I remember the very first time I heard the term ‘learner-centred’. I was in my first teaching job at International House in Hastings in England and was thoroughly enjoying teaching and entertaining a group of 15 multilingual students. I can still remember their names and where they came from: Turkey, Bahrain, Libya, Kuwait, among others. I was observed as part of the in-service training provided and was praised for my rapport and the clarity of my delivery. What was lacking, apparently, were more opportunities for the learners to take responsibility, to become more independent, to set the pace and to influence what was happening in the classroom. I took this on board and have honestly tried to bear it in mind ever since.
In my current teaching situation here in New Zealand, ‘learner-centred’ is one of the principles of our teaching and learning. By its very nature, this sort of teaching is more personalised, more engaging and motivating, more useful and probably more efficient, so it seems logical that we would all use it as often as we can. When I first put out a call for articles on the subject, however, I was not exactly overwhelmed with interested writers. As part of an article I have written, I consulted colleagues in different parts of the world and got some interesting responses back. It seems that everyone approves of it, but there are aspects of teaching which mean that it cannot be learner-centred all the time.
Yet as I waited for more articles to come in, I started to notice that nearly every article I received had learner-centred aspects. It is as if nearly all teaching at primary, secondary and tertiary has put the learner at the heart of it, but at certain key stages the teacher has to be in charge to set up, evaluate, judge, administrate and so on. So as you read this issue, keep an eye out for it. Whether we are teaching writing, speaking, reading or listening, it is all about the learner and how they can, within reason, take over as much as the institution and the syllabus allow.
The issue is full of pairs of articles with a similar theme from different viewpoints. An article on the need for physical fitness sits alongside a comparison of teaching English and yoga. There are two articles on listening, both admitting that listening is hard, but both offering helpful strategies. There are also two articles on poetry, one encouraging the reading of it for young learners and one encouraging the writing of it in our language classes. Getting students to express their feelings through their own words is about as learner-centred as you can get.
This is actually my 20th issue as editor of the magazine, so I have probably published around 500 articles in the last five years. What amazes me every issue is how many new things teachers and trainers find to write about. In many ways, nothing is new. Yet, just like learner-centred approaches, everyone has something to add based on their individual experiences. In that way, everything is new. Just like this issue. I hope you enjoy it and, wherever you are, have a wonderful New Year.
Editor: Robert McLarty
Robert McLarty has been involved in Business English teaching since 1979. He is a teacher and teacher trainer, and has run a number of RSA Diploma and teacher-training courses. From 1986 to 1997, Robert was the Director of ILC Paris. In 1998 he moved to Oxford to run OISE Oxford and in 2004 he joined Oxford University Press' ELT Division as Publishing Manager, Business English.
Follow us on twitter: