In education today, the terms "student-centered instruction", "student-centeredness", and "student-centered classroom" are buzz words that are synonymous with best practices instruction. Research suggests that a student-centered approach has many advantages compared to the traditional teacher-centered approach. It helps students to develop a deeper understanding of the content, while developing their critical thinking skills. This thereby increases their confidence level and creates positive attitudes towards learning. Many schools believe that student-centered instruction is essential to the success of learning. As a teacher of Chinese language instruction in the U.S, I find this approach useful and effective in my classroom and would like to share with you my understanding of creating a student-centered classroom for Chinese language learners.
1. Competence rather than Content
Research shows that people generally remember 90% of what they do and only 10% of what they read after a series of learning activities. Thus, student-centered learning emphasizes the learning process through hands-on activities. For example, during the Mid-Autumn Festival recently, my students did a role-play in addition to reading the story of Houyi and Change. As an additional hands-on extension I brought in Moon Cakes for them to try, as well as created an opportunity to scaffold their learning by making Moon Cakes together. In this way, students developed a holistic experience of the Mid-Autumn Festival holiday and experienced how people celebrate it in Asia. Also, an activity-based lesson offers students an opportunity to develop their positive interdependence and individual accountability through working in groups.
2. Teacher as a Facilitator and not a Presenter
In a student-centered classrooms, teachers cannot offer answers to everything. On the contrary, students should be given the opportunity to take the lead in the classroom and explore the answers by themselves. For example, if the theme of the unit is Chinese culture, teachers could ask their students to brainstorm words related to Chinese culture and record them on the white board. Then, students can group those words and sort them into different categories as a whole class activity. It would probably end up with categories like “music”, “clothes”, “painting”, “artifact”, and “building”. As a follow-up activity, teachers could ask each student to write down three categories they would like to know more about. Based on their interests, the teacher can divide them into different groups and ask students to decide specific research questions and try to answer them as a whole group.
3. Being Flexible
Student-centered classrooms allow students to have fun and learn, unfortunately there is no guarantee that every student can be entertained. Some Chinese teachers wear themselves out since they have gone too far on the road of making lessons interesting for every student. Thus, I think teachers should be aware that they can be flexible throughout the lesson and it is the students’ responsibility to keep involved and try their best.
Learning is not about how much you know at school, but what you still remember after you graduate. It is about helping students form enduring understandings of the skills and language that they have acquired. I really enjoyed listening to my students and sharing what they have done in class, because I know that will become the experience they treasure the most later on in life.