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Do you know how your students want to learn?

July 19, 2005

Hello again. Learner power is my topic today. I wonder how many school directors think about asking their students how they want to learn? The idea of conducting a needs analysis to find out what students want to learn is nothing new, but I’m not sure if we are quite so used to trying to find out their preferred learning styles. I mention this because it strikes me that so many teachers come from the same mould, having qualified through courses based very much on progressive western views of educational practice. Typically these teachers want lots of classroom activity, learner participation and have a view of the teacher as a facilitator rather than pedagogue. On the other hand, the students will probably feel comfortable if the teaching style is in keeping with what they are used to. I can remember my own astonishment when teaching a group of 30 students in a French university only to discover that they didn’t expect to be involved in activities that required them to actually speak. They were used to being passive receptacles of information which they would record and then work on using reading and writing as the means of learning. Of course, I wanted to change all that but I realized that I could only introduce change by finding out what they expected, what they wanted and by negotiating with them possible better ways of effective language learning.

It seems to me that we should conduct regular surveys of students to find out their views about how they think the classroom should be managed, what types of materials should be used and how they should be used, how work should be organized, what activities should be done in class, how the teacher should interact with students. The information gathered can be useful to teachers whose own ideas might be quite different. Once they know students’ preferences they will be able to judge more clearly which aspects of their teaching style to modify and which aspects to try to introduce incrementally so as not to deter students.

Back soon.

Patricia.

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