S is for Student-centredness

17 02 2013
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45 responses

17 02 2013
Adam Simpson

It’s much easier when you leave us a question to answer at the end of your post, Scott. Now I have to actually think of how to respond!

One thing I would like others to reflect on would be the extent to which they build learner-/teacher-centeredness into their planning. To what extent, for instance do others take into account tiredness, time of day, weather, illness and other factors and how might these lead to changes in the *centering* of lessons?

Thanks in advance for any responses.

17 02 2013
Mumtaz Ayub

Hi Scott,

For me, the first thing that comes to mind is teacher development. Over the years, my understanding of how to teach has moved almost as if what you describe are points along a developmental spectrum. What has directed this change, of course, is my understanding of how learning takes place, and I cannot move on until I have first conceptualised the shape of my lessons in terms of language acquisition. The sticking point for me usually comes down to my role as definer or focuser of the language we need to look at in class and how I can do this while giving control to my learners.

At present, I choose topics based on their interests and spend a lot of time focussing them on meaning. This leads on to language points/tasks pre-chosen by me but expanded upon through interaction. However, the initial stage of the lesson will always bring up numerous errors which I essentially ignore because they are not ‘on task’. But is this in line with how language is actually learnt? Must I be so focussed? I find myself torn between what I have planned and what I find in the heat of interaction, as it were.

Not sure if my comment is on task but thank you so much for raising another stimulating topic.

18 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Thanks Mumtaz. It seems to me that what you describe is a very common condition – the tension between wanting/needing to shape the direction, and perhaps content, of the lesson, on the one hand, and the desire to ‘go with the flow’ and let the learners direct the lesson, as it were, on the grounds that this better both reflects natural acquisitional processes and develops learner autonomy. However, taking the latter route assumes (a) that the learners are willing and prepared to take a greater degree of responsibility and ownership, and (b) that the classroom is the best place to foster ‘natural acquisitional processes’, or – indeed – that these ‘natural acquisitional processes’ are necessarily any more effective than teacher intervention of a more overt, even teacher-fronted, kind.

The jury is still out!

17 02 2013
davedodgson

As I started to listen to the recording, I thought of a talk I attended a couple of years ago (I think the speaker was Rob Bolitho), in which the notion of being ‘learning centred’ rather than ‘learner centred’ was emphasised. That is what I often try to implement in my classes, offering the students choices over how they approach a task (individually or in groups, for example, or allowing them to adapt the format or content of the activity. My role in this is to provide assistance where needed whether it be the form of language input, ideas or critical feedback.

However, I do also indulge in ‘teacher fronted’ moments in which I draw the attention of the whole class to common errors being made or give general feedback on their progress so far Introductions to topics are also quite teacher-centred with lots of teacher to whole class interaction.

As ever, it’s all a matter of using the approach that best suits the aims of that particular stage of the lesson.

Thanks for another thought-provoking Sunday morning post!

P.S. As for re-arranging the classroom physically, much like exercise and diet, that’s something I always have good intentions about but never keep going long-term. :)

18 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Dave. I do in fact mention the learnING-centred vs. learnER-centred distinction, as my 4th (I think) ‘level’ of learner-centredness, but perhaps I don’t make it clear enough. At the same time, I’m not entirely sure that the distinction is clear-cut.

18 02 2013
davedodgson

Sorry, I think the lack of clarity is mine – I was thinking of ‘learning-centred’ shortly before you brought it up but neglected to mention that. For me the distinction lies in the fact that a teacher-fronted or teacher-led section of a lesson (such as drawing attention to errors or expanding on a strucutre students seem unfamiliar with) can be learning-centred even though it is not strictly learner-entered….

(If that makes any sense!)

17 02 2013
Divya

Adam, what you said was the first thing that came to mind when listened to Scott: how far ahead can I plan / should I even be planning?

The question of roles is something I’m very much in the throes of at the moment as I rework the assessment structure in my own classroom and try to create a (hopefully sound and solid) structure of peer-assessment.

I often wonder what exactly will happen to my own role as teacher/assessor and have trouble planning or visualising the next step because I’m purposefully moving away from assigned roles and waiting to see what emerges as I make assessment more student-centred. I think classroom roles, assigned or naturally emerging ones, are hooks that guide interaction and the filling of roles possibly define the very structure of the group (echoes of this in Ehrman and Dörnyei, 1998:72).

As I experiment so much with who the ‘leader’ is in my own group I’m having to rethink the peripheral position I find myself taking at times and do wonder if laying such high expectations on my students’ autonomy is the best use of the skills and education I have as a teacher…and as you say Adam, a lesson can be anchored by so many different things…

Have a lovely Sunday everyone :)

Ehrman, M.E. and Dörnyei, Z. 1998. Interpersonal Dynamics in Second Language Education: The Visible and Invisible Classroom. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

18 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Divya. I particularly like the way you express this dilemma: “I’m having to rethink the peripheral position I find myself taking at times and do wonder if laying such high expectations on my students’ autonomy is the best use of the skills and education I have as a teacher”. I couldn’t have put it better.

17 02 2013
Duncan

If students ask the teacher to tell them a joke that would be be learner centred ( a student directed activity) and also teacher centred (the teacher telling the joke, centre stage) I think you are right Scott to press teachers on what they mean by “learner/teacher centred” as it doesn’t seem to be that useful as a dichotomy. Learning can happen in lockstep, with one person leading or in group and pair work or indeed when the student is alone in her thoughts. It can also happen when the content of the class is directed by students or by the teacher. “Learning centred” is even more redundant, since it is a given that whatever is done in class, the intention at least is, well, learning. What might the alternative be? “Forgetting centred” teaching perhaps?

18 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Thanks Duncan. I arrived at your comment after expressing some difficulty (above) with the term ‘learning-centred’, and now I know why!

At the same time, there is a kind of degenerate form of teaching that is more ‘testing-centred’ than ‘learning-centred’ (and this refers back to my last post). So I think the term does have some residual validity.

17 02 2013
Jelena Perisic

Everything mentioned can be students-centered, but for me it is opposed to teacher-centered classroom, where the teacher stands on the stage, attaching too much importance to him/herself. Everything that shifts the attention from the teacher to students, be it the topic of interest, a position in the classroom or choice of activities can be said to be students-centered. Teacher is a kind of a manager, trying to direct and re-direct the flow of the lesson to serve some purpose and to complete a goal. To what extent this is going to go on is up to the teacher, though the actual group of students can prefer more active or more passive role in the process of creating successful learning process. the bottomline is that the teacher is responsible for the time and how it is used, so the success depends mainly on their skills.

18 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for the comment Jelena. I think you’re right about the teacher’s skills determining the degree of learner-centredness (in whatever its sense) in the classroom. This means, perhaps, that learner-centredness is contingent on teacher direction, and that is the paradox.

17 02 2013
Carol Goodey

I’ve often wondered what people mean when they talk about student- or learner-centredness so it’s interesting to see this discussion opened up.

For me, learner-centredness means that the learning is relevant and applicable to the various contexts in the learners’ lives according to what they want to be able to do or be, or what change they want to see in their abilities to participate in those contexts. It starts with the learner, with what they are able to do, with what they are interested in. It builds on what they can do to help them work towards their goals. It means encouraging the learner to be aware of their learning – what they’re learning and how they learn – and the difference that learning is making to their lives. It means that the learner is increasingly able to direct their own learning, decide on next steps, undertake independent learning.

With this view of learner-centredness, I believe that a range of methods, activities, approaches can be learner-centred. If whatever we do in class is helping learners to work towards their goals, and they are aware that they are doing so, then it is learner-centred. In my mind, even teacher-fronted activities are learner-centred as long as it is done with the learner in mind. Similarly, pair work being done simply because it is in the course book and without any thought to the people in the room, is not learner-centred.

What is important, however, is that we get to know our learners – about the contexts they use the language in, what they can do in the language, and what they want to be able to do – and that the learners feel able to express their views, introduce topics and reflect on their learning. For this, I find a certain amount of conversation-driven approach to be very useful.

18 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Thank you Carol for your very articulate comment. When I read “It means that the learner is increasingly able to direct their own learning, decide on next steps, undertake independent learning”, I realised I had left an important aspect of student-centredness out of my initial post, and that is the sense of it as being self-directed learning. Thanks for clarifying that for me.

17 02 2013
hadalitim

Hi Scott,
Thanks for your video post – a nice change. Might we enjoy the pleasure of a live ‘post’, in the future – perhaps? :)

I completely share Carol’s views on learner-centredness. So they prompt the questions, ‘How much can/should one adhere to a plan?’ and ‘Shouldn’t there be a ‘pause-check-reassess’ stage after every task in the plan, in order to make the lesson truly learner-centred?’
Stopping, taking-and-making time, most often make for much more satisfying lessons, I find.

I think that, besides the approaches used, what probably goes hand-in-hand in defining learner centredness is, observing learners needs at every stage of both the lesson and the course,

18 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Hada. If you scroll back down the posts you’ll see that this is not my first video one, but I’m glad you like the change of focus (even if it’s a bit teacher-fronted!)

As I mentioned to Mumtaz above, there is a real tension (in my mind) between planning and devolving more responsibility on the learners, so I very much like your ‘stopping, taking-and-making time’ formula, which may be one way of reducing, if not resolving, the tension.

17 02 2013
mamunoz

Thanks again for making Sundays interesting! Whenever I think of teacher-centredness Englishdroid and The Diva Method (http://tinyurl.com/bp3tj7t) come to mind. Yes, it is a parody but I think there’s some truth in it regarding what a teacher-centred class is like.
Then, you have student centredness in its various forms. For me, the difference between learner- and learning-centred is that in the latter students may end up doing things they do not particularly like or enjoy as decisions are made based on learning criteria. Students may wish to watch a movie in class or may not take to reading outside class. The teacher should, however, consider the best way of helping students achieve their linguistic competence objectives (and make sure the learning experience is, if not fun, at least rewarding -hopefully fun too!!). In my opinion, in the learner-centred class, the student is a client while in the learning-centred one, the student is a consumer.

18 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

In my opinion, in the learner-centred class, the student is a client while in the learning-centred one, the student is a consumer.

Interesting distinction! I’m not sure I subscribe to either the ‘client’ or the ‘consumer’ analogy, though. They both rather smack of the discourse of business – which I took a swipe at in my last post on ‘outcomes’. What’s wrong with just ‘learners’? (Or does that make them sound too teacher-reliant?) ;-)

17 02 2013
Tyson Seburn (@seburnt)

I often wonder how any of these student-centred approaches really fit into an EAP program. With desks that are often bolted to the floor and facing front in university classrooms, the physicality is requires a T-fronted focus.

I try often to add in pair and group participation in class, as any teacher would. This process, as it were, is likely the most applicable student-centredness.

EAP is a more specific language context than a general ESL classroom where the student-centred content may more easily apply. Students do not know what they need at the pre-university level. They do not have any experience in university to negotiate the content/skills/discussion they need in coming years. Where they may contribute to generating content would be to choose the topics with which they apply the academic writing, listening, etc skills, but with such young learners, I’ve often found they cling to topics they know, like movies, music, food, etc, and as such, depth of interaction with the topic remains fairly fluffy and superficial.

18 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Tyson. I accept that the EAP context has its own constraints but I might counter by citing David Hall’s ‘Talkbase’ program in Thailand in the 1980s. Hall (in a paper in the collection Innovation in ELT which he edits with Ann Hewings – Routledge 2001) describes a “student-generated, experiential approach” to EAP course design, in which learners provide the materials. “No detailed timetable or content is specified. Only a general syllabus outline is given, based on a repeated pattern of Plan, Do, Report Back, Evaluate, and Plan Again. Students carry out a major piece of independent work during the course, using all the resources of the immediate environment including teachers and other students …. Work proceeds through a series of report-back sessions in various modes – poster sessions, presentations, individual consultations, interviews, and so on.”

Hall’s verdict on the program: “…At the end of the course, students’ sense of achievement at being able to present complex technical information to various different audiences gives them [the] confidence … to initiate communication and to persist with it when there are difficulties.

In terms of the prerequisites for communication, they are all present: there is genuine commitment to communicate, there is a
genuine audience, and students care about whether they have made their point … In this course, the desire to take the floor and
to make a point does not depend on linguistic ability or a forceful personality; it depends on having something to say.”

17 02 2013
mcneilmahon

For me, student-centredness is an attitude – an attitude to planning and teaching. A teacher who says ‘I’ve got to plan my lessons’ is not demonstrating as ‘student-centred’ an attitude as a teacher who says ‘I’ve got to plan my students’ lessons’. It might seem a tad facetious, but the simple switch in language use highlights the importance of having the students in the forefront (or should that be centre) of your mind when planning your / their lessons. And some may go even further and say ‘I’ve got to plan how my students are going to plan their lessons’.

The same goes for in the lesson too – are you making decisions as the lesson progresses based on their lesson and how its panning out, or your lesson? This student-centred attitude can ensure that even the most teacher-fronted stage of a lesson can be completely student-centred (exactly what these students need at this point, eliciting from them, them making notes, etc. everyone completely involved in what’s being discussed) and a completely student-fronted stage (all sitting in a circle discussing something, teacher on the sidelines monitoring) can involve very little student-centredness (only one or two students involved, teacher chosen topic, teacher led discussion, only teacher knows the aim of the stage).

Looking at student-centredness as an attitude therefore means you can have very student-centred lessons within Tyson’s context because the teacher has chosen topics they know the students need preparation in (even when the students themselves don’t) and as Carol highlights this is true across a whole range of approaches.

18 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Neil. I like this so much I’m going to cut-and-paste it:

A teacher who says ‘I’ve got to plan my lessons’ is not demonstrating as ‘student-centred’ an attitude as a teacher who says ‘I’ve got to plan my students’ lessons’.

17 02 2013
Paraskevi Andreopoul (@pandreop)

Good evening, Mr. Thornbury!

Well, personally speaking ,in my context, IT IS hard to attempt to implement a learner-centred classroom with a bunch of young learners ( aged 8-11) exploding any time, during the lesson. It is really frustrating to make them stand still and behave themselves in class, let alone ,make them work independently (as the process is applied in adulthood, where the learner intrinsic motivation factor is prevalent). Still, my “pet hates” manage to survive in the EFL classroom ,co-operate with my designing short-term activities with a focus of rivalry, interactivity and competition atmosphere , in my mind..and ..you know ….it works…in this case…But, the point is that we ought not to rest on our laurels…what succeeds in one class ,may fail in another one…

Anyway, the point of learner-centredness raises discussion and a lot of controversy about classroom management…there are times, where in my Greek EFL context, a learner-centred class may be misinterpreted for an undisciplined classroom, especially in closed communities (remote villages).Hopefully, ELT methodological approaches , technological advancements, teacher development has given way to modernism (esp. for the younger generation- the older one still believes in the qualities a GOOD EFL teacher must have…)

Thank you for allowing me this space to expound my views / worries concerning the matter of learner-centredness!

18 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

“… in my Greek EFL context, a learner-centred class may be misinterpreted for an undisciplined classroom ”

Yes, Paraskevi, I think this is a real fear (and a realistic fear) that many teachers have when urged to embrace learner-centredness. It just sounds like a recipe for chaos. And without the requisite classroom-management skills, it IS a recipe for chaos.

On the subject of classroom management, Jim Scrivener in his recent (prize-winning!) book called Classroom Management Techniques (Cambridge University Press 2012), has this to say on the subject of learner-centredness:

Learner-centred teaching is about having trust in your students’ abilities to learn and in their abilities to make decisions about what and how to learn. It is about a greater degree of empathy with each individual. It is about creating a political climate in which students can be more autonomous within a class.

17 02 2013
Kathy

When I first learned about the notion, it was taught as a dichotomy. learner-centered = not teacher-centered. Attention and power, viewed as limited resources, are divided between the teacher and the learner. If the teacher has too much, then take some from the teacher and give it to the learner.

I was never comfortable with that. Must it be either/or? Why should *anyone* be peripheral? When I learned about a learning-centered viewpoint (from Parker J. Palmer’s “The Courage to Teach”), pieces fell into place for me. He writes of a “great thing” at the center of a community of seekers. There’s no dichotomy if we’re all giving our attention to what unites us.

I guess you can think of learning as a noun (what we get from giving our attention to the Great Thing). I see it as a verb (how we give our attention to it). The teacher, then, would be someone who has — or wants to have — a specialized skill at this. Learners come to class hoping to benefit from such expertise. The teacher comes to class hoping to improve on it. So everyone in the room is there to strengthen their ability to give attention to the Thing.

And where is the Thing, really? We each bring some experience of it or need for it into the room. We expose ourselves together to experiences of it and then examine its effect on us. So we look to each other as we examine The Thing. We are all in the center of the room.

“As we try to understand the subject in the community of truth, we enter into complex patterns of communication — sharing observations and interpretations, correcting and complementing each other, torn by conflict in this moment and joined by consensus in the next. The community of truth, far from being linear and static and hierarchical, is circular, interactive, and dynamic.” Palmer, p. 106

I work with adults where it may be easier to take such a view. Given Tyson and Paraskevi’s comments, I wonder if it’s possible to bring some part of this perspective to their situations?

18 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

There’s no dichotomy if we’re all giving our attention to what unites us.

Yes, Kathy – great point. Why the dichotomy between learners and teachers? Surely we are all just ‘people in the room’. (That at least is one of the tenets of a Dogme approach).

17 02 2013
Rob

Does this discussion boil down to the uses ‘learner’ and ‘student’ in ELT?

What motivated Scott to use the latter term to refer to ‘the people in the room’ (other than the teacher)? Perhaps doing so explains why ‘student’ has so far been used about 50 times and ‘learner’ about 40. It might say something about deference to/respect for the blogger (Scott).

While ‘learner’ most often collocates with ‘learner-centeredness’ in the thread, Carol and Kathy use ‘learner’ almost exclusively; others stick with ‘student’.

That’s a cursory analysis, but what might it tell us?

It would be interesting to tease out the differences in how we use these descriptors. In fact, doing so might tell us more about what x-centeredness means.

I have a sense that we tend to use ‘student’ to refer to people as such, enrolled or signed up for classes, and ‘learner’ for people as interactive agents in the classroom. That would chime with my personal use, but this is all speculative.

Rob

18 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Yes, good point, Rob. I was dithering as to whether to headline this post L is for Learner-centredness, rather than the S-word, but the fact is that my MA TESOL students tend to use the term ‘student-centred’ as the default term. See also my comment to Mamunoz above. Should we take a poll? ;-)

18 02 2013
Kathy

Posting at the same time, Scott!

18 02 2013
Kathy

At the Center for Literacy, many of the adults who enroll in the literacy programs had a less-than-ideal experience as “students”. Out of respect for their autonomy as adults, many of us refer to them as learners (they’re not in the public school system, most are here by their own choice). Many of the people who enroll in our English classes have had fine educational experiences in their home countries, but I still like the implication (in my own mind, anyway) that they’re managing their own learning experience. I hope that ties in with Level 5 in this post? Of course, I accommodate (thanks for the term, Scott) when communicating with others who use “students”. It’s convenient to use the abbreviation Ss, too.

18 02 2013
billharrisuk

Stimulating video post Scott.! I agree that teachers – or perhaps more so teacher trainers – make a lot of noise about student-centred teaching without really considering what this means and how to implement it. Looking at the CELTA criteria for planning and teaching there is not one reference to student-centred teaching and yet trainers consistently make this a prime action point for their poor trainees. There is a sensible and attainable reference a need for a ‘communicative focus’ but we have to dig deep into Craig Thane’s appendix ( ugh!) in the CELTA 5 record book to find mention of to a need to ‘ensure a balance between teacher-led and student-centred activity’ in planning. OK, this is an initial training course but if student-centred teaching doesn’t get an explicit mention in an exhaustive list (44 criteria including arranging the chairs with regard to safety regulations!) is this because it’s assumed that all good teaching is student-centred or that definitions and ‘assessability’ of student-centred teaching are – at best – rather nebulous.

18 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Interesting finding, Bill – i.e. that student/learner-centredness is not enshrined in the CELTA ‘dogma’. I wonder if it figures in the DELTA syllabus? It doesn’t seem to in the TKT, although checking Jeremy Harmer’s recent (prize-winning!) book, Essential Teacher Knowledge, I find a whole unit devoted to ‘student-centred teaching’, in which the importance of relevance and agency are foregrounded. Incidentally, ‘student-centred teaching’ strikes me as being a bit of an oxymoron – shouldn’t it be student-centred learning, or, the student-centred classroom?

19 02 2013
billharrisuk

This avoidance of the term student – centred IS interesting Scott, but it’s also in the nature of the CELTA beast NOT to be dogmatic. My take on the CELTA criteria is that they describe the key ingredients in planning and teaching such as focussing on the MFP of language or providing appropriate practice of language items without prescribing the approach to be used. Thus there is no mention of PPP, TBL , Guided Discovery or any other methodology and by extension no requirement to be ‘student-centred’… whatever that may mean! There is a reference to ‘ teaching a class with awareness of the needs and interests of the leaner group ‘ which I guess could cover it but – as we know – this is an initial training course with only six hours of planned and assessed teaching practice and very little space for spontaneity and reactive teaching.
Anyway back to the debate about what happens in real teaching and trying to pin down a definition. Must read Jeremy’s newie!

18 02 2013
Andy Gillett

How do we deal with the fact – probably – that students may have chosen – sometimes paid – to come to our classes? In some way they are paying for the teacher’s expertise in helping them learn. If we are really student-centred, we should not forget that.

19 02 2013
Luiz Otávio Barros

Dear Scott,
“Student-centered” (or leaner-centered, teacher-centered or whatever) is one of those vague, jaw-droppingly hard-to-pin-down terms that, after all these years, still makes me wince. In the molds of “communicative”, you know.

It’s not that I don’t subscribe to classroom processes and syllabus choices that put students’ needs (motivational, acquisitional, face-validity) first. Far from that. I guess my feelings have more to do with the sorts of teaching / learning outcomes that I have witnessed over the years partly because of the conceptual wishy-washiness (is that even a word?) attached to the term “student-centered.”

Because the term student-centeredness has such a plethora of meanings, interpretations and teaching-implications (as you yourself made clear on the video), it’s easy enough for teachers, teacher educators and school administrators to use it as they see fit, with the sort of diplomatic immunity, as it were, that only brand new, still undissected and unquestioned buzzwords can offer.

I have seen perfectly good teachers being fired because their lessons were not “student-centered” enough. I have seen mediocre lessons, with virtually no teacher intervention and scaffolding, but lots of unmonitored group and pair work, being praised to the skies because they were “student-centered.” I have seen fellow teacher educators trying to help novice teachers by simply telling them that they ought to be less-teacher centered, without being specific as to what exactly they mean by that. I have seen lots of experienced (and even brilliant) teachers refraining from intervening, explaining, providing corrective feedback because, in their words, “they ought to be more student-centered.” After all, if it’s the latest craze, it ought to be good.

Perhaps the point that I’m making here is that in the absence of a term as vague and all-embracing as “student-centered”, teachers, teacher educators and school owners would need to find a way to describe and explain classroom processes and syllabus choices with more precision and, in some cases, intellectual honesty.

19 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Hi Luiz, yes, I think two things are emerging from this discussion: 1. that the meaning of the term student-centred has become too diffuse – that is to say, it means whatever you want it to mean, and 2. that – whatever it does mean – the concept needs to be problematized because it’s in danger of creating a false dichotomy.

19 02 2013
Stephen Jones

Nice to see that I wasn’t alone in being not quite sure of what my manager meant when he said make your lessons more ‘learner-centred’.

19 02 2013
Luan Hanratty (@TEFL101)

Hi Scott,
For me, analysing student-centred learning is perhaps more pertinent when done from a technical standpoint rather than a theoretical or social one. I mean, as it is already such a given that ‘student-centred’ is one of the key orientations in language teaching, then how is it done? I would suggest these fundamentals:
1. An onus on the students to explain and demonstrate, rather than this being the default role of the teacher.
2. A strong emphasis on elicitation – despite the rather unfair treatment I felt it received in ‘E is for Elicitation’.
3. Maximising opportunities for student movement, particularly to the board.
4. Strategic teacher movement, particularly towards sitting & moving among groups.
5. A general rule that STT outweighs TTT, cf. http://www.teflideas.com/2012/04/27/golden-rule-language-teaching/
6. A focus on group work and games with leaders and teams.
7. An institutionalised preference for small classes.
8. A high amount of student freedom to create, particularly in dialogues.

19 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Interesting insight, Luan – I like the idea that – if the term student-centred is to have any currency, it needs to be observable, even measurable. This rather contrasts with an earlier statement (can’t recall who) who said it was an ‘attitude’. I’m reminded of the distinction between ‘low-inference data’ (i.e. data that is/are observable and don’t have to be inferred) and the opposite, high-inference data. Whether or not the teacher occupies the front-of-class position throughout the lesson is low inference data; whether he/she trusts the learners to take initiative is high-inference. On the other hand, in the greater scheme of things, the teacher’s feelings of trust are actually more interesting, and perhaps more significant, than whether he/she moves about the room or not.

19 02 2013
Svetlana

Dear Scott,
I would agree with those who say that student-centredness is a vague and ambiguous term. Therefore I would prefer learning-centredness, highlighting the dichotomy “teaching vs. learning”. Methodology is a science about how one can best match teaching and learning. What very often happens is that very little of what we mean to teach is actually learned. Then learning-centredness is about how to make teaching subordinate to learning emphasizing the priority of learning and making sure it does take place. The question how to make teaching subordinate to learning is easier to answer than define “student-centredness”. It can be broken into the following aspects:

1) building up motivation to learn
2) carrying out needs analysis and as a result exposing the learner to those bits of language which are relevant to his interests, learning needs etc (ranging from on-spot elicitation, student-generated texts to authentic (real-life purpose) texts as a given within the area of the learner’s interests)
3) awareness on behalf of the teacher and the learner of individual differences and learning styles
4) learner training and developing learning strategies
5) using insights from SLA in a classroom situation( by the way, is a more modern word ‘cognitive psycholinguistics’?) e.g. SLA as a process of approximazation the target norms and conventions; need for silent period for some students, etc.

All in all, that all means creating the most favourable conditions for learning to take place. Then the teacher –fronted position is fine as long as it keeps the student on their toes for learning (e.g. in the Silent Way).

Easier said than done…

20 02 2013
Nick Bilbrough

I guess what often passes for student centredness can sometimes be more like ‘prudent’ centredness -low risk teaching, constant elicitation, just keeping people busy doing what they can already do, but not really engaged or challenged.

I like what Adrian Underhill says somewhere in the middle of this panel discussion about finding the edge of what people are capable of and working around this area. Is this learning centredness?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3bzurSGkTU&feature=youtu.be&a

It’s also really worth seeing just for the bit where Jeremy Harmer starts defending dogme!

20 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for that, Nick. I love the idea of ‘prudent-centredness’!

I also agree (and by extension concur with Adrian Underhill’s and Jim Scrivener’s call for more demands to be made on learners) that one of the consequences of both humanistic teaching approaches and the communicative approach has been a certain retreat from centre-stage, on the part of teachers, manifested as a lack of assertiveness and a reluctance to intervene, for example.

At the same time, I’m somewhat irritated, by Jim’s claim in the panel discussion you linked to, that a dogme approach is of the same ilk, and, worse, that it lacks a theory of learning. He clearly hasn’t read Teaching Unplugged!

21 02 2013
Nick Bilbrough

I was also surprised by this claim. I am quite excited by the demand high movement, in the same way that I was excited when I first heard about dogme, and to me there seems to be a lot of common ground. It seems to me that demand high is putting the emphasis on one aspect of dogme – the challenge to upgrade language -and I like what it may be offering in terms of moving upgraded language through deep processing towards being remembered.

21 02 2013
Kevin Towl

Hello Nick, hope you are well!

Key comment for me there was “just keeping people busy doing what they can already do”. I have a nasty feeling that that’s what I did for several years.

Also, I think ‘low risk teaching’ can be linked to underestimating what our students are capable of.

Kevin

3 03 2013
J.J. Almagro

‘Centeredness’ conjures up a territorial metaphor of classroom culture that may not explain those odd language learning affordances created by teachers and students rather uncooperatively. Points in need generated and driven by ‘teacher organicity’ or ‘student organicity’…

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