Teaching Styles Discourses


Differentiating among modes of teaching

Principal Metaphors

The word “teach” is derived from the Proto-Indo-European word deik- “to show, point out.” It is also related to the Old English tacn, meaning “sign” or “mark.” That is, the notion of teaching originally had to do with orienting attentions toward significant features. Given this background, and in consideration of that the word “learning” is derived from a path-based notion (see Attainment Metaphor), it’s perhaps not surprising notions and images of pointing figure so prominently in modern conceptions of teaching. (If you’re unconvinced, take a moment to do image searches of “teach,” “teaching,” and “teacher.”) Nor is it surprising that teaching has long been interpreted and enacted in terms of directing, leading, guiding, showing, focusing, and other acts of orienting. Thus, while there are many dozens of popular synonyms for teaching, those arising from following flock of metaphors are among the most prominent:
  • Knowledge is … a territory/area/domain/field (typically involving challenge)
  • Knowing is … attaining a goal
  • Learner is … a seeker (individual)
  • Learning is … journeying (arriving at, reaching, progressing, accomplishing, achieving)
  • Teaching is … directing, leading, guiding, showing, focusing




Teaching Styles Discourses include any attempt to identify and/or categorize modes of teaching. The least sophisticated efforts involve undifferentiated lists of teaching approaches, usually with brief descriptions that are infused with moral judgments and uncontextualized assertions on effectiveness. Slightly more sophisticated versions employ questionnaires and planar diagrams to assist users in locating themselves among two or more categories of distinction. (Note: To highlight contrasts and associations, we have “located” these discourses on the map at the bottom of the page.) A prominent, but not universal, theme across Teaching Styles Discourses is a quest for "Best Practice":
  • Best Practice (various, 1990s) – rooted in business, a Best Practice is a technique that is demonstrated by empirical evidence to be superior to alternatives. The notion has gained considerable traction in education over the past decade, sometimes in ignorance of the fact that o the metrics of effectiveness used by business (e.g., profit, growth, efficiency, quality) do not have direct correlates in education.
In our reviews, virtually all Teaching Styles Discourses make some sort of reference to the Didactic Triangle:
  • Didactic Triangle (Johann Friedrich Herbart, 1820s) – a simple figure comprising an equilateral triangle with “teacher,” “learner,” and “knowledge” (or variations on those terms) at the vertices. Used for various purposes, the Didactic Triangle is most often invoked as a reminder of the importance of simultaneously considering all three of those interrelated elements.
A "teaching style" is sometimes treated as synonymous to a "signature pedagogy":
  • Signature Pedagogies (Shulman, 2000s) – discipline-specific and routinized modes of teaching, distinguished according to three structural qualities: surface structure (actual practices), deep structure (assumptions that underpin practices), and implicit structure (values and beliefs that orient the teaching).
With regard to the three just-mentioned aspects of Signature Pedagogies, almost all Teaching Styles Discourses are focused on "surface structure." That is, matters of "deep structure" and "implicit structure" tend to be assumed in simplistic distinctions, such as the following:
  • Teacher- vs. Student-Centered
    • Teacher-Centered Learning (Instructor-Centered Learning) – a mode of teaching in which the student is positioned as passive – that is, the educator defines what will be learned, how it will be learned, and how the learning will be evaluated
    • Student-Centered Learning ­(Child-Centered Learning; Learner-Centered Education) – a mode of teaching that takes up one of more of the following principles: (1) Students are treated as active participants in their own learning. (2) Teaching styles accommodate to differences among individuals. (3) Students participate in choosing topics, pacing lessons, and assessing outcomes
  • Structured vs. Unstructured Learning
    • Structured Learning – most often, a phrase that describes teaching styles associated with pre-analyzed subject matter, sequenced learning trajectories, and standardized performance expectations. (Structured Learning can also refer more specifically to the focused and intensive supports provided to meet the specific behavioral, emotional, and/or cognitive needs of a learner.)
    • Unstructured Learning – a phrase the refers to the removal of constraints that are typical of formal schooling, but that does not specify which constraints are removed – and so Unstructured Learning might be applied to rejecting standard curricula, making tasks open-ended, avoiding classroom spaces, ignoring school formalities, and so on
Regarding undifferentiated lists of teaching approaches, the following types are commonly encountered. (Notes: We have collapsed some categories, and we have rendered most descriptions generic. Different commentators have proposed specific variations for each entry, and some of those variations may conflict with our versions.):
  • Authority Teaching Style (Lecture Teaching Style; Command Teaching Style; Delivery Teaching Style; Directing Teaching Style; Expository Teaching; Direct Instruction) – a designated expert makes all decisions around intentions, actions, and measures and then presents information on preselected topics to attentive students who are responsible for ensuring adequate retention and/or comprehension of the material presented.
  • Collaborator Teaching Style (Discussing Teaching Style; Interaction Teaching Style) – focused on group process, this style involves students in presenting and challenging opinions through discussion, debate, and a range of research activities. The teacher’s roles include arbiter, participant, and more-experienced knower
  • Conductor Teaching Style (Hybrid Teaching Style; Blended Teaching Style) – combining the teacher’s expertise with students’ interests, this approach employs a range of styles, as appropriate to the moment
  • Delegator Teaching Style (Empowerment Teaching Style) – a student-centered approach in which the teacher sets the stage and self-positions as a consultant or resource, enabling students to define appropriate actions according to personal interests
  • Demonstrator Teaching Style (Coaching Teaching Style: Modeling Teaching Style; Practice Teaching Style) – a designated expert makes all decisions around intentions, actions, and measures and then demonstrates appropriate actions, usually accompanied or followed by opportunity for students to mimic, practice, or apply those actions
  • Divergent Discovery Teaching Style – oriented by a common topic, students are invited to structure their own engagements and to work toward satisfactory resolutions
  • Facilitator Teaching Style (Self-Check Teaching Style) – a student-centered approach in which the teacher sets out the parameters and goals, but students work individually or collectively to come to an adequate outcome. In more formal versions, students are provided with explicit criteria to gauge progress and success
  • Guided Discovery Teaching Style – the student moves through a sequence of carefully parsed experiences designed by the teacher, ideally culminating in the realization of a predetermined concept and the honing of self-directed learning skills
  • Inclusion Teaching Style (Continuous Progress Teaching Style) – after being provided with an overview of a learning trajectory, the student is able to make decisions on pacing, materials, and relationship with the teacher – who is present to monitor progress and provide assistance as requested
  • Mentoring – more an attitude in teaching than a mode of teaching, typically associated with strong elements of interpersonal connection, personalized feedback, and ongoing relationship
  • Nondirective Teaching Model – an ill-defined, umbrella notion that has been applied to almost every approach to teaching outside our Directive Pedagogies cluster, although it appears to most often encountered in association with Personal Agency Discourses.
  • Reciprocal Teaching Style – students teaching one another, typically with the teacher available as a consultant who assigns differentiated responsibilities across students (e.g., explainers, note-takers, feedback-providers, information-gatherers)
  • Reflective Teaching – more an attitude in teaching than a mode of teaching, involving knowledge of learners, theories of learning, and critical self-awareness (see Reflective Practice)
  • Social-Inquiry Model – a teaching style that emphasizes social interaction, distinguished by the uses of formal logic and academic inquiry to resolve social issues
  • Teaching Presence (Terry Anderson, 2000s) – an online student-centered approach in which the teacher sets out the parameters and goals, but students work individually or collectively to come to an adequate outcome. Active interventions through collaborative computer conferencing is thought to support students engagement with the learning materials.
We could go on. Another strategy for classifying teaching styles is to name two dimensions of variation, and then using those dimensions to construct a matrix. We encountered dozens of such opinion-, survey-, or observation-based models in our scan of the literature. The following are some composite illustrations, each a blend of multiple models: teachingstylesmatrix5 In our reviews of Teaching Styles Discourses, the above sorts of distinction-emphasizing models were rarely associated with any manner of empirical research, but nonetheless were frequently presented alongside claims on learner engagement and teacher effectiveness. In the direction of somewhat more empirically defensible and decidedly more complex examples, a few models are notable:
  • Grasha’s Inventory of Teaching Styles (Anthony Grasha; 1990s) – a questionnaire-based model that begins by acknowledging that every teacher employs multiple styles. Based on such varied criteria as expertise, institutional authority, relationships with students, and educator intentions, Grasha identified five teaching styles: Expert, Formal Authority, Personal Model, Facilitator, Delegator. Those styles were then collected into different clusters, which were then tied to families of teaching practices that vary across such dimensions as lesson formats, assignment preferences, student participation, and learner autonomy.
  • Theory of Teaching-in-Context (Teacher Model Group at UC-Berkeley, 1990s) – a model aimed at explaining and predicting teachers’ practices by defining the interactions of their beliefs, intentions, dispositions, and formal knowledge
  • The Staffordshire Hexagon of Teaching Styles (Kay Mohanna, Ruth Chambers, David Wall; 2000s) – a questionnaire-based model that renders scores on six scales that are then plotted on a hexagonal grid (see diagram).


The prevailing strategies among efforts to identify Teaching Styles Discourses – that is, simple lists and simple maps – come with two intersecting problems. Firstly, such strategies can engender senses of completeness, whereas they likely omit more than they include. Secondly, in our searches, neither strategy seems to be associated with efforts to interrogate the beliefs and assumptions about learning that undergird conceptions of teaching – that is, most Teaching Styles Discourses seem to operate in complete ignorance of the fact that “learning” is a highly contested, poorly understood phenomenon and that teaching styles say at least as much about cultural norms, stakeholder expectations, institutional requirements, and professional standards as they do about personal preferences. Disconnected from critical insights into individual learning and social action, many of these discourses come across as simplistic classification schemes that say more about the observer than the observed. Against the backdrop of Teaching Styles Discourses, it is important to note that there are discourses on teaching that go in a different direction. For example, Emergent Design Discourses  typically focus less on simple dichotomies and observable actions and more on complex dynamics and malleable attitudes.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences


Status as a Theory of Learning

We have not encountered any Teaching Styles Discourses that could be construed as a discourse on learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Clearly, Teaching Styles Discourses are discourses about teaching. None that we encountered, however, seemed to merit the descriptor “theory,” even in very naïve senses of the word.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Across all of the entries on this website, few are as laden with uncritical and unsubstantiated assumptions as this one. None of the Teaching Styles Discourses that we have been able to examine meet any of our criteria for a scientific discourse. In particular, apart from a common reliance on questionnaires that appear to be based almost entirely on beliefs, experiences, and expectations of the designers (as opposed to, for example, defensible research into learning and teaching), there appears to be little that resembles empirical evidence across these discourses. We are especially concerned with a recent trend toward deploying the notion of Best Practice in a manner similar to current uses in business contexts. These applications tend to rely on simplistic analogies between wildly different phenomena, such as student achievement on standardized tests and net profits.


  • Authority Teaching Style (Lecture Teaching Style; Command Teaching Style; Delivery Teaching Style; Direct(ing) Teaching Style; Expository Teaching; Direct Instruction)
  • Baumrind’s Four Parenting/Teaching Styles
  • Best Practice
  • Collaborator Teaching Style (Discussing Teaching Style; Interaction Teaching Style)
  • Conductor Teaching Style (Hybrid Teaching Style; Blended Teaching Style)
  • Delegator Teaching Style (Empowerment Teaching Style)
  • Demonstrator Teaching Style (Coaching Teaching Style: Modeling Teaching Style; Practice Teaching Style)
  • Didactic Triangle
  • Divergent Discovery Teaching Style
  • Facilitator Teaching Style (Self-Check Teaching Style)
  • Grasha’s Inventory of Teaching Styles
  • Guided Discovery Teaching Style
  • Inclusion Teaching Style (Continuous Progress Teaching Style)
  • Mentoring
  • Nondirective Teaching Model
  • Reciprocal Teaching Style
  • Reflective Teaching
  • Signature Pedagogies
  • Social-Inquiry Model
  • Staffordshire Hexagon of Teaching Styles
  • Structured Learning
  • Student-Centered Learning ­(Child-Centered Learning; Learner-Centered Education)
  • Teacher-Centered Learning (Instructor-Centered Learning)
  • Teaching Presence
  • Theory of Teaching-in-Context
  • Unstructured Learning

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2021). “Teaching Styles Discourses” in Discourses on Learning in Education. https://learningdiscourses.com.

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