This month I’ve been thinking about the characteristics of student-centered, or learning-centered, activities (in contrast to teacher-centered ones). My colleague Josh coincidentally has also been thinking about this, and he came up with the following acronym CAN-FIT, for these criteria: challenge (not too much, nor too little), all students actively participate, needs/interests of Ss are engaged, freedom & control, interaction with self-expression, and task with real-world purpose. These criteria are adapted from Scott Thornbury’s criteria for communicative tasks (see link below).
My puzzle is not really what makes an activity learning-centered, or not, because I know how to design one, and I can recognize one when I see it. Instead, my puzzle has been about the role of drilling. Alas, Sir Thornbury has written on the subject already, but the question lingers, for me framed in this way: what is the role of drilling in a learning-centered lesson? On the one hand, it seems dismissive to suggest no drilling. How else can students learn? I’m reminded of a wonderful activity that my colleague Mary Scholl did for English teachers at a conference at Centro Cultural in San Salvador. Her theory is that people who say they are bad at remembering names, in fact just never have the opportunity to practice names enough in order to remember them. To illustrate, she put participants into groups of 10. Then she led the groups through a series of drills to practice learning and remembering each others names. Indeed, these were drills (like say each person’s name aloud three times), but they felt learning-centered.
Can a drill be learning-centered? What made Mary’s drill feel learning-centered? And what about all those mind numbing drills done in language classrooms all over the world: choral repetition, memorizing, fill-ins, etc. Do we need them? Or can they tweaked in ways to make them learning-centered?
So far this month, for pleasure, I have read a novel (Await Your Reply), a book about cognitive psychology (Thinking, Fast and Slow), and a book of short stories (The Return of Sherlock Holmes). In addition, I have read several articles for work mostly about, not surprisingly, teaching and assessing reading. I like to read for pleasure before going to sleep because it relaxes me. In general, I love to read!
My puzzle is: how can teachers inspire their students to love reading? For learning a second language, the research is clear: reading is key. However, here in El Salvador many students say that they do not like to read. They say that they do not grow up with a “culture of reading.” When I was a kid, I remember my mother reading aloud to me from the Choose Your Own Adventure series. Talk about entertainment! Those Choose Your Own Adventure stories were captivating because as the reader (or listener in my case), you had to make choices in the story. For example, at the end of one chapter, the characters would be faced with a decision, like first going into the basement of the old house, or going up to the attic. Depending on what you chose, that was the page you would turn to.
In my opinion, one of the keys to inspiring students to love reading in real life follows the same principle: people need to have the freedom to choose something to read that is interesting and inspiring to them. The students majoring in English at my university here have to take an American Lit class and now they are reading Longfellow. No offense to Longfellow, but for English Language Learners in El Salvador, this is not very inspiring, to say the least. So what would inspire someone to read? Was there a book, or a teacher, that changed your attitude towards reading from something that you had to do for school, to something you chose to do for pleasure? What books have you loved?
A few random links about/for reading:
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