The Teaching Environment
The Traditional Way
In the traditional teaching environment, learning is mainly associated with taking place inside a classroom. The teacher takes on the role of both instructor and decision maker guiding the student in their learning and provide lesson materials when needed. The most common seating arrangement is placing the desks in evenly spaced rows facing the teacher's desk.
The lesson's content and delivery are considered to be most important and students must master knowledge through rote learning, drills and practice. When done strictly by the book, content is not usually learned in the context of daily conversational use.
During the instruction, the teacher is constantly on the move, engaging the students as if a single entity. The teacher makes the decisions as to how or when instruction should take place.
Here's the problem
The problem with this method is the student gets easily bored and their mind starts to wander. Their attention is not 100% on the lesson materials or the teacher. This causes delays in the lessons, creating frustration or annoyance from the other students. But there is a way to overcome that problem and maximize the learning process by giving most of the teaching responsibilities to the student.
When you put the responsibilities into the student's hands, then they are in control of their own learning. The students form their own conclusions from the knowledge and solutions they discover along the way. This will not work in a regular sized classroom. I've found in my experience that the best set up for a student-centered learning environment would be in smaller, more controllable groups.
-- Not available in this sample --
Group management is important for maintaining on-task activities and dealing with students that may be gifted, socially challenged, disruptive or lazy. Additional management techniques may be employed or utilized as necessary.
You will definitely need a balanced integration of advanced and disruptive students. This will not only ensure diversity, but also social skill development and support the growth of other students in the group.
To keep you informed of the group's progress, assign one of the students to an observation role. This student can report back to the teacher where they think the group might be struggling and what strategies they believe would assist the group.
Learning from Study
Now that the students are set up in groups, first hand out and introduce the lesson materials to the groups - there is no need to teach them anything at this point, It's just a quick review so they know what to expect. Allow them time to go through the learning materials with the others in the group and see how much they can learn on their own. Encourage them to talk among themselves, correcting each other and asking or answering questions. When they really get stuck, or, as a group, they are not getting things quite right, then you help them see where to correct their errors, or improve their findings without giving the solution.
When outside the classroom environment, encourage the student to look for their own information in the language being learned and let them read or learn what they can to the best of their abilities. If possible, bring in the materials they've read or found to their assigned group and help each other with their findings or correct any mistakes. Materials can include viewing websites, buying a newspaper or magazine, or watching a DVD or TV program. Can something be shared among the groups? Encourage that, too.
Keep the classroom free of unnecessary distractions. Only have the resources for the lesson currently being studied ready to access.
- Carefully consider the needs of the student; particularly ensure that every student can see and hear from every part of the room and that there is plenty of space to move around.
- Always ensure you can make eye contact with all students in the class.
- Be aware of health and safety issues.
- Make materials and supplies easily accessible to prevent delays, disruptions and confusion. Place frequently used materials in different places around the room.
- Learning can be more effective if students have the opportunity to move around and interact with other groups and obtain information from them.
- If using posters or wall decorations, try to keep the cultural diversity consistent within the classroom.
Let the Students Teach Themselves
Keep in mind that the student is the one who actually knows how they learn best and what problems they come upon and get around them. Letting them teach themselves in a group environment helps them see where their problems lie and, with help of their peers, find the best solution that fits their style and needs. Your job as the teacher is to provide the materials needed for instruction and oversee their work and progress. If they need help from you, don't give them the solution right away. Use questions and reasoning so they can figure out the answers for themselves. Doing so will give them the confidence they need to go on further with their studies.