Student-centred learning, also known as learner-centred education, broadly encompasses methods of teaching that shift the focus of instruction from the teacher to the student. It is an approach that involves an active learning style and the integration of learning programs according to the student’s own learning rhythm. In the student-centred approach, classroom success depends on the teacher’s skills to create optimal learning opportunities for each student.
When a classroom operates with student-centred instruction, students and teachers share the focus; instead of listening to the teacher exclusively, students and teachers interact equally. Group work is encouraged, and students learn to collaborate and communicate with one another. Student-centred learning methods make lessons interesting and support students in understanding what content they are able to apply in real life. As teachers, we cannot anticipate all the specific situations that students will face in their lives and that require them to use their skills. However, we can help them apply these skills to the fullest. Therefore, helping students to become functional means creating relevant, real, interesting and motivational contexts in which they can apply their skills, help them choose the right methods of communication, become independent in learning and problem-solving.
Being an effective teacher is a challenge because every student is unique. However, by using active-participatory methods we can address students’ varying learning styles and academic capabilities as well as make our classroom a dynamic and motivational environment for all learners. There are many modern teaching methods specific to active learning that can be successfully applied in English classes, such as: Think-Pair-Share, The Talking Chips, Interactive Lecture Demonstrations (ILDs), Case Studies, Concept Mapping, Problem-based Learning, Random Calling, Just in Time Teaching, Game Based Learning, Role-Play. Their use has a beneficial impact on students because:
- they are in charge of their own learning, ask questions, and complete tasks independently;
- they have the opportunity to learn important communicative and collaborative skills through group work,;
- they develop an interest in learning activities since they can interact with one another and participate actively.
This is not to say that the advantages represent the only aspect worth mentioning. There are situations when the teacher might experience not only the sense of accomplishment, but also the sense of frustration, because:
- students do not work quietly, hence the classroom becomes noisy or chaotic;
- with students working on different stages of the same project, she/he will not be able to manage all students’ activities at once;
- some students may miss important facts since she/he doesn’t always deliver instructions to all students at once;
- there are students who prefer to work alone, which means group work becomes problematic.
Nevertheless, student-centred learning methods make lessons interesting and I prefer them because they allow students to share knowledge and experience, because they involve the capacity for reflection and self-assessment. Two of my favourite strategies that can be used in a reading lesson or be easily adapted to accommodate any content being taught are Brain Drain and Find the Question.
Brain Drain is a strategy teachers can use to informally evaluate what the students understand before, during and/or after a unit of study. Here is how I used it when I taught a couple of lessons on celebrations and festivities (Module Special Days in the English textbook). After my 6th grade students have read the article, “Easter in Britain”, I had them think-mix-pair-share. To do this, I instructed students to circulate around the classroom for a few seconds. When I called “pair,” students paired up and shared three new facts they had learned from the article. Then, I repeated the process a few times. After the students had mixed and shared a couple of times, I asked them to “drain their brain” of facts they had learned from the article. To make things easier, I asked students to list the facts on paper in a limited amount of time. Whenever I apply this strategy, I encourage them to write first and then share information because I want them to have the opportunity to organize their thoughts, facts, ideas and I make sure that all of my students, even the more reluctant ones, have understood the contents of the article.
Find the Question is a great way to check for student understanding and get students involved and excited about their learning. Find the Question is very similar to a scavenger hunt: students circulate around the classroom trying to match posted questions and answers. The questions are based on a recently read article and the goal is to find all of the correct matches. Not only does this strategy make students move in a productive manner, but it also provides the teacher with immediate feedback regarding their understanding of the given topic. The steps to follow in creating an activity to go along with the text that students are supposed to read and understand are listed below:
- The teacher creates a list of questions and answers.
- Each sheet of paper has an answer on top with a number and on the bottom of the paper is a question with a letter.
- Students write the number of answers in the game on a piece of paper before beginning to play. They will use this paper to record their matches of answers and questions.
- Pages are hung up in the classroom.
- To play the game, students go to a page, look at the answer on top, and search for the corresponding question. When they find the question, they place the letter of the question next to the number of the answer.
- The game is over for the student when he or she has a letter next to every number.
- The teacher can quickly check for accuracy.
- Students can play by themselves or with a partner. If working with a partner, they must stay together while playing.
Here are some of the questions and answers my students had to match in order to prove a full and detailed understanding of the information in the article ”Easter in Britain”.
- Why do Easter cards have pictures of baby animals on them? Because lots of animals are born in spring.
- When did the members of the Royal family begin to take part in Maundy ceremonies? In the thirteenth century.
- What did the Maundy ceremonies consist in? Distributing money and gifts and washing the feet of the poor.
- What is the symbol of the cross on the hot buns made of? Lemon flavoured icing.
- When do people in Britain eat hot cross buns? On Good Friday.
- Which day of the year do people in Britain call Holy Saturday? The Saturday after Easter Sunday.
- What do people in Britain traditionally eat for dinner on Easter Day? Roast lamb.
- What is the significance of Easter eggs in most cultures? They are a symbol of rebirth.
The current society is in constant evolution, which requires the continuous adaptation of education. Children nowadays get easily bored and that means educators need to find new ways to challenge their intelligence, stimulate their curiosity, expose them to innovative teaching methods and techniques. They need to focus on students and their needs and apply interactive strategies in order for the teaching approach to be successful.