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Using Student-Centered Methods with Teacher-Centered ESL Students

Using Student-Centered Methods with Teacher-Centered ESL Students

Marilyn Lewis
Pippin Publishing, 1996
pp. 107

Reviewed by :

Robert J. Dickey
Kyongju University, Korea

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Changing places
Most teachers enter the profession with their own collection of role models. This is hardly surprising, but what surprises many expatriates is that their Asian language learners have entirely different models in mind. And as a teacher reads about teaching designs, and attempts to implement "learner-centered" education, he may find himself further still from student expectations. Asian teachers too can be surprised that their newly-discovered models aren't well accepted by their learners.

"Wouldn't it be easier on the students if the teacher adopted a teaching style more in keeping with learners' past experiences or culturally-based expectations?"

Finding a style
Marilyn Lewis, in Using Student-Centered Methods with Teacher-Centered ESL Students, argues that perhaps "learner-centered" is not always the model most appropriate for students, despite its aim. This reader-friendly prose, more nearly a friendly chat than a "textbook," carries us through the myriad of issues one might face in dealing with students from a different culture. Though written with the ESL teacher in an "English speaking land" in mind, most of the discussion fits just as well in an EFL environment; as teachers try to balance "learner-centered" models with local teaching norms.

In essence, this book is about transforming the concept of "learner centeredness" from a western-based "learner decision-making" to a developmental "teachers helping learners grow towards decision-making" design.

Looking at issues
The strength of this book is more in the questions it poses to individual teachers than the answers it provides. This is not a desktop reference, there are virtually no citations, and the bibliography at the end is hardly ground-breaking. Yet all of us, no matter how experienced in teaching, can benefit from considering once again what we do in the classroom, and why. In a nutshell: is it really "learner-centered" when it is the teacher that is deciding that students need to take control? (What if it is their decision that they really don't want to?) Lewis offers "trial by error" experiences for a few insights.

Step by step
I found the book comforting. The casual approach was a bit disconcerting at first, but then I fell into it like a collection of comfortable short stories. I could read bits, do other things, and then climb right back into the book without difficulty. Her use of helpful subheadings and narrated lists made comprehension easy too ­ were one to take notes, the outline jumps right off the pages!

One aspect that really worked for me were certain points she made matched my own experience, going all the way back to my "RSA Cert" course in England, where I kept thinking that certain aspects would never work with my Asian learners.

Making progress
Some of the themes Lewis walks us through are key for any class. The first two chapter titles are indicative: "From the known to the unknown" and "Why are we doing this?" While there are sections in the book that seem somewhat less relevant to me, various teachers in different teaching situations will find their own areas that touch them most closely ­ teachers of young learners, teachers in university, teachers of adults, teachers of false beginners, teachers in "international schools," and all the rest. The book progresses as our students do, from the first hours/days in a class, to "Giving students a sense of progress" and "Signs of independence in learners." It is only the last chapter, "Cultural considerations," that seems misplaced. Though comments on cultural issues stream throughout each page, the more explicit discussion could have come earlier.

The direction ahead
Lewis' words will be a gold mine to newly-arrived teachers in Asia, even more so for those with some years of experience in western lands. Whether we spend 3 hours, or 30, the time invested thinking through Using Student-Centered Methods with Teacher-Centered ESL Students will surely be profitable.

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