I wrote most of these articles and conference reports while I was doing my M.Ed.(CI). Originally put up on the website TeachAsiaOnline.com (defunct since 2009), I have decided to archive them here as I think most of the information is still relevant and useful for others. (2012) I'm now picking up where I left off to write about more recent seminars I attended.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Student Centred Leadership in Asia: Overcoming Textbooks

Speaker: Prof. Gerald Williams, Canada
Organised by: ABAC Graduate School of English, Bangkok
Date: 1 September 2006
Location: A-51 (Ramkhamhaeng Campus), Bangkok

Prof. Williams has lived in Japan for 15 years. He currently works at Kansei University in Osaka and has some recent working experience in Vietnam. He wrote a "student-centred" grammar book.

Prof. Williams started by pointing out that student-centred learning has more to do with the culture of an education system than with the culture of a country. 40 years ago it didn't exist in for example the USA
either. In Asia, he says,
universities receive "untrained" students, i.e. students that still have to learn what student-centred is, "so the teachers should know it".

Prof. Williams gave a demonstration of student-centred learning. 4 teams of 3 had to select one letter each and write as many words as possible on the board in a given time, starting with the 4 selected letters. We wrote the words, had to check the other groups' spelling and cross out overlapping words. Only after that, he said that the team with the most words left over would be the winner.
The game more or less ran by itself and according to Prof. Williams the students were learning by themselves and from each other.

Reflections on the demonstration
During the long introduction we were getting a bit restless, as he wouldn't tell us the purpose of the exercise, even when asked. It could've been a nice game if we'd known that it was a competition, and that only unique words could win points.
Yes, we were learning words from each other, but what words? We (being students) didn't know the meaning of all the words and there was no logical grouping of the words either. When I asked, he said that it wasn't a vocabulary game or exercise, more a demo of students teaching each other.

He continued with further explanations and examples of student-centred learning.
Some important aspects about student-centred learning that came up:
  • "Every activity in the classroom should have a purpose" (no activity is there for purely for entertainment, it should always serve a purpose)
  • The most interesting subject for students is themselves (so you should personalise the lessons)
  • The role of the teacher in student-centred learning is "facilitator" (the teacher facilitates the student learning, the students do the work) and
  • "You are there for them to learn, not for you to teach" (yes, the teacher is there for the students and not the other way around, although some teachers seem to think that).
Reflections on the lecture
Activities that need a purpose, personalising lessons, teacher as facilitator and students more important than the teacher, are general characteristics of student-centred learning and I of course use them in class.

However, quite a few of Prof. Williams' statements in this lecture were CONTRADICTORY!
Some obvious examples:
  1. He said that he teaches student-centred, but he himself selected the newspaper story for the students to read in class (he could have asked them to bring some articles in).
  2. He said that personalising the lesson is very important for student-centred learning, but he made Japanese students read a story about Thai white elephants. When I asked, he said that the follow-up activity (talking about the role of animals in Japan) was personalised. That means that most of the lesson was not personalised.
  3. He said that "Textbooks are made for people that don't know about teaching", the lecture is called "Overcoming Textbooks", but he kept promoting his own "student-centred" grammar book.
When these discrepancies were pointed out to him he became defensive and suggested that we shouldn't be insecure if we wanted to do it differently from him. Our suggestions for improvement or other approaches were more or less dismissed.

Prof. Williams may be an expert on student-centred teaching and learning (is he?), but that did NOT show from his lecture. He was contradicting himself and going against the principles of student-centred learning he'd promoted earlier. When asked questions, he was unwilling to acknowledge that there might be an other or even better way. He may know student-centred learning in theory, but didn't always seem to know how to apply it. This may have been confusing for those in the audience not familiar with the concept of student-centred learning.

(c) cafavier, 2006-2011

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