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Feature articles

January–February 2012 Issue 224

Don’t close the door Melanie Shaul promotes student-centred learning. Throughout the history of education, teacher-dominated learning and student passivity has been associated with traditional teaching; in particular, there is ample evidence showing that teacher-dominated learning is predominant in EFL teaching. The main experience of many students consists of sitting passively, reading a text, answering questions, and receiving the correct answers from the teacher.

Vygotsky and student-centred learning The adoption of a teaching method meant to promote students’ active cognitive development through dynamic participation, is based on teaching which is essentially social and cultural in nature, where students work together in search of a common outcome. A Vygtosky-inspired teaching method seeks to embrace students’ collective involvement through inclusion of social and cultural learning. Vygtosky proposed that students have an ‘actual developmental level’ that can be assessed and used later as a starting point for development. Vygotsky coined the term, the zone of proximal development (ZPD), which is ‘the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers,’ (Vygotsky 1978: 86). The teacher employs activities which allow students to use and develop their own personal repertoire of learning behaviours. There is a gradual shift in control as teachers slowly transfer task responsibility to the students, thereby becoming less active in students’ development. Specifically, as students begin to move through their ZPD, they start to redefine problems with the help of others in their learning environment. Consequently, students begin to share responsibility for learning, through collaborating with others to solve problems that they were not capable of doing in the past. Teaching aims to enhance students’ progress from assisted, mediated learning to self-regulated learning causing a shift in the relationship from teacher-dominated learning to student dominated learning. In turn, students need less teacher assistance, as their responsibility for learning increases, thereby facilitating movement through their ZPD, which facilitates development in culturally appropriate activities.

A poetry teaching model based on Vygotskian concepts High-quality education is achievable only when it ‘awakens and rouses to life those functions which are in a stage of maturing, which lie in the zone of proximal development’

(Vygotsky 1956: 278, quoted in Gallimore and Tharp 2003). For this reason poetry is chosen as the tool which can aid students in using and developing their background knowledge. The pedagogical premise for teaching poetry is based on three stages:

Melanie Shaul is an EFL teacher with over 20 years of experience. Melanie’s expertise is cooperative teaching in the EFL classroom. Currently she is a graduate student at Haifa University in Israel

1 Teacher-dominated learning (TDL): the teacher starts the poetry lesson with what she knows the students can do alone, or with minor assistance, 2 Teacher-student-dominated learning (TSDL): students work both independently and with teachers, and 3 Student-dominated learning (SDL): task difficulty increases, leading to less teacher dependence.

These phases promote culturally diverse teaching by integrating students’ background knowledge and collaborative work in conjunction with poetry reading and serve to highlight patterns that facilitate poetry reading in the EFL classroom. First, TDL focuses on students’ understanding the poem’s central themes before reading. The teacher establishes a connection between students and the poem by clarifying basic elements in the poem using students’ background knowledge. Next, TSDL centres on assistance provided by collaborative activities that prepare students for their next phase of development. Students participate, make predictions, and use each other’s and the teacher’s assistance as they are engaged in shared discussion. The teacher guides and supports students in developing an understanding of the poem by stimulating students’ interests through helping them focus on literal meaning, poetic form, figurative meaning, as well as share and build on each other’s background knowledge. In the final stage, SDL, students read the original poem for the first time. Here, students actively participate using both the poem and each other’s ideas to transform and mediate their comprehension. Eventually, students' poetry reading abilities expand, allowing for their personal understanding of the poem which can serve as a tool for advanced proficiency in poetry. The pedagogical focus is on discourse interactions with and among students and their teacher, which may foster students' comprehension of poetry in the EFL classroom. Importantly, a Vygotsky-inspired method emphasises conditions for learning that are based on exchanges through which learning can take place. ymontn@hotmail.com References available from the author

IATEFL Voices 224   7


Student Centred Learning