Student-Centred Learning: Are we practicing what we preach??

Student-Centred Learning: Are we practicing what we preach??

Student-Centred Learning: Why is it important?

Willy Renandya – 15 March 2022

Student Centred Learning (SCL) has been around for many years now. I remember reading a book on this topic more than 30 years ago entitled The Learner-Centred Curriculum: A Study In Second Language Teaching (CUP) by David Nunan & Michael Long.

Not surprisingly, many of us in the ELT profession are quite familiar with SCL, i.e., we know what SCL means, how it is different from TCL (Teacher-Centred Learning), and more importantly perhaps, how to plan, deliver and assess learning using a SCL pedagogy.

Just ask a teacher friend of yours if their teaching philosophy reflects TCL or SCL. You can be sure that 90% or more would say that they use SCL in their teaching.

But what they say and what they actually do in the classroom can be two entirely different things. We don’t always practice what we preach, do we?

Empirical and experiential observations continue to show that the following are still widely practiced by many of us. Needless to say, these are typical features of a TCL approach.

  • Teacher talk accounts for some 70-80% (or higher in some places) in a typical classroom
  • Lecturing continues to be the dominant teaching style in many language lessons. Often it is less effective lecturing style (i.e., monologic and monotonous) and not the more engaging style (i.e., interactive or conversational) that we use.
  • Teacher-student interactions tend to be limited, much less student-student interactions.
  • Teachers’ no 1 concern is to do with how they can cover the curriculum/syllabus in the most efficient manner (thus the lecturing style alluded to above).
  • Quantity, rather than quality, of learning is given more attention.
  • Student-centred methods such as inquiry-, problem- or project-based learning are rarely used. The classic reason: these take up too much curriculum time.
  • Assessment of learning is the main mode of assessing student learning. Assessment for learning, i.e., the kind of assessment used to support and improve learning plays a limited role.

What then are the characteristics of a SCL method of teaching? Here are some key features:

  • Teacher talk is kept to a minimum so that students can have a lot more opportunities to explore, elaborate and reflect on their learning.
  • The teacher uses a variety of teaching methods (e.g., lecture, discussion, debate, seminar, inquiry-based or problem-based learning) to cater for the different learning styles of the students.
  • The teacher makes explicit links between what students learn in the classroom and how this can be applied in the real world.
  • The teacher communicates clearly their beliefs and expectations that every student can achieve success
  • The teacher keeps reminding the students that effort is more important than talents, intelligence or socio-economic backgrounds
  • The teacher strives to make the classroom a safe place for students to take risks and to explore novel ideas
  • The students are given opportunities to learn with and from their peers through collaborative learning activities
  • The students are encouraged to demonstrate their thinking and learning in multiple ways (verbal, visual, kinesthetic etc)

It is about time that we embrace SCL in our teaching. If we do it well, there is a greater chance that we will see a greater number of students achieving more success in their learning.

Find out more about SCL in ELT here. 

Student-centred learning in ELT


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