Student-Centered Approaches in My Teaching

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In the field of second-language teaching, teaching approaches have come and gone; the approach that has held sway during my teaching career has been the communicative approach, which emphasizes interaction. This approach could be very different from what you experienced if you ever studied a second language in university, where there was a lot of book-learning, but very little real communication. 

The communicative approach to second-language teaching seems conducive to a learner-centered approach to teaching in general: because the emphasis is on learners communicating with each other, it is natural to employ activities such as role-plays, incorporate group work and follow the principles of cooperative learning, all of which facilitate communication. Unfortunately, even today, not all language teachers embrace this approach as fully as they could, leading to teaching that is still teacher-centered, with the sage on the stage.

Having taught literature at university when I was much younger, I have experienced teaching from the other perspective, where the focus is on covering the material that is on the course outline, so I empathize with my colleagues who are not language teachers and for whom communication of a language in its grammatical, textual, and functional aspects is not the primary learning outcome, but rather the communication of a field of knowledge is, be it welding, drafting, carpentry, nursing, laboratory technology, aerospace, etc.

Flipped Classroom

Nevertheless, I have gained a lot of insight by considering how learner-centered approaches can enhance my language teaching and the learning of my students. Flipping the classroom, which affords the learner the opportunity to redistribute her time to best take advantage of the merits of studying as an individual and as a group member, is a genuine advancement and has a real benefit for language learners, who can now maximize the opportunity for communication in the group-learning environment (the classroom) while completing accuracy-based tasks independently (at home). Much of this would not be possible without the Internet.

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The Internet makes possible other student-centered approaches that are genuine advancements in teaching and learning and can enhance language teaching as well. For example, think of the potential that blogging creates for developing writing skills in second-language learners: the interactive nature of the platform means that the learner communicates not simply with the teacher, but with all the learners who have access to the blog, by virtue of which communication proliferates as posts receive comments and comments on comments ad infinitum.

question the answers

Inquiry-based learning is another student-centered approach that will significantly enhance language learning in my classroom. At the Language Training Centre, we are uniquely situated insofar as we are affiliated with a college, and so language teaching occurs in the context of getting students ready for academic study. At high levels of proficiency, language learners are expected to demonstrate skills, such as analysisinterpretation and evaluation, that blur the boundaries between communication skills and thinking skills. Posing a problem to learners and asking them to come up with a solution gives learners an opportunity to develop these thinking skills. Inquiry-based learning facilitates the development of these higher-order thinking skills as learners are asked to consider not only what-they-know but how-they-know. 

Among student-centered approaches, the flipped classroom, the blog and the inquiry-based project can enhance language learning enormously.

Student-Centered Approaches

Link to my reading

http://learning.instructure.com/2015/06/four-essential-elements-of-student-centered-learning/

way forward

Student-centered learning provides the means for learners to equip themselves with the competencies required to succeed in the 21st century knowledge economy, particularly the ability to learn continuously. Learning doesn’t stop when the phase of formal education is complete. Research shows that Millennials value the opportunity to learn new things in the workplace more than they do regular increases in their wages. They recognize that learning must never stop. Much can be done in the classroom by adopting the student-centered learning approach to begin to blaze a trail for lifelong learning.

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The teacher can give over the authority and control traditionally associated with this position. For example, giving over control can be achieved through the introduction of technology into learning, such as through the use of a Learning Management System (LMS), which enables learners to take control over what they learn, when they learn, and how they learn. An LMS will typically have a chat or blog component, which facilitates commenting and question-asking and supports the development of analytical, critical thinking and inquiry skills. However, technology is not a panacea; it must be used responsibly, and sometimes not at all. Sometimes, the way ahead is not to look forward, but to look around.

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This process of giving over control should not occur abruptly. Instead, the process should be done on a gradual trajectory. Early on, the classroom is a high-structure environment where the instructor plays an active role. Slowly, the instructor should remove the scaffolding that supports the learner, giving learners mores autonomy, creating a low-structure environment. This process is typical of my teaching, as skill-using tasks are always preceded by skill-building ones. In this way, we can foster learner autonomy.

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The giving over of control places additional responsibility on the learner, requiring that the learner transform from a passive recipient of knowledge to an active learner that creates knowledge, applies knowledge and gains understanding. This shift can be problematic for learners who are not accustomed to the kind of learning that goes beyond rote memorization and that emphasizes knowledge at the expense of understanding. Peer-work can play an important role at this stage as collaboration among learners fills the space left by the teacher. I incorporate pair, triad and small-group work consistently in my teaching as a way of valuing teamwork and building soft skills.

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At the same time as the scaffolding is slowly removed, and the learning becomes more active, the instructor should be supporting learners in developing valuable metacognitive skills. Employing metacognition allows the learner to become more fully aware of their own learning styles and habits for success and begin to manage their learning process on their own. I encourage learners to reflect frequently on why they are (un)successful on a task so that they recognize the importance of being aware of their own strengths and weaknesses as learners.

Through the learner-centered approach, learners have now equipped themselves with the skills required to learn autonomously, collaborate effectively and apply their knowledge, competencies in highest demand in industry.