Growing Lifelong Learners Since 1972

Differences Between Traditional and Progressive Education

This chart, from Independent Schools, a magazine of the National Association of Independent Schools, is a helpful guide in understanding the differences between traditional and constructivist/progressive education. We think the description of progressive education in this chart is a good description of the approach that teachers strive for at Wingra School.

Traditional Progressive

School is a preparation for life.

School is a part of life.

Learners are passive absorbers of information and authority.

Learners are active participants, problem solvers, and planners.

Teachers are sources of information and authority.

Teachers are facilitators, guides who foster thinking.

Parents are outsiders and uninvolved.

Parents are the primary teachers, goal setters, and planners, and serve as resources.

Community is separate from school, except for funding.

Community is an extension of the classroom.

Decision-making is centrally based and administratively delivered.

Decision-making is shared by all constituent groups.

Program is determined by external criteria, particularly test results.

Program is determined by mission, philosophy, and goals for graduates.

Learning is linear, with factual accumulation and skill mastery.

Learning is spiral, with depth and breadth as goals.

Knowledge is absorbed through lectures, worksheets, and texts.

Knowledge is constructed through play, direct experience, and social interaction.

Instruction is linear and largely based on correct answers.

Instruction is related to central questions and inquiry, often generated by the children.

Disciplines, particularly language and math, are separated.

Disciplines are integrated as children make connections.

Skills are taught discretely and are viewed as goals.

Skills are related to content and are viewed as tools.

Assessment is norm-referenced, external, and graded.

Assessment is benchmarked, has many forms, and is progress-oriented.

Success is competitively based, derived from recall and memory, and specific to a time/place.

Success is determined through application over time, through collaboration.

Products are the end point.

Products are subsumed by process considerations.

Intelligence is a measure of linguistic and logical/mathematical abilities.

Intelligence is recognized as varied, includes the arts, and is measured in real-life problem-solving.

School is a task to be endured.

School is a challenging and fun part of life.

Source: Robert G. Peters, with thanks to the books Schools of Quality, by John Jay Bonstigl, and In Search of Understanding, by Martin C. Brooks and Jaqueline Grennon, Independent Schools.

Published by the National Association of Independent Schools. Reprinted with permission.

Banner photo by Colleen Pardun Photography