Guru Prasad Poudel
There has been an enormous push to introduce learner-centered teaching strategies to pupils in both elementary and higher level institutions worldwide. The underlying assumption held by many is that learners will be more successful if they have an opportunity to enjoy while learning. However, the challenge is how to create learner centered teaching environment inside the classroom. This article aims to present few considerations on how to implement learner centered teaching in our daily pedagogic endeavors. In addition, the article includes tips, principles and challenges of learner centered teaching.
Over the past fifty years the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of what we teach has been the focus of much thought, research and deliberation. From Grammar-Translation to the Communicative Approach and beyond, the best methodology for English language teaching (ELT) has supposedly been discovered many times. While many changes have occurred in ELT over the past five decades, good teaching is learner-centered one. In learner centered class, an effective teacher helps each student connect to the material and the subject and pay more attention to their activities rather than his own.
As the years pass, the daily routine of teaching the same material through same method day in and day out starts to diminish the passion that was once so prominent years earlier. So what do we do? We do what so many of us have done when times get dull. The need is we have to recharge the batteries and break the routine of daily instruction. It is the time to employ new strategies to increase the intrinsic motivation of our learners so as to strengthen their language acquisition. Thus, learner centered teaching is assumed to be new recharge in our instructional practices. Equally, it is urgent to gear up teaching learning responsibilities to the learners, instead of having them only in the shoulders of teachers.
Tips for learner-centered classroom
The following ideas can be used in the classroom to create learner centered atmosphere in the classroom.
i. Cultivate a relaxed atmosphere before the beginning of instruction.
A relaxed atmosphere is conducive to free expression. A skillful teacher can create an atmosphere in which the student feels enough ease to struggle through a situation, and to find the words to express oneself.
ii. Praise the students when it is deserved
The teacher should compliment students when they do well. He/She should make it a practice to reinforce a good performance with encouraging comments. He/She should be careful, however, to be discreet along this line, setting high standards for the class.
iii. Be enthusiastic and engender enthusiasm
Enthusiasm is one of the most important factors to involve learners in a conversation class. The teacher should feel joy at the prospect of engaging them in learning, and put things into practice learned in the classroom.
iv. Listen to the students
The teacher should not dominate the learner’s responses. He should try to get the students to speak as much as possible.
v. Be patient
Patience, necessary in any encounter with students, is especially important in a learner centered class. The teacher should put himself in the place of the student. He should think of how he himself had to struggle to express his ideas when he was first learning a new topic.
vi. Be alert and foster alertness
Since the learner-centered class provides practice in both speaking and understanding what is said, the teacher should stay alert and see to it that the attention of the students does not wander. For example, when a student is not paying attention, the teacher can call him; ask him back to the practice by directing a question to him; or he can ask him to repeat something that has been said. The teacher can also ask him to repeat a question he has just asked him another student.
vii. Making corrections
What should the teachers do about mistakes in pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar and meaning? This is a delicate area in a learner-centered class. Students tend to insist that they want to be corrected. The teacher should let them find the good answers from the alternatives that he provides. He should always correct flagrant violations the moment they are made. As Halt (1980) says, “We must not fool ourselves…into thinking that guiding children to answers by carefully chosen leading questions is in any important respect different from just telling them the answers in the first place…the only answer that really sticks in a child’s mind is the answer to a question that he asked or might ask of himself”. The teacher should not overlook the value of an attention-getting-comment that might prevent a repetition of the mistake. He should not be necessarily rigid in their mistakes in such classroom.
viii. Avoid oversimplification
The principle behind the learner-centered class is that ‘learning is something only the learner can do’. The teacher cannot learn for the pupil, he can only provide good conditions within which learning may take place. If things are made too easy for the learners, they will not be inclined to use their own learning resources. As Halt (1980) says “If we taught children to speak, they would never learn”. What he means is that as teachers, we would want to break up the learning process into a series of gradable steps and prevent movement form one step to another until the first step had been mastered.
ix. Treat the individual student as a person, on an equal basis with all the members of the class.
A learner-centered class becomes successful if the teacher treats every students on an equal basis. He must look carefully at his classes to be certain that all the students are included equally. He shouldn’t be biased toward the brighter and more energetic students. A teacher’s effectiveness depends on his equal treatment toallhis students.
x. Leave emotional baggage outside the classroom
Another consideration for a teacher in learner centered classroom is that the teacher must manage his emotional activities. The classroom is a stage; and to be effective, the teacher must in some cases be an actor. For this, he must speak naturally with smile and concentrate on the student.
xi. Lead learners to understand language outside the classroom too
Krashen and Terrell (1983) argue that the purpose of child-centered language instruction is to lead learners to ‘understand language outside the classroom’ so that they can ultimately utilize the real world, as well as the classroom, for progress’. They indicate that the purpose of the child-friendly classroom instruction is to facilitate and encourage the students to interact with speakers in the target language outside the classroom.
General Principles for Language Lesson in Learner-centered Class
A good language class is much more than a series of activities and exercises that the teacher has strung together to occupy the available amount of time. As language teaching is a career in a field of educational specialization, it requires a specialized knowledge base obtained through both academic study and practical experience. A good language lesson, therefore, reflects the specialized thinking and knowledge of an educated language teaching professionals and in planning for their teaching, they should think carefully about how they understand the nature of the teaching and learning they will be participating in (Nunan & Lamb, 1996).
Some programs may seek to induct students into a particular method or approach (such as communicative language teaching, genre based teaching or task-based instruction) where, as other may operate on the basis of principled eclecticism, where teacher are introduced to a variety of teaching approaches and encouraged to blend or adopt them based on the contexts in which they will teach in learner-centered class (Richards and Rodgers, 2001). In most of the cases: teachers think of methods in terms of techniques which realize a set of principles or goals and they are open to any method that offers practical solutions to the problems in their particular teaching context heading to learner centeredness.
Kumaravadivelu (1994) purposes ten general principles that can be used as guidelines to be adopted or applied based on the need of learners as well as of specific situation. The principles are:
- Maximize learning opportunities.
- Facilitate negotiated interaction.
- Minimize perceptual mismatches between teacher’s intention and learner’s interpretation.
- Activate intuitive heuristics (for example, by providing enough textual data for learners to infer underlying grammatical rules).
- Faster language awareness.
- Contextualize linguistic input.
- Integrate language skills.
- Promote learner autonomy.
- Raise cultural consciousness.
- Ensure social relevance.
In developing learner-centered class, teaching should be much more than a performance by the teacher. Above all, a successful lesson makes the learners, rather than the teacher, the focus of the lesson. So an English language teacher must conceptualize the questions like – was the lesson content something students could relate to and that was relevant to their needs? Were the activities students took part in during the lesson sufficiently challenging to engage them but not so challenging that they became frustrated and lost interest? Were the students motivated during the lesson? Did the lesson provide opportunities for active participation by all the students in the class or was it dominated by one or two students who monopolized questions and discussion? These ideas will explore how one can move from a teacher centered approach to teaching to a learner-centered one, that is, on in which student’s needs, interest and preferences take priority in teaching (Richards and Farrell, 2011).
Features Focused on Learner-centeredness
An important skill in teaching is the ability to make learners the focus of teaching. This involves understanding learners’ needs and goals, communicating trust and respect to them, acknowledging diversity of needs and learning styles, giving feedback on their learning in ways that help develop their confidence and self-esteem and minimize loss of face, and using strategies that help develop an atmosphere of collaboration and mutual support among learners. Dornyei and Lamb (2003) mention that in some lessons, the focus is more on teacher performance than learner engagement, however, in learner-centered lessons, teachers achieve a more learner-focused approach to teaching, as is reflected in features mentioned below. These features show the focus of teaching on learner centered class.
- the degree of engagement learners have with the lesson
- the quantity of student participation and interaction that occurs.
- the learning outcomes the lesson produces.
- the ability to present subject matter from a learner’s perspective.
- how well the lesson addresses learner’s needs.
- how the teacher reshapes the lesson based on learner feedback.
- how the teacher responds to learners’ difficulties.
Practical Benefits of Learner-centered Teaching
Undoubtedly, an English language class consists of many different kinds of learners – some with similar needs and goals and some with a great diversity of need. The nature of such class may be fairly homogeneous with students of a similar age, educational background, interests, goals and needs. In order to bring them in the mainstream of learning, learner-centered teaching becomes a tool of success. Benson (2001) argues that learner-centered teaching is practically more effective than other modes of teaching for several reasons:
- It is sensitive to individual needs and preferences.
- It encourages construction of knowledge and meaning.
- It draws on and integrates language learning with students’ life experiences.
- It generates more student participation and target language output.
- It encourages authentic communication.
- It breaks down barriers between in-class and out of class learning.
- It opens up spaces for discussion of motivations, learning preferences, and styles.
- It encourages students to take more personal responsibility for their learning.
- It challenges the views that learning is equivalent to being taught.
- It offers a wide range of preferences for particular kinds of classroom activities, styles of teaching, classroom arrangements, aspects of language and mode of learning.
- It creates a community of learners by encouraging interaction within the class, helping them find learning partners and groups they are comfortable with, encouraging a sense of friendship among the students and to share interesting experiences to each other.
Challenges in Learner-centered Class
Keeping our students’ needs and interests at the forefront of our teaching is not always easy. Managing the processes and routines of teaching can sometimes distract us from the real point of teaching, which is to facilitate learning on the part or our students. Whenever possible, we should think through our lessons and the teaching activities we make use of from the point of view of our learners and use the focus points discussed above to help make our teaching more learners centered. According to Wright & Bailey (1999), some of the challenges faced by teachers in such classes can occur in:
- the way in which teachers support and manage the processes of language learning.
- the way in which teachers create opportunities to participate in the communicative and interactive uses of language.
- the way in which teachers involve their learners in individual and group activities.
- the way in which teacher use materials by all means to all the students of the class.
- the way in which teachers address individual differences in needs and interests, background and cultural perspectives of the learners.
- the way in which teachers focus individual learners in tests and assessments.
- the way in which teachers manage time, routine, course and institutional conditions.
- the way in which learners participate in classroom discussion, learning and evaluation
An important goal in language teaching is to create opportunities for students to participate in authentic uses of language in order to facilitate their language learning. Learner-centeredness is an approach which emphasizes on creating opportunities and giving optimum time and space to the students to participate in authentic classroom activities. Similarly, learner-entered teaching refers to teaching that reflects learners’ individual differences in cognitive styles, motivation needs and interests. Teachers have sole authority in teacher-centered teaching however such authority is deliberatively handed over to the students in learner-centered teaching. Developing a learner-centered focus to our teaching involves drawing on students’ life experiences, creating opportunities for students to interact and co-operate, and to develop a sense of shared interests and concerns. If we can engage our students in our classroom activities in real sense, we can ensure effective teaching and learning.
All Wright, D. & Bailey, K. M. (1991).Focus on the language classroom: An introduction to classroom research for language teacher, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Benson, P. (2001). Teaching and researching autonomy in language learning, London: Longman.
Durnyei, Z. & Lamb, T.E. (2003).Individualizing learning: organizing a flexible learning environment, Oxford: Cambridge University Press.
Jackson, A.L. (2012). The conversation class.English Teaching Forum, 50 (1), 29-31.
Kumaravadivelu, B. (1994). The post method condition: Emerging strategies for second/foreign language teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 28 (1), 27-48.
Richards, S.C. & Farrell, T.S. (2011).Practice teaching: A reflective approach,Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.
Guru Prasad Poudel
Department of English Education,