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STANISLAVA KRAPEŽ, MA (APPLIED LINGUISTICS): STUDENT-CENTRED TEACHING AND LEARNING: STRATEGIES FOR INCREASING STUDENT MOTIVATION

natisni E-pošta

Abstract
There is an increasing emphasis on the necessity of a student-centred approach to teaching and learning. As a starting point, the paper provides a brief overview of the role and benefits of this approach, focusing mainly on foreign language learning. One of the key drivers of successful learning is motivation. Therefore, teachers should find ways how to make teaching and learning effective, and at the same time, motivating and enjoyable, always considering the needs of the students. The paper brings up certain strategies to inspire students so as to make them actively participate and involved in their own learning process.

 

INTRODUCTION

The concept of student-centred learning was introduced as early as in 1905 by Hayward and later in 1956 by Dewey. Since then, it has been a widely discussed issue. Teachers have always been looking for new ways to respond to teaching challenges, to find easier and effective ways to deliver the subject matter, to excite students’ motivation and help them achieve learning goals. Considering these aspects, student-centred learning is clearly an essential component of teaching. It has major pedagogical benefits (Rogers, 2002), as students, rather than passively listening to the teacher, learn by doing, they become deeply involved in the learning/teaching process, and consequently construct their own meaning.

 

STUDENT-CENTRED FOREIGN LANGUAGE TEACHING AND LEARNING 

There is an interesting question about language learning, namely how people learn language (Hall, 2001). The answer to this question is not straightforward. A lot of learners pick up a language quickly merely by listening and speaking. However, there are also learners who do not have such a strong innate ability, and often ask for more structured teaching. So, for whom does the student-centred approach work better or well? The balance probably depends on the type of lesson or activity, and also the level of the learners. However, this approach should be an essential component of any language programme. Those students who are more or less beginning to learn English require a greater amount of teacher input, whereas more proficient students can be expected to interact for longer durations. It is essential though that students have a chance for output and that the teacher should be aware of opportunities how this can be encouraged. The teacher should know how to engage the students in communication without any pressure. The focus of activity should always be on the student.

Frontal teaching with the omniscient teacher in front of the class should definitely be something of the past. Of course, it is always easier to quickly tell the students the answer instead of letting them discover it and then take the time to let them explain their findings and thoughts.

 

STARTING THE LESSON

One of the most important challenges for the teacher is how to excite students’ motivation. As teachers, we are all interested in creating an environment where our students can learn and where the learning environment is engaging, motivating, and exciting. In short, we like to see our students succeed. In reality, however, we often experience quite the opposite. Our students are neither motivated nor engaged. They are rarely excited about learning. They often forget more than they remember. Research clearly indicates that motivation is a huge factor in the student’s ability to learn a second language. Some students may come to class intrinsically motivated and require very little from the teacher to build interest. Others will require a large degree of extrinsic motivation, and the teacher may need to be extremely creative to find out what excites them.

From my personal experience, it is extremely important to attract students’ attention and get them involved right at the beginning of a lesson. Warm-up sessions, which also entail a lot of speaking, always work well in my classes. One of the strategies that successfully motivate my students and, at the same time, serve as a review of the previous lesson, is a 10-key-word exercise. This warm-up exercise is far more powerful than simply asking students to summarise the previous lesson. This is how it goes: I ask a volunteer to leave the room. Then I ask students to recapitulate the most important new words from the previous lesson. One of the students writes them on the board. The volunteer comes back and is asked to talk about the topic of the previous lesson and hit as many key words as possible. The time allowed is just 60 seconds.

This game is excellent as building on previous knowledge. It makes learning meaningful, it helps with a memory process and requires collaboration. It is a good method for repeating vocabulary. What is more, students find it entertaining.

I also write objectives on the board, which my students find motivating and beneficial. When students know the topic and objectives, this makes them more focused on the subject matter and more involved in the learning process.

 

TEACHING GRAMMAR

There have been many disputes on different approaches to the teaching of grammar, whether it should be taught explicitly, systematically or whether it should be taught at all (Derewianka, 2001). Student-centred classrooms generally take a communicative approach to language learning. This means shifting the focus from grammar-based competence to competencies that are more communicative. The focus of learning is to make real communication, to provide opportunities to experiment and try to use the language, to provide opportunities to develop both accuracy and fluency, and to link the different skills.

Van Lier (2007) claims that “grammaticalization” is a natural by-product of contingent interaction. In my experience, the age of students plays an important role. The older they are, the more often they want the teacher to explain some grammatical rules. They express their own grammar needs. They do not feel on safe ground if they do not put grammar into a proper framework. As for them, it is difficult to say that grammar is just a natural by-product. In such case, traditional form-focused practices might sometimes be necessary, but we need a balance between purely grammar exercises and exercises that put such forms into communicative use (Nunan, 1998). I think it is valuable to make teaching and learning a focus of on-going discussion and negotiation in the classroom.

A useful tool that can offer resources for better understanding some basic rules of the language is pop culture. It is important to note that students are generally interested in pop culture and quickly recognise as well as remember the lyrics the teacher gives them as a tool for grammar rules.

Believe in your students

Following the principle “Believe in your students and trust them”, I sometimes leave the classroom. Strange as it may seem, I find this method beneficial especially when revising English tenses.

We first discuss or revise a given grammatical concept so that the students focus on a variety of examples with the grammar situation, and then try to guess how the concept is used. As a conclusion, they are asked to explain the grammar rule. After that, I give them a gap-fill exercise and ask for a volunteer to monitor the class while I leave the room. We know that, in order to learn a language, students have to practice speaking to others, so this is a great opportunity for them to practise speaking without any pressure. The activity also focuses on confidence building and works well even with larger classes. When the students finish the activity, I join them to discuss and clarify the answers. I also show them the solution slides for their perusal.

 

ERROR CORRECTION

It is often said that the best learning is when the learner makes mistakes and learns from them. In this respect, I find peer correction a useful technique. I sometimes use a fun and interactive activity in my class, especially when practising how to write formal letters. This activity also makes it possible for the weak students to learn from their peers.

In groups of four or five, depending on the class size, students start writing a business letter addressing one of the previously discussed areas of concern. During the activity, they are not allowed to talk. Furthermore, each student writes just two words and passes the paper to his/her fellow student to continue writing. This strategy increases their focus on the activity. When they are finished, each group brings the letter to the (bulletin) board and puts it up there. What follows is a peer evaluation and correction. Working collaboratively, each group starts reading and correcting the letter of the other group. They compare and discuss their written work and suggest improvements. This usually leads to a long discussion on how to write a good and effective business letter.

 

STUDENT-TEACHER TALK

Student-teacher talk is of course essential – it is a big part of the communicative teaching methodology and a move away from the grammar-translation approach which held sway in the earlier part of the 20th century and majored on rote learning of grammar and vocabulary in place of any real focus on oral proficiency. It is important to focus on talk because learners of modern foreign languages (as opposed to learners of Latin and Classical Greek) want to speak the language, interact with other speakers, make themselves understood, and communicate. Talk is an important background activity, as groups cannot work without talking, and discussion in pairs is often a good way of consolidating and extending what has been taught “from the front”.

Of course, the main danger with talk is that it becomes an “off task” behaviour. Students can be discussing their social lives to the detriment of their learning and the learning of others. It can be a distraction and a challenge to the teacher’s authority. Like everything else in the classroom, talk must be managed and monitored. An experienced teacher knows how much leeway to give students regarding talk.

 

COMMUNICATION OVER ACCURACY

Students’ experience and interests play an important role in the teaching/learning process. The teacher's role is to facilitate growth by deploying the interests and needs of students. Student-centred learning actually asks for modifying the lesson plan to the needs of the students.

Presentations are often used as a way to have students practise all language systems areas and skills. From my point of view, they are a great method to excite students to speak and communicate with their peers without being afraid of making mistakes. However, a successful presentation is closely related to student’s interests. Therefore, I do not give my students a list of topics. Instead of this, I ask them to search for an article that arouses their interest and is somehow connected with their field of study. The topic of their choice makes the preparation and delivery of the presentation much more creative, enjoyable, and less stressful.

After the presentation, students come up with thoughtful questions or comments. What follows is usually a long discussion. After that, students assess their peer by giving a mark 1 – 5 using the evaluation form:

·         clear and well-structured organisation, supported by visuals

·         excellent delivery, appropriate body language, can invite questions and answer them successfully

During the presentation and discussion, I never correct my students. I take some notes on common mistakes and clarify them after the activity is over.

 

CONCLUSION 

Learner-centred classrooms focus primarily on individual students' learning. It is often very demanding to capture students’ attention, enhance their motivation and meet their needs. The aim of the paper was to present some strategies that are likely to create better results for teachers and students, make a shift from the teacher-centred to student-centred approach and thus put the student at the forefront of the learning process.

 

Literature and references

Derewianka, B. 2001. Pedagogical Grammars: Their Role in English Language Teaching. In A. Burns & C. Coffin (Eds.), Analysing English in a Global Context: A Reader (pp. 240-269). London: Routledge.

Griffith, W.I., Hye-Yeon Lim. 2014. Introduction to Competency-Based Language Teaching. MEXTESOL Journal, Vol. 38, 1-8.

Hall, D. R. 2001. Materials production: Theory and practice. In: Innovation in English Language Teaching. Hall, D. R., Hewings, A. (eds). London: Routledge.

Lier, Leo van. 2007. Action-based teaching, autonomy and identity. International Journal of Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching Vol.1 (1), pp 46-65.

Morgan, M. 2013. Improving the student experience: A practical guide for universities and colleges. London: Routledge.

Nagaraju, Ch., Madhavaiah, G., Peter, S. 2013. Teacher-Centred Learning and Student-Centred Learning in English Classroom: the Teaching Methods Realizing the Dreams of Language Learners. International Journal of Scientific Research and Reviews, Vol. 2(3), 125-131.

Nunan, D., Lamb, C. 1996. The Self-Directed Teacher: Managing the Learning Process. Cambridge University Press.

Nunan, D. 1998. Teaching Grammar in Context. ELT Journal, Vol. 52 n2 pp 101-09.

Poyatos Matas, C. 2011. Student-Centred Grammar Learning and Teaching. VDM Verlag Dr. Müller.

Rogers, G. 2002. Student Centered Learning: A Practical Guide for Teachers. Bangkok: British Council.