Topic 25 – The process of teaching and learning in a foreign language learner-centered: fundamentals and applications. The identification of the motivations and attitudes towards English. Practical applications.

Topic 25 – The process of teaching and learning in a foreign language learner-centered: fundamentals and applications. The identification of the motivations and attitudes towards English. Practical applications.

For decades, the student-centered teaching approach, with its conceptual framework based on the constructivist theory, has been popular among many educators. Teachers at various grade levels have been applying the student-centered teaching approach for a variety of reasons: to increase student participation (Kelly, 1985), to develop confidence in students (Dandoulakis, 1986), to foster the intellectual development of students (Burke, 1983), to enable students to build multiple perspectives (Ogawa, 2001), to improve students’ understandings ideas and concepts (Stout, 2004), to shift the learning responsibility to students (Passman, 2000) and so forth. We should also mention that the learner-centered approach is NOT specific of foreign-language teaching. It is a general approach that affects any subject area: history, geography, mathematics, and so on. It is also applied to students of any age, children or adults.

Campbell (1992) has stated that the main principle in learner centred teaching is that all class activities can be done using information that the learners themselves bring to the class. If taken to the extreme, it is a radical approach that believes that every single activity can be based on the knowledge, experience, and expertise of the learners.

As regards the English classroom in a Spanish primary school setting, learner centred teaching can be used in different ways:

– As the only method used in the classroom
– As a complement to other approaches
– As a set of remedial procedures to be used in specific situations.

Campbell points out several advantages of using learner centred teaching. Among these advantages we have:

– pace, as the student-centered approach takes into account that fact that diversity is an important aspect, and that different students learn at a different pace.

– Another important advantage is constant needs analysis. In learner centred teaching, analysis is a continually developing process. Activities are chosen to meet the current needs of the students. As our pupils carry out an activity, we spot the problems they have and introduce suitable practice activities in subsequent lessons.

– the idea of learners as authors is one other advantage pointed out by Campbell. As regards the teaching of English a foreign language, there are lots of different kinds of material that students can produce that will reinforce effective learning in many different ways. For instance, our students can produce mini-books based on a story-telling, they can make picture dictionaries, and so on.

the fourth advantage is peer teaching and correction. In student-centered teaching the students are often working together in groups. This means that the weaker students can learn from the stronger ones, or that more advanced students can help the weaker ones. Peer teaching and correction is linked to group solidarity which is another advantage of the student-centered approach.

Other advantages pointed out by Campbell are:

the potential of the learner – topicality – incorporating previous learning experience – the element of surprise

But not all these advantages can be applied to the English as a foreign language classroom. For instanced, topicality implies that the students CHOOSE the topics dealt with in class. That would be adequate for a class of adults who are learning English at a night school, for instance, since they may have very specific needs related to their jobs or specific interests. Adult students who work in a bank may feel the need to know words related to transactions carried out in banks, so this need may cause bringing up the topic “banking” to meet the needs of those students.

– There is one advantage that merits special mention, and that is group solidarity, because it is related to Cooperative Learning.

Cooperative Learning

Cooperative learning is a well-known strategy among educational researchers and practitioners. Cooperative learning takes place when students work together in small groups instead of competing for recognition or grades. This idea of cooperative learning began with John Dewey’s ideas of group activities. Dewey maintained that participating in a mutual shared experience prepares students for democratic living (1916). Cooperative learning was popularized by Robert Slavin and David and Roger Johnson in the 1970s and 1980s in the United States, although it was first reintroduced in the 1960s by Japanese educators to promote the ideal of teamwork (Orenstien & Lasley, 2000). In the traditional classroom, students compete against one another promoting an environment of “winners” and “losers”. However, in the cooperative learning classroom competition among groups is encouraged, and students work together to solve a common problem. Working in these groups is an excellent way to overcome silence in the classroom. To initiate such groups in your classroom, assign four to five students to a group. Each person should have a specific role such as: recorder, group spokesperson, monitor, etc. For the group to be successful, each person in the group must participate in order that the group will be able to complete the task at hand within the time limit set by the instructor.

As regards ground bases or foundations of learner centred teaching, the following can be identified:

– pupils who value their own experience as a resource for further learning or whose experience is valued by others are better learners
– pupils learn best when the learning objectives are congruent with their current self concept
– pupils react to experience as they perceive it, not as we present it
– pupils do not learn when they are over stimulated or stressed
– pupils learn best when the content is relevant to past experience or present concerns and the learning process is relevant to life experiences
– pupils who have learnt how to learn are the most productive learners
– pupils learn best when new information is presented through a variety of sensory modes.

Student-centered and teacher-centered compared

In order to better understand the concept “student-centered” , I will now compare student-centered and teacher-centered approaches.

A totally teacher-centered aproach sees the language lesson from the point of view of the teacher, focusing on factors such as classroom management, teacher’s explanations, and the teacher’s overall “presence”. The teacher decides the topic, initiates exchanges, directs the class, controls turn-taking and evaluates learner’s responses. The learner’s main role is to “respond”, with little opportunity to experiment. This model works on the principle that the teacher knows what is best of the class and places the responsibility for learning firmly on the teacher. The teacher’s skills under this approach are judged in terms of ability to plan a lesson, the effectivemeness of classroom management, good choice of teaching materials, etc.

The learner-centered approach places the focus is on needs analysis, the students’ preparing own material and not simply using it, group solidarity and working together and learning from each other. This last aspect is important when we have Primary Education in mind because this way of working increases or promotes a child’s social skills (socialización) and integration.

In close connection to the student-centered approach we have the Learning how to learn principle, WHICH IS IS ONE OF THE 8 BASIC COMPETENCES (the 7th basic competence) established in our new education law LOE/2006. “Learning to learn” refers to the students’ development of learning abilities that will lead to effective, autonomous, and creative learning.

The learning to learn principle entails acquiring the following strategies:

1. Metacognitive strategies, such as planning for learning, hypothesizing, self‑assessment and reflection on the learning process.

2. Cognitive strategies, such as sorting, classifying, matching, predicting, using dictionaries, repeating , etc.

3. Social mediation strategies, such as collaborating and peer‑correction, which may be developed by means of materials designed for pair or group work.

4. Communication strategies, that is, using phrases to enable them to participate and maintain communication in English, e.g., Can you say that again, please?

By learning to learn our pupils’ develop curiosity and a positive attitude towards foreign language learning.

Assessment and evaluation in a learner centred curriculum.

No model would be complete without an evaluation component. We normally use the terms evaluation and assessment interchangeably, but they may mean different things for theoreticians. Assessment refers to the set of processes by which we judge pupil learning. Evaluation, on the other hand, is wider term that includes assessment but also some additional processes such as interpreting data and acting on the results of our assessment.

In any pupil centred system, students self-assess their work and their own learning process in order to become aware of both, their achievements and the areas that need improvement. This self-assessment can take the form of completing a grid in which the student recórds (acento en la segunda sílaba) his/her progress. Typically, there are “I can…” sentences, or keeping a “What I have learnt” diary. The aim of self-assessment is the development of a critical self consciousness by learners of their own role as active agents during the learning process. This is also one of the main goals of a student-centred approach.

And now, some words on The role of the teacher.
Whithin a student-centred approach, the teacher has a central role to play in all aspects of the curriculum. According to Nunan, in traditional curricular systems, the teacher is reduced to the role of servant to a centralised curriculum process in which decisions about what will be taught, how it will be taught and how it will be assessed are made by an authority remote from the point of lesson delivery.
In a student-centred system such a control is undesirable. The main role of the teacher in a learner centred approach is that of curriculum developer. The teacher must adapt the curriculum to the pupils’ characteristics. This corresponds to the third level of concreteness our Curriculum. The teacher must adapt the planned curriculum, which is set down in curriculum documents, to the concrete teaching situation, thus implementing the curriculum. Finally, the teacher assess what the pupils actually learn.

Derived from this main role of curriculum developer, we may find others such as: participant, resource, monitor or assessor as active participants we contribute ideas and opinions or relate personal experiences, helping to bridge the traditional gap between pupil and teacher. In learner based teaching, the teaching and learning are taking place on both sides.

We are also a resource, answering our pupils questions on vocabulary, grammar of activity procedures. By providing what our pupils ask for, rather than what we think they need, we can facilitate more effective learning.

At other times we will be assessors or monitors, checking what learners have produced. This assessing could be overt or covert. In communicative activities it is not very convenient to interrupt our pupils.

One of the main responsibilities of the teacher is to identify the students’ interests and attitudes in order to motivate them, as motivation plays a very prominent role in foreign-language learning.

Students need to be motivated to learn vocabulary constantly. Therefore, it is important that the review is as interesting as possible in terms of the types of exercises, strategies and activities. The visual element is equally important. Other motivating activities are storytelling and learning through games.

Motivation, on the other hand, works on attitude. A motivated pupil will generally have a positive attitude towards learning and vice-versa.

The importance of motivation when teaching a foreign language

If we want that our students learn the language, the first thing we must take into consideration is that they are motivated and have a positive attitude towards the language. They must feel that learning the language is useful and meaningful. Thus, relevance and meaningfulness are the starting points from which lessons can be made motivating.

Motivation and interest are much more likely to be maintained if students can recognize the aims of a lesson and the relevance of those aims to their language needs. Creating meaningfulness and practice activities in a lesson can go only so far towards maintaining interest. For create this feeling in students we must take into account their age, their language level… Variety in classroom is vital: variety of skills, activities, aims, materials roles of the teacher and the students…

According to J. Harmer, motivation is some kind of internal drive that encourages somebody to pursue an action. If we perceive a goal and if that goal is attractive enough, we will be strongly motivated to do whatever necessary to reach that goal. Goals can be of different sorts: short-term goals and long-term goals. Long-term goals might have something to do with a wish to get a better job at some future date, or a desire to be able to communicate with members of a target language community. Short-term goals might include such things as wanting to pass an end-of-term test or wanting to finish a unit book.

We will separate motivation into two main categories: extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation is concerned with factors outside the classroom and intrinsic motivation is concerned with what takes place inside the classroom. Let’s see these two kinds of motivation in more detail.

Extrinsic motivation can be divided into two kinds: integrative motivation and instrumental motivation. Integrative motivation occurs when students are attracted to the culture of the target language and in the strong form of this kind of motivation they wish to integrate themselves into that culture. In instrumental motivation the language is seen as an instrument to get a goal.

Many factors have an impact upon students’ level of extrinsic motivation and most of them have to do with their attitude towards the language. This attitude could be affected by the attitude of those who have influence with them. Another factor is their previous experiences as language learners. If they were successful they may be predisposed to success now, if they failed they expect failure now.

What can teachers do about extrinsic motivation and students’ attitude? It is clear that we cannot create it as it comes from the outside but we can create a positive attitude to the language and its speakers.

Intrinsic motivation on the other hand is very important, as many students do not bring any extrinsic motivation to the classroom. For these students what happens inside the classroom is of vital importance in determining their attitude to the language. We can consider the factors that affect intrinsic motivation.

To start with we will explain physical conditions. These have a great influence on learning and can alter students’ motivation either positively or negatively.

Classrooms that are badly lit and overcrowded can be excessively de-motivating. The board is vitally important we must see if all the students can see it well. The atmosphere in which language is learnt is very important.

Another factor is the method. If they find the method deadly boring they will probably become de-motivated whereas if they have confidence in the method they will find it motivating. The method is largely in the hands of the most important factor affecting intrinsic motivation: the teacher.

Whether the students like the teacher or not may not be very significant. What can be said though is that two teachers using the same method can have different results. Here we can follow Girard who tries to answer the question of how a teacher must act. He makes a list of children preferences. The qualities were listed according to their importance for the students. J. Harmer found that the two areas that most of the people mentioned were the teachers’ rapport with the students and the teachers’ personality.

Another factor that affects intrinsic motivation is success. Success plays a vital part in the motivational drive of a student.

Motivation is different in all the students. It’s unlikely that everyone in the class will have the same motivation. Nevertheless it is possible to make some general statements about motivational factors for different age groups and different levels.

Children are more curious and this is itself motivating. At the same time, their span of attention or concentration is less than that of an adult. Children will often seek for teacher’s approval: the fact that the teacher notices them and shows appreciation for what they are doing is of vital importance.

Children need frequent changes of activities and these activities must be exciting and stimulate their curiosity, they need to be involved in something active. Almost everything for them will depend on the attitude and behaviour of the teacher.


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Constructivism is a theory of learning where humans construct meaning from current knowledge structures. It is based on the philosophy that knowledge comes from the coordination of careful observation and mental action, or logical thinking. It is a theory of interaction between the ability of the mind to act on the environment as well as the environment to act on the mind. The Constructivist theory of learning has influenced the practice of teaching in modern societies, including our own, with curricula that foster thinking and that see children as active constructors of their own knowledge. Our current education Law, LOE, states that constructivism is one of its guiding principles.

Constructivist theory is at the basis of the student-centered approach , in which role of the teacher is to act as facilitator. The emphasis thus turns away from the instructor and the content, and towards the learner. This change of role implies that a facilitator needs to display a totally different set of skills than a teacher. A teacher tells, a facilitator asks; a teacher lectures from the front, a facilitator supports from the back; a teacher gives answers according to a set curriculum, a facilitator provides guidelines and creates the environment for the learner to arrive at his or her own conclusions; a teacher mostly gives a monologue, a facilitator is in continuous dialogue with the learners.

Some of the authors who influenced constructivism are Jean Piaget, Ernst von Glasersfeld, Jerome Bruner, Janet Taylor, John Dewey and Lev Vigotsky. We may also think of Jean-Jacques Rousseau as a predecessor of constructivism: His book Emile, or on Education strongly influenced modern educational theory  it is important to note that constructivism is not a particular pedagogy or methodology, but rather, it is a description of human cognition, associated with pedagogic approaches that promote learning by doing.

We can distinguish between cognitive constructivism and social constructivism § cognitive constructivism which is about how the individual learner understands things, in terms of developmental stages and learning styles. One very important author in this field is Jean Piaget, and § “social constructivism”, which emphasises how meanings and understandings grow out of social encounters. An important author is this field is Lev Vigotsky Both types, cognitive and social constructivism, influence teaching practice in Primary Education schools in Spain. The Cognitive aspect is is related to such things as attention to diversity as regards pace of learning and learning styles. On the other hand, social constructivism is related to things like collaborative and cooperative learning, in which learners with different skills and backgrounds collaborate in tasks in order to arrive at a shared understanding.

Putting into relationship constructivism and assessment, instructors should see assessment as a continuous and interactive process that measures the achievement of the learner, and the quality of the learning experience. Under this viewpoint, assessment is also an integral part of the learning experience and not a loose-standing process. The feedback created by the assessment process serves as a direct foundation for further development. It should not be an intimidating process that causes anxiety in the learner, but rather a supportive process that encourages the learner to want to be evaluated in order for future, more focused development to take place.