Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sandy's Guide to Student-Centred Learning

Welcome to “You're Talking Out Yer Arse”, an occasional series in which Sandy McManus poos all over some of the more extreme teaching methodologies by teasing off the thin veneer of shiny bullshit and revealing them in all their turdly glory. Today's subject is student-centred learning, a sort of constructivist hell in which the teacher is heavily sidelined and reduced to arranging the desks and supervising the toilet breaks.

However, let's do the needful and start with a bit of solid theory, shall we? I mean, what trendy Tefler worth his Celta could possibly disagree with the following?

"Student-centred learning is an approach to education that focuses exclusively on the student's needs, abilities, interests, and learning styles, rather than those of others involved in the educational process, such as teachers and administrators. This process of putting students first views the teacher as a facilitator of learning, and is in stark contrast to existing establishment/teacher-centred lecturing and careerism, which has the teacher at its centre in an active role and students in a passive, receptive role."

So, the students get to make all the decisions and do all the graft - not bad, eh? This approach, of course, relieves us teachers of most of our tedious traditional pedagogical roles and duties, and means we can spend more time in the pub or the betting shop. A typical student-centred classroom would include the following shenanigans...

  • The students set their own objectives. These could be meaningful, authentic problems which serve to further their understandings of the subject matter and themselves; or just something simple like colouring-in the empty bits on page 94 of Headache Intermediate.
  • Students complete their own activities, designed by themselves to achieve goals determined by themselves. The teacher sits in the staff-room smoking roll-ups, drinking tea and reading Viz all day, but is available for 'consultation' the whole time.
  • Students can happily ignore any directions and step by step instructions from the teacher as they progress through their activities. In fact, they'd be lucky to find the teacher in the class at all if I had my way here.
  • Students are motivated by intrinsic factors such as the desire to learn, succeed, impress their colleagues, shag that horny Brazilian bit, etc. Those students who do not already possess the full range of intrinsic motivators can purchase them at a discounted price from the teacher.
  • Students can work in groups determined by themselves, or alone. Or perhaps not even at all? Maybe they'd rather stay in bed - group-sex or working in pairs, according to their self-defined objectives. It's a real shame the poor old teacher gets excluded here!
  • Student work is evaluated solely by the other students, and any differences in opinion are settled by a punch-up in the classroom (preferably without you, dear teacher, unless you're happy to be sued and lose your job).

So, do you think you have what it takes to be a modern student-centred EFL teacher? Are you happy to be an over-educated doormat? Could you feel comfortable being relegated to the status of a mere collaborator in the process of learning - maybe just doing the photocopying and bringing in the sandwiches? Would you feel unconcerned if your students told you to bugger off while they tried to successfully set up a student-centred classroom?

No, I thought not.

Coming Next: You're (not) Talking Out Yer Arse #2 – The Silent Way


Mike said...

ok, it's taken a while but we're getting closer now to the kind of post which made your first blog required reading! can't wait for the next in the series

The TEFL Tradesman said...

Point taken, Mike. And I wouldn't disagree, either.

The muse has been absent more often than not over the past few months, which is why I've been serving up reheated pieces from the old TeflTrade(RIP) blog quite frequently. Let's see how things progress, anyway...

Mike said...

hey. but dont get too modest with it. you are BY FAR the best writer (with honesty) about the EFL business and don't you forget it little camper! Personally I would pay real money (ill-gotten gains) if you would PLEASE incorporate into your new blog all those PRICELESS posts from the past - you have no idea how incredible they were - as the writer - since that time only ENGLISHTEACHERX has come anywhere close but by obviously mimicking your best posts (the cheeky bastard!)SANDY - as for us (in Korea, you are the BEST and always will be. reasons? stunning use of the invective and piercing incite into human nature which is bound to make you a best-selling author before long - i hhope you remember us plebs when you make your first million. Ever thought of a TEFL novel with your worst escapades? tHIS WOULD BE THE KIND OF THING THAT EVEN aLEX COULD ONLY DREAM OF!!

The TEFL Tradesman said...

Well, a bit OTT I'd say, Mike - but I'm happy to let it stand!

Actually, I wasn't too sure about the meaning of the word 'invective' - even though I've probably used it dozens of times myself. So I checked it out on Wiki...

Invective (noun), from Middle English "invectif", or Old French and Late Latin "invectus", is an abusive, reproachful or venomous language used to express blame or censure; also, a rude expression or discourse intended to offend or hurt. Vituperation, or deeply-seated ill will, vitriol.

The genre of invective is a form of classical libel used in Greek and Roman polemical verse. The preferred literary term for invective of the Renaissance is libel.

So, I seem to share roots with the Greeks and Romans, do I?! And I'd always thought of myself as more of a Renaissance man than a classicist, but 'libel' won't really do, will it?

As for your other points - yes I have planned a TEFL novel; and do so every year! Fortunately there's usually a long stretch, a void in fact, between planning and doing in my life.

And 'Alex' - who's he?

Anonymous said...

He might be a posh boy slumming until his inheritance kicks in.

Kapitano said...

In one of my TEFL job interviews the following exchange took place:

DOS: Should a lesson be student-centered or teacher-centered?

My Brain: Oh for fuck's sake.

Me: It should be student-centered.

DOS: How much of a lesson should be student time?

My Brain: What a cretin. Pull a figure out of the air.

Me: 75%?

DOS: Ah, actually no. It should be 80%. And if you want to work here you should only spend 20% of each lesson talking.

The DOS was a big fan of the silent method and said we should all use it - but never got around to describing it. And I couldn't find more than single sentence descriptions on the internets.

So I'm looking forward to your next post to find out what the hell it is.

The TEFL Tradesman said...

Ah, dear Kapitano - fret not! Just take a look at Wiki - it's where I get most of my 'base' (sometimes very) materials from.

Shame about the job interview, though. Why didn't you just gob on the arsehole and walk out? Which 'school' was it, anyway?

Maybe giving me the plonker's name could well lead to an 'interview' and another stunning article!

Anonymous said...

That definition of 'student-centred' sounds more like extreme dogme than how I think most people would define student-centred.

But yes, I think language is more learnable than teachable, and so students need to be given the right tools to help themselves. And encouraged to feel good about doing so.

I sometimes do silent way, and it freaks the students out. But it generally goes well, giving them the luxury of time to think and work productively in class.

The TEFL Tradesman said...

Fair comment, Engelsk. In fact, I got the original text from Wiki, and adapted/corrupted it to fit own personal agenda, I mean point of view - YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN|!

Yes, it did strike me as a little too radical or fundamentalist, as many colleges that offer imposed or directed syllabuses insist on it being taught in a 'student-centred' fashion. But I s'pose there are soft and hard versions of the theory.

Shaun Ryder said...

Huh, all that blimmin' praise fer San'. No mention of ole Shaunie, ooooooh no. Typical. I'm gonna start self-medicating again, I'm that depressed.

The TEFL Tradesman said...

Shaunie, is that 'self-medication' anything like whisky or snakebite? Or do you just gulp down a bottle of cough mixture? The codeine can be quite powerful, I've heard...

Shaun Ryder said...

Aye, codeine is fookin' great but you 'ave to combine it. Iss like tequila: bollocks on its own but fookin' fine in a cocktail.

Ruler of Morality said...

You demented Western drug peddler.


Anonymous said...


This made me laugh my proverbial tits off! More please! MORE!

Ms Girl

The TEFL Tradesman said...

Glad to have been of service to you, Ms Girl! I do hope you've managed to locate your tits and replace them by now - at least for your boyfriend's sake!

Anonymous said...

Dear kapitano,

You've obviously never worked in commerce like wot I have. The reply should have been vaguer.. "as much as possible, of course"... [how much is that]... " depends on the context, material, teaching aims, nationality of student, learning stles, differentiation. oh do come on blah, blah blah". :-)

PS TT, don't assume it's a boyfriend looking for her tits... I'm not fussy meself, and playing womens' football I get to see lots, but alas.... all too young..

Big S