Rasku-Puttonen, H., Siekkinen, M. & Nurmi, J.-E. (2016). Child-centered versus teacher-directed teaching practices: Associations with the development of academic skills in the first grade at school. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 36, 145–156.

Lerkkanen, M.-K., Kiuru, N., Pakarinen, E., Viljaranta, J., Poikkeus, A.-M., Rasku-Puttonen, H., Siekkinen, M. & Nurmi, J.-E. (2012). The role of teaching practices in the development of children’s interest in reading and mathematics in kindergarten. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 37, 266–279.

Kikas, E., Peets, K. & Hodges, E. V. E. (2014). Collective child characteristics alter the effects of teaching practices on academic outcomes. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 35, 273–283.

Hamre, B. K., Pianta, R. C., Downer, J. T., DeCoster, J., Mashburn, A. J., Jones, S., . . . Hamagami, A. (2013). Teaching Through Interactions: Testing a developmental framework of teacher effectiveness in over 4,000 classrooms. The Elementary School Journal, 113, 461–487.

Pianta, R. C., La Paro, K. M., & Hamre, B. K. (2008). Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) Manual, Pre-K. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Pub.

Bowlby, J. (1974). Attachment – volume one of Attachment and Loss (3. ed.). London: Hogarth press.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behaviour. New York: Plenum.

Hamre, B. K., & Pianta, R. C. (2005). Can instructional and emotional support in the first grade classroom make a difference for children at risk of school failure? Child Development, 76, 949–967.

(Mashburn et al., 2008),

Pakarinen, E., Kiuru, N., Lerkkanen, M.-K., Poikkeus, A.-M., Siekkinen, M., & Nurmi, J.-E. (2010). Classroom organization and teacher stress predict learning motivation in kindergarten children.European Journal of Psychology of Education, 25 (3), 281-300.

Rimm-Kaufman et al., 2009),

(Cadima et al., 2010).

 (Downer et al., 2007)

Muhonen, H., Pakarinen, E., Poikkeus, A.-M., Lerkkanen, M.-K., & Rasku-Puttonen, H., (2018). Quality of educational dialogue and association with students’ academic performance. Learning and Instruction, 55, 67–79.

Molina, E., Melo, H., Carolina, E., Pushparatnam, A., & Wilichowski, T.M. (2019). Teach: Observer Manual. Washington, D.C.: World Bank Group.

Pianta, R. C. (2001). Child–Teacher Relationship Scale – Short Form. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.

Lerkkanen, M.-K., Kikas, E., Pakarinen, E., Poikonen, P.-L., & Nurmi, J.-E. (2013). Mothers’ trust toward teachers in relation to teaching practices. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28, 153–165.

Mitchell, D. (2014). What really works in special and inclusive education. Using evidence-based teaching strategies. London: Routledge.

Silinskas, G., Kiuru, N., Aunola, K., Lerkkanen, M.-K., & Nurmi, J.-E. (2015). The developmental dynamics of children’s academic performance and mothers’ homework-related affect and practices. Developmental Psychology, 51, 419–433.