Five Steps to Create a Progressive Student-Centered Classroom


The education system of today finds itself grappling with the challenges of an outdated structure and teaching methods that no longer effectively engage and inspire students. In a rapidly evolving world, relying on old textbooks and conventional techniques falls short of preparing learners for the future. The rise of a tech-savvy generation, adept at utilizing mobile phones and computers, calls for a paradigm shift in education. This is where the concept of Progressivism in education, originally envisioned by John Dewey in 1880, emerges as a holistic and student-centric approach that aligns with the needs of the modern era.

 Progressivism in Education

Progressivism in Education: A Holistic Approach

Progressivism in education entails a student-centered learning approach that emphasizes equality among class members, including the instructor. It fosters a structured learning pattern in which teachers assume the role of coaches or guides rather than the sole source of knowledge. This shift limits the teacher’s responsibilities and creates an environment conducive to creativity, as students engage with the instructor’s guidance while generating their own ideas. By prioritizing progressivism, we take the first step toward preparing students for success in a rapidly changing world.

Promoting Meaningful Interactions and Critical Thinking:

In contrast to traditional schooling, where teachers take center stage and share knowledge, progressive education places students at the focal point. Within a student-centered classroom, students engage in meaningful interactions that foster collaboration and critical thinking. Teachers act as facilitators, encouraging students to discuss, analyze, and generate their own solutions to problems. This approach cultivates responsible members of society who can effectively navigate real-world challenges, equipped with strong interpersonal skills and the ability to think critically.

Teaching Students to Be Good Humans:

The progressive education system goes beyond academics to focus on the holistic development of students. It aims to cultivate social responsibility and empathy by providing opportunities for classes on human rights, ethics, and social issues. Through open discussions and debates, students develop an interest in societal matters and learn how to articulate their thoughts effectively. This comprehensive approach ensures that students not only acquire knowledge but also develop into well-rounded human beings with a deep understanding of the world around them.

The 5 Steps of Progressivism in Education:

  1. Step 1: Create Ongoing Projects: Implementing ongoing projects in the classroom is a transformative aspect of progressivism in education. Ongoing projects provide students with hands-on, immersive learning experiences that extend beyond the boundaries of traditional classroom instruction. Students work collaboratively in teams, engaging in research, planning, and executing long-term projects. This process allows them to develop crucial skills such as time management, problem-solving, critical thinking, and effective communication.
  2. Step 2: Integrate Technology: Incorporating technology into the classroom is essential in the 21st century. Progressive education recognizes the importance of leveraging technology as a tool for learning and problem-solving. By integrating technology, students gain access to a vast array of resources, engage in interactive learning activities, and develop digital literacy skills. Technology also enables personalized learning experiences, catering to individual students’ needs and interests, and promotes global connectivity and collaboration.
  3. Step 3: Switch Homework with In-Class Activities: Progressive education challenges the traditional practice of assigning excessive homework and instead focuses on in-class activities. By engaging students in interactive tasks and projects during class time, educators create an environment that fosters collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. In-class activities provide immediate guidance and support, allowing students to learn from their peers and develop effective communication and teamwork skills. This approach enhances student engagement and creates a positive and dynamic learning environment.
  4. Step 4: Break the Chains of Rules and Regulations: Progressive education challenges the notion of strict rules and regulations in the classroom. Instead, it advocates for creating a learning environment where students are intrinsically motivated to seek knowledge. By fostering a culture of curiosity, exploration, and passion for learning, progressive education minimizes the need for behavioral rules. Students are encouraged to take ownership of their learning, make independent decisions, and explore their interests, thereby promoting self-discipline and responsibility.
  5. Step 5: Create a Student-Based Evaluation: Progressive education redefines the evaluation process by shifting from teacher-centric to student-centric evaluation. Feedback becomes a fundamental aspect of assessing student performance, involving both students and teachers in the evaluation process. This approach encourages students to take an active role in their learning, reflect on their progress, and set goals for further growth. Through self-assessment, peer assessment, and teacher guidance, students gain a deeper understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement. This student-based evaluation cultivates a growth mindset, fosters intrinsic motivation, and promotes a deeper engagement with the learning process.

Historical Context of Progressivism in Education:

The historical context of progressivism in education is crucial to understanding its significance and impact. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, educational practices were primarily focused on rote memorization and strict discipline. However, thinkers like John Dewey challenged this traditional approach and advocated for a more student-centered and experiential learning model. Dewey’s groundbreaking ideas emphasized the importance of hands-on learning, critical thinking, and connecting education to real-life experiences.

During Dewey’s time, industrialization and social changes were reshaping society. There was a growing recognition that education needed to adapt to meet the demands of an evolving world. Progressivism in education emerged as a response to these changing needs, aiming to prepare students for active citizenship and meaningful engagement in society. Dewey’s progressive ideas influenced numerous educators and institutions, laying the foundation for student-centered approaches that prioritize individual growth, collaboration, and practical problem-solving.

Real-Life Examples and Case Studies:

Real-life examples and case studies vividly illustrate the transformative power of progressivism in education. One such example is the High Tech High (HTH) network of schools in California. HTH embodies progressivism by integrating project-based learning, student agency, and the integration of technology into the curriculum. Students at HTH engage in interdisciplinary projects, working collaboratively to address real-world issues. The results have been remarkable, with students exhibiting higher levels of critical thinking, creativity, and a deep sense of ownership over their learning.

Another inspiring case study is the Big Picture Learning network. This network of schools takes a personalized and student-centered approach, tailoring education to individual student interests and goals. Students engage in internships and real-world experiences, developing essential skills and exploring their passions. The success of Big Picture Learning is evident in the high graduation rates, increased student engagement, and the impressive post-secondary success of its graduates.

These examples demonstrate that progressivism in education is not just a theoretical concept; it has been successfully implemented in diverse educational settings. Students thrive when they are actively involved in their learning, have the opportunity to apply knowledge in meaningful ways, and are empowered to pursue their interests.

Addressing Potential Challenges and Criticisms:

Implementing progressivism in education is not without its challenges and criticisms. Some concerns revolve around managing large class sizes while ensuring individualized attention, meeting curriculum requirements, and preparing students for standardized testing. However, proponents of progressivism argue that with thoughtful planning and support, these challenges can be overcome.

For instance, employing effective classroom management strategies, promoting student autonomy, and fostering a culture of respect and responsibility can help address concerns about large class sizes. By implementing flexible and interdisciplinary curriculum frameworks, educators can integrate required content while allowing students to explore their interests and engage in authentic, real-world problem-solving.

Critics often worry that progressivism may neglect foundational knowledge and lead to gaps in students’ learning. However, progressive education does not disregard essential knowledge but rather approaches it in a more contextualized and relevant manner. It emphasizes the importance of critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving skills while ensuring that foundational knowledge is acquired through integrated and meaningful learning experiences.

By addressing these challenges head-on and providing evidence-based strategies, progressivism in education can offer a holistic and effective approach to teaching and learning.

Professional Development and Teacher Training:

To successfully implement progressivism in education, professional development and teacher training play a crucial role. Educators need to be equipped with the knowledge, skills, and pedagogical approaches necessary to create student-centered classrooms.

Professional development programs can provide teachers with training on project-based learning, assessment strategies, technology integration, and fostering student agency. Collaborative learning communities, mentorship programs, and ongoing support are essential components of effective professional development initiatives. By investing in comprehensive teacher training, educational institutions can ensure that educators have the necessary tools and strategies to create transformative learning environments.

Additionally, universities and teacher education programs need to incorporate progressivism in their curricula and prepare future educators to embrace student-centered approaches. Pre-service teachers should be exposed to progressive educational philosophies, provided with practical classroom experiences, and supported in reflecting on their teaching practices.

By prioritizing professional development and teacher training, educators can enhance their instructional practices, foster a culture of continuous learning, and effectively implement progressivism in education.

Research and Evidence:

A robust body of research supports the benefits of progressivism in education. Studies have consistently shown that student-centered approaches improve student engagement, critical thinking skills, creativity, and overall academic achievement.

Research has found that project-based learning, a core element of progressivism, promotes deeper understanding, application of knowledge, and increased motivation among students. Students engaged in project-based learning demonstrate higher levels of problem-solving skills, collaboration, and communication, which are essential skills for success in the 21st century.

Furthermore, studies indicate that progressivism in education positively impacts students’ social-emotional development. It fosters a sense of belonging, self-efficacy, and a growth mindset, leading to increased academic confidence and overall well-being.

The research also highlights the long-term benefits of progressivism, showing that students who experience student-centered approaches are more likely to pursue higher education, succeed in their careers, and become lifelong learners.

By incorporating evidence-based practices, educators and policymakers can make informed decisions and further promote progressivism in education for the betterment of students’ learning outcomes and future success.


The progressive education system represents a paradigm shift in the way we approach teaching and learning. By prioritizing student-centered classrooms, promoting critical thinking, and fostering experiential learning, progressivism equips students with the skills necessary to navigate the complexities of the modern world. The implementation of ongoing projects, technology integration, in-class activities, rule flexibility, and student-based evaluation are essential steps toward creating a progressive educational environment that prepares students for success in the 21st century and beyond. By embracing progressivism in education, we can revolutionize the way we educate future generations, ensuring they are equipped with the tools, mindset, and competencies needed to thrive in an ever-changing world. The transformative potential of progressivism paves the way for an education system that nurtures independent thinkers, problem solvers, and lifelong learners.