This was a question we talked about with my co-trainer on a course last summer. We were reflecting on how the practice teaching lessons on that day went and we both agreed that those participants who seemed a little introvert, less confident, or simply more quiet in the input sessions were more student-centered in class by letting their students speak more, by arranging more pair and group work and reducing teacher talk time, etc.
I then began to think about my own early days of teaching, my very first lessons. I remember that all the tutors on my initial teacher training course encouraged me to speak a little louder in the classroom, and I even remembered that when I was shaking hands with the adult students for the first time one of them told me quietly ‘Please don’t be afraid of us’. I think I could say that I used to be quite shy, or very self-conscious at those times.
Did that automatically mean that my lessons were student-centered? Well, it depends how you see ‘student-centeredness’: yes, I was avoiding any moments of speaking to the whole group, or ‘open class’ discussions; I was making sure there is as little as possible teacher explanation at any stage of the lesson, and I was turning new language presentations into various ‘Q and A’ sessions, quizzes, ‘students teach each other’ tasks, etc. I was doing my best to be invisible in class. In my super busy teaching days I managed to plan a 2-3 minute activity to let students check their homework so that I could arrange my books and handouts on the teacher’s desk and without being stared at. My students knew that as soon as they see me in the door way, there will be a group puzzle, or something like this, and they got into work immediately.
I wonder though if this really meant to be centered on the students. If I could be giving any advice to myself at all, it would be ‘stop thinking about yourself, forget about your own feelings, and start helping students as much as you can’. That would mean that I would need to explain some things for everyone. This would also mean that sometimes I would need to stop an activity in order to ‘fix’ something in the directions given. It will also mean noticing when my students need a genuine piece of advice, or just want to hear my own opinion about something that came up in the lesson.
Oh, yes, I forgot to say that in those ‘old days’ I tried to avoid any sharing of my personal beliefs or opinions with the students I taught. I thought that I ‘steal’ the precious moments of ‘student talk time’ by doing that. Ironically, what I think I was taking away from the students was the real communication process, less structured and more spontaneous. I was hiding away my own personality sacrificing it to the ‘student-centeredness’ in the way I saw at that time.
Fortunately, I got more awareness, experience and confidence. I learned that having a small conversation ‘about nothing’ before the lesson begins helps students feel more relaxed; that asking ‘what do you think the teacher found interesting/challenging/exciting/boring (any other adjective?)’ can become a cool reading task, even if the text comes from the course book; that establishing real relationship comes from opening up a little bit more that ‘prescribed’ rules of a CLT classroom. I still believe that if students can do the work in class and if it helps their learning, they need to do it. I still plan how my students can find out the right answers to a grammar exercise, for example, without me telling or showing them, but will be there to help with the reasons for why it is correct, and possible alternatives. I would avoid direct eye-contact in a large-group class discussion so that students addressed each other but would share a question or idea if I have one.
I personally like the idea of being ‘a player-coach’ (borrowed from team sports)
If we believe that CLT is about communication in the first place, and that the reason we want to talk to someone in real life (or read someone’s writing, or listen to them talk, etc.) is that the person is interesting, then we can apply this idea to our classroom. Being a player coach to me means being a teacher and also communicating with the students. Not sure which is first in the order of importance though.
What makes people (teachers) interesting on a ‘human level’? And what makes them less so? What’s the ‘secret balance’ formulae?
Posted by Zhenya
Earlier posts from this blog related to this topic:
some thoughts on Professional Development and