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?
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