Developing A Learner-Centered Approach in Classrooms [Archives:2000/11/Culture]

March 13 2000

Dr. Ramakanta Sahu
Associate professor
College of Education, Mahweet

Educators all the world over are greatly concerned over exploring effective and efficient methods of teaching which would result in learners’ learning. As a result of constant thinking, theorizing and classroom experimentation various approaches, methods and techniques have emerged over the past decades to suit different teaching-learning contexts. A classroom teacher is expected to be familiar with all those to be able to choose from among them the ones that suits him/her, considering the constraints of his/her teaching-learning situation. In other words, the classroom teacher needs to adopt an ‘eclectic’ approach as there is no ‘best’ method of teaching.
There is a broad agreement among theoreticians, educational planners and classroom teachers that if we want to make the foreign language classroom a place which facilitates the language acquisition, we have to adopt a learner-centered approach, discarding the traditional teacher-centered approach. Now, what does a learner-centered approach imply?
A learner-centered approach, as the term suggests, involves in the first place devising and adopting ways and means so as to make the learner an active participant in the learning process. The central premise of this approach is that learners’ communicative ability is developed through their involvement in a range of meaningful, realistic, worthwhile and attainable tasks. This means that in order to make teachers’ ‘input’ learners’ ‘intake’, we have to make the learners ‘participate’ in the various language activities in the classroom. So, our efforts should be to put Ahmed (any foreign language learner) in the driver’s seat, asking him to experience learning by doing.
In the second place, a learner-centered approach envisages motivating the learners to want to learn. As we all know, it is possible to drag the horse to the pond, but it is not possible to make him drink. We have to produce in the learner a genuine desire to learn the foreign language by clarifying how he/she would benefit from learning it (instrumental motivation) and how to promote a generic love for it (integrative motivation). Once the ball is set in motion, it would roll itself. Once the learner’s interest is activated, he/she would find ways by himself/herself to get more of the language.
In the third place, the approach emphasizes building up a congenial environment saturated with the targeted foreign language to trigger unconscious acquisition of the foreign language. All we have to do is to try and build up the knowledge and experience of the learners to make him a fitting recipient of knowledge.
Acquisition of the grammatical structures in the target language is not enough unless it is backed by opportunities for their practical use in normal, real life contexts. In view of this, the learner centered approach, in the fourth place, emphasizes the development of learners’ ability to use the target language appropriately and accurately and willingly for the purpose of effective communication.
All this obviously call for granting greater autonomy to language learners. We must realize that they are no longer ’empty mugs to be filled with knowledge’ by the teacher, or innocent ‘guinea pigs’ to be led along the route of learning, but in some ways leaders, decision makers, problem solves who know where they are going and why, as well as how to achieve the goal. In other words, a learner centered approach acknowledges that all learners have a hidden agenda to learn. The best that we, parents or teachers, can do for them is to let learners assume greater responsibility in learning. We can achieve this by:
a) letting them learn the ways of coping with their present linguistic resources and how to build on these;
b) helping them to learn the ways of coping when their existing linguistic resources are not adequate;
c) teaching them sound study skills/learning strategies;
d) promoting in them the ability to monitor their progress and assess their own performance;
e) developing in them the ability to identify and solve learning problems.
If we succeed in our mission to fulfill the above, greater learner autonomy can be achieved, making the learner more self-reliant and less dependent on external help. We have to bear in mind that learner autonomy is a gradual process which needs to be patiently and carefully fostered by the teacher.
In order to be meaningful participants in the learning process, the learners themselves must be aware of the following golden rules of efficient learning:
a) language learning is necessarily a process of discovery. One moves from the known to something which is unknown;
b) Active participation in the classroom is a must for effective language learning. Hence they should not feel shy. They should feel free to interact with others without any inhibition;
c) Doing/making mistakes is very natural to the learning process. No one has ever learnt anything new without making mistakes at some stage of learning. But one should carefully learn from the mistakes and not repeat those in future instances of language use.
d) Learning in a group is more useful than to learn alone. Classroom interaction should be seen as a pre-step to social interaction.
e) There are three phases to learn something:
i) Learn it (through exposure)
ii) Assimilate it (through memorization, internalization)
iii) Use it (through practical contexts of application)
f) Learning about learning strategies is important because that gives them an insight into how they learn and how to quicken the process of learning
g) It is not desirable to depend on the teacher for everything. Students must develop the self confidence to find solutions to their own problems. Only then can they enjoy the fun and excitement of being autonomous learners.