Topics

The nine research papers that launched this Jobs for the Future project renew attention to the importance of engaging each student in acquiring the skills, knowledge, and expertise needed for success in college and a career. The edited volume of these papers, Anytime, Anywhere: Student Centered Learning for Schools and Teachers (2013) is available from Harvard Education Press.  The papers are currently organized under three large topics: Learning Theory, Applying Student-centered Approaches, and Scaling Up Student-centered Approaches to Learning.

Learning Theory

What does brain research tell us about how we learn and how learning, in turn, shapes the architecture of the brain? What is the connection between the stress of poverty and the impact of emotions on learning? To answer such questions, this paper draws on recent brain research and research in cognitive science, highlighting the positive impact of student-centered learning approaches.

Christina Hinton, Ed.D.

Christina Hinton, Ed.D., works on issues at the nexus of neuroscience and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her recent research focuses on the biological basis of empathy and education for a cosmopolitan ethic of care. She has authored many articles and book chapters on educational neuroscience, and lectures internationally on implications of neuroscience research for education, research schools, and education for global awareness. 

Kurt W. Fischer, Ph.D.

Kurt W. Fischer, Ph.D., Charles Bigelow Professor of Education and the director of the Mind, Brain, and Education Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, studies cognitive and emotional development and learning from birth through adulthood, combining analysis of the commonalities across people with the diversity of pathways of learning and development. He is the author of "Dynamic Development of Action, Thought, and Emotion" in the Handbook of Child Psychology (Volume 1); Human Behavior and the Developing Brain; Mind, Brain, and Education in Reading Disorders; and a dozen other books, as well as over 200 scientific articles.

Catherine Glennon, Ed.M.

Catherine Glennon, Ed.M., earned a Master's degree from the Mind, Brain, and Education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She is a cognitive development research specialist at HGSE, researching developmental pathways of perspective taking, complex reasoning, and student engagement.

What motivates students to engage in learning and achieve academic success? The authors synthesize research on achievement motivation, school engagement, and student voice, concluding that the more educators use student-centered approaches to reinforce student agency, the more motivation and engagement are likely to rise.

Click here to watch a brief video of an interview with one of the paper's authors, Eric Toshalis.

Eric Toshalis, Ed.D.

Eric Toshalis, Ed.D., is an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Education and Counseling at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, where he directs the Summer Middle and High School Level Program and teaches adolescent development and classroom management. Dr. Toshalis is the co-author, with Michael J. Nakkula, of Understanding Youth: Adolescent Development for Educators (Harvard Education Press 2006).

Michael J. Nakkula, Ed.D.

Michael J. Nakkula, Ed.D., is a practice professor and chair of the Division of Applied Psychology and Human Development at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. He teaches courses on adolescent development and the intersection of counseling, mentoring, and education within urban public schools. He is the lead author of Building Healthy Communities for Positive Youth Development (Springer 2010).

Applying Student-Centered Approaches

Taking the reader inside six high schools widely regarded as exemplars of deep student learning, the authors unpack teaching practices and school structures at the heart of student-centered learning. Findings reveal commonalities among the schools, especially in allowing teachers to hone their craft through “daily acts of invention.” 

Barbara Cervone, Ed.D.

Barbara Cervone, Ed.D., is founder and president of What Kids Can Do, Inc., an international nonprofit organization that promotes the value of young people tackling projects that combine powerful learning with public purpose. From 1994-2001 she directed Walter H. Annenberg's "Challenge to the Nation," then the largest private investment in public education in the nation's history. Dr. Cervone is a 2008 Purpose Prize Winner.

Kathleen Cushman

Kathleen Cushman is an educator and writer who has specialized in the lives and learning of youth for over two decades. In 2001 she co-founded What Kids Can Do, Inc., with Barbara Cervone. Her work there has resulted in nine book collaborations with students, most recently Fires in the Mind: What Kids Can Tell Us About Motivation and Mastery (Jossey-Bass 2010).

Focusing on African-American males, the author describes how current school literacy practices and policies are overly generic and miss the mark.  Placing student-centered learning in the context of race and gender, this paper reviews literature on factors that impede reading achievement, provides a socio-historical perspective for advancing African-American male literacy, proposes a framework of literacy instruction, and discusses implications for research, policy, and practice.

Alfred W. Tatum, Ph.D.

Alfred W. Tatum, Ph.D., is an associate professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He also serves as the director of the UIC Reading Clinic where he hosts an annual African American Adolescent Male Summer Literacy Institute. He authored the award-winning book, Teaching Reading to Black Adolescent Males: Closing the Achievement Gap (Stenhouse Publishers 2005). His second book, Reading for Their Life: Re(Building) the Textual Lineages of African American Adolescent Males, was published by Heinemann in August 2009.

Using new perspectives on mathematics as a cultural and social activity and new research on learning outside the school, the authors ask readers to rethink the problem of mathematical achievement for all students, and for Latino/a and black students in particular. The paper argues that doing so will help those students connect how they learn in the classroom to their lives outside of school, and help reduce the “achievement gaps” that exist in our current educational system.

Rochelle Gutierrez, Ph.D.

Rochelle Gutiérrez, Ph.D., is a professor at the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research focuses on equity in mathematics education, race/class/language issues in teaching and learning mathematics, effective teacher communities, and social justice. She has written several articles and book chapters that address the achievement gap, English learners, mathematics teaching in Mexico, and sociopolitical trends in mathematics education.  She is working on a book entitled Developing Academic Excellence and Identity in Mathematics Students: Windows into Urban Teaching.

Sonya E. Irving, Ed.M.

Sonya E. Irving, Ed.M., is a doctoral student in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Illinois. Her expertise is in evaluative research as a means to support teachers for instructional improvement, especially as it relates to equity in mathematics education. She has worked for several years as a mathematics teacher. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from Howard University and a Master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

This paper explores how new digital technologies can be used to design curricula that are flexible enough to adapt readily to individual differences. The authors propose that universal design for learning—as the confluence of advances in the neuroscience of human variability and in multimedia technologies—can create an “ecology for learning” which provides rich, diverse, student-centered learning pathways for all students.  

David H. Rose, Ed.D.

David H. Rose, Ed.D., is a developmental neuropsychologist and educator whose primary focus is on the development of new technologies for learning. In 1984, Dr. Rose co-founded CAST, a nonprofit research and development organization whose mission is to improve education, for all learners, through innovative uses of modern multimedia technology and contemporary research in the cognitive neurosciences. He also teaches at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he has been on the faculty for nearly 30 years.

Jenna W. Gravel, Ed.M.

Jenna W. Gravel, Ed.M., is a doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education whose research interests focus on effective implementation of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and the impact that this framework has on student learning. Prior to attending HGSE, she worked as a project manager and research associate at CAST, an education research and development organization. Before joining CAST, she worked as a middle school inclusion specialist as well as a staff assistant for an advocacy group for parents of children with disabilities.

Scaling Up Student-centered Approaches to Learning

Personalization in secondary education supports student-centered learning and takes place through a variety of relational structures, strategies, and interventions. This paper examines how enhanced adult-youth relationships lead to increased student engagement, youth development, and academic performance. It highlights the particular importance of personalization efforts for at-risk populations and nontraditional students, and explores technical aspects of implementing personalization in schools. 

Susan Yonezawa, Ph.D.

Susan Yonezawa, Ph.D., is an associate project research scientist with the University of California, San Diego’s Center for Research in Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence (CREATE) where she is also associate director. She conducts design-based research on student voice, youth engagement, and equity-minded secondary school reforms. She has published in numerous journals including the American Educational Research Journal, Educational Researcher, Journal of Educational Change, and Urban Education.

Larry McClure, Ph.D.

Larry McClure, Ph.D. is a senior analyst with the University of California, San Diego’s Center for Research in Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence (CREATE). Trained as an experimental psychologist, he works primarily with research groups designing and analyzing projects centered on educational reform. He has worked on evaluations for federal agencies as well as the Spencer and Carnegie foundations.

Makeba Jones, Ph.D.

Makeba Jones, Ph.D., is an associate project research scientist at the Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence (CREATE) at the University of California, San Diego. Her research interests include urban school secondary reform, student voice, student engagement, education policy, and post-secondary access for low-income youth. She has also served as principal investigator and director of the San Diego Area Writing Project, an affiliate of the National Writing Project. She has published in journals such as the Journal for Educational Change, the National Association of Secondary School Principals Bulletin, Educational Leadership, Theory into Practice, and Educational Researcher.

Student-centered assessment is a vital underpinning to student-centered learning approaches. This paper examines five defining qualities of student-centered assessment and underscores the importance of student-centered assessment as part of a balanced system of formative, interim, and summative assessments that, taken together, provide useful detailed information to inform learning, instruction, decision making, and policy.

Heidi Andrade, Ed.D.

Heidi Andrade, Ed.D., is an associate professor of educational psychology and the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the School of Education, University at Albany-State University of New York. Her research and teaching focus on the relationships between thinking, learning, and assessment, with emphases on classroom assessment, student self-assessment, and self-regulated learning.

Kristen Huff, Ed.D.

Kristen Huff, Ed.D., is the Senior Fellow for Assessment at the Regents Research Fund. Her main research interest is integrating evidence-centered design theory and practice into large-scale assessment to ensure that what is valued in student learning is measured on exams and communicated through instructionally-relevant score reports. 

Georgia Brooke

Georgia Brooke is an advanced doctoral student at the University at Albany. Her interests include formative assessment, gifted education, and the interplay between psychological and biological forces, including the impact of environmental pollution on cognitive functioning.


School districts have an important role to play in opening the door to the implementation of student-centered learning approaches and ensuring that these practices improve student achievement. Noting an absence of references to student-centered learning approaches in a subset of high-performing districts, this paper details seven key district characteristics to support innovative approaches in general, and student-centered learning approaches in particular.

Ben Levin, Ph.D.

Ben Levin, Ph.D., is a professor and Canada Research Chair in Education Leadership and Policy at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. His spends his career half as an academic and half as a senior civil servant. His current interests are in large-scale change, poverty and inequity, and finding better ways to connect research to policy and practice in education.

Amanda Datnow, Ph.D.

Amanda Datnow, Ph.D., is a professor and Chair of the Department of Education Studies at the University of California, San Diego. Her goals are to both improve policy and practice in education and advance theory about educational change. She is author or editor of six books and over 60 articles and book chapters. She serves on the editorial boards of several journals and consults for numerous professional organizations and government agencies.

Nathalie Carrier

Nathalie Carrier, M.A., M.Ed., is a doctoral candidate at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. She is a graduate of an alternative, student-centered high school.