This post is a summary of an #ELTchat that took place on the 16th of May, 2012. If you want to know what and #ELTchat is, head over to eltchat.com – and if you’re a language teacher, joining one of the chats is strongly recommended!
It’s amazing and daunting to summarise ELTchats like this one. The amazing thing is that even with a slow start and some deliberation over how to approach the topic, the chatters manage to make the most out of 60 minutes and 140 characters. The daunting part? Summarising such a discussion (especially for the first time!) means that some contributions will simply fall through the cracks here, or won’t be represented to the full extent. You’re definitely encouraged to read the transcript to find out much, much more about the topic.
There. I’ve explained and justified myself enough Now, to action:
Hellos and introductions: how to approach a topic like that?
The topic seemed a bit confusing to several contributors at first. As the inspiration for the topic proposal was a blog post based on a conference talk (shared by @Shaunwilden), there was some discussion whether the topic may have already been exhausted by the blog post (@Shaunwilden, Marisa_C). @DinaDobrou then suggested exploring existing activities, e.g. in course books. Add that to the thesis (@Marisa_C) that “analysing an activity implies a good understanding of identifying or knowing the aims of a variety of ELT activities” – and @Shaunwilden’s remark that it’s also important to know how changing it might make it better – and it was clear to chatters that there was actually a lot to say on the topic.
1. “Learner-centred activities should_________?” (@Marisa_C)
One of the first points that many chatters decided to speak out on. Filling that gap was crucial if we were to understand what we’re aiming for in the re-staging and analysing process. Many contributions followed, including:
- “…let learners take some responsibility for their learning process.” (@elawassell)
- “…be chosen by the learners not the teacher.” (@David__Boughton)
- “…make learners think, ‘that’s just what I needed here.’ ” (@Wiktor_K) – although “many T-centred activities can do that too (@Marisa_C)
- “…tend to make SS produce the desired language – preferably w/o them noticing” (@paulsilles)
- “…involve the Ss doing most of the work!” (@theteacherjames)
- “…engage Ls in lively discussion and language exploration” (@DinaDobrou)
Overall, there was a consensus (restated later in the chat) that a learner-centred activity would try to meet learners’ needs (however difficult that may be.)
2. Teachers, classes and behaviours – towards a more learner-centred classroom
The second trend present throughout the discussion revolved around practices and strategies that would minimise (or redefine) teacher’s role. This seemed to be another important factor in creating a learner-centred activity. Several ideas were presented throughout the chat, including:
- stepping “out of the limelight” when the teacher is confident that the students “can do it for themselves” (@ljp2010)
- giving learners different roles – notetaker, facilitator, scorekeeper etc. (@tarabenwell)
- changing the room layout from teacher- to learner-focused (@rliberni) – e.g. changing seating from teacher-fronted to groups or circles for a change of focus (@Marisa_C) – unlike “orderly rows” (@toulasklavou)
- changing teacher’s role to that of a “facilitator” who “should intervene a bit” (@DinaDobrou)
- sitting down more! (@Wiktor_K)
- using the WAIT test (Why Am I Talking?) – (@SueAnnan)
3. What else works? – good learner-centred practices
Apart from minimising or re-shaping teacher’s involvement, several other practices were shared. These ranged from lesson management tips to strategies of course design and student management. This is probably another good point to head over to the transcript for some intensive fishing – there’s just no way to include all the goodness in one post!
- starting with learner wants and ambitions, then working backwards to what will move them nearer (@rliberni) – also, continuously asking the learners what and how they want to learn – then choosing the good and useful bits (@Wiktor_K)
- encouraging students to research more advanced reading topics in groups to find more information (@toulasklavou)
- giving different groups different tasks, which they will later share with each other (@rliberni)
- marking and exchanging each other’s tests (@ManosSy)
- asking learners to peer-teach, or assigning a similar role (@Marisa_C)
- creating a problem-solving or a discovery issue out of a task or exercise (@Marisa_C)
- discuss choices with the class, letting it go to a vote if necessary (@theteacherjames)
- don’t rubber-stamp or praise/approve answers too soon – use the “blank face” or “devil’s advocate” techniques to increase learners’ contributions (@elawassell – from @jimscriv and his IATEFL talk)
- “be responsive, analyse what you’re doing, make changes, tweak things, be open to new ideas.” (@theteacherjames)
4. Problems and dilemmas – why learner-centred activities don’t always work
The chatters, at various points of the discussion, mentioned several problems and issues connected with the notion of learner-centred classes. This gripe list is intentionally kept short – there’s more in the transcript, and a lot probably didn’t fit into the 140 characters!
- asking the learners for their preferences can backfire – as when students reply angrily that it’s the teacher’s job to take initiative (@naomishema)
- both students and teachers would need practice in that kind of focus in class (@SophiaMav)
- the instinct is to talk and to ‘teach’ all the time (@theteacherjames)
- the issue of introverted students in learner-centred activities (mentioned by @nathanghall) – and the mistaken diagnoses giving them the “shy” label
- the course book question – raised by several tweeters – are course books really helpful when it comes to changing the parameters of an activity?
- different learners with different needs means that a learner-centred class is “class management at its toughest” (@David__Boughton)
5. Links and goodies
Listed below is some of the fascinating material linked to during the discussion:
- The blog post that started it all – shared by @Shaunwilden – http://t.co/YzaKMpcE
- “15 ways to shut up” – @tarabenwell – http://t.co/HcVJ5Bwj
- “You Matter” – a learner-led reflection notebook (@tarabenwell) - http://t.co/BGmfr6xu
- An article explaining learner-centredness (@Marisa_C) - http://t.co/EFWaqroJ
- The student-centred classroom (@Raquel_EFL) – http://t.co/3QUtnckv
- Making writing assessment more learner-centred (@DinaDobrou) – http://t.co/kEZUi08r
Folks, if you’re reading this and are and #ELTchatter, please let me know how you liked the summary – all feedback welcome, I might decide to do that again sometime And for those who haven’t been to an #ELTchat yet – you’re missing out. Go fix it!
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