Centred and Balanced

image source: www.bigstockphoto.com
image source: www.bigstockphoto.com

What is student-centred learning?  There are many facets to this idea.  It can be lessons based on students’ needs.  It can mean choosing topics based on students’ interests.  But one of the concepts that is most commonly related to student-centred learning is learning through discovery.  When someone learns through discovery, they are given enough autonomy to interact with materials and consequently discover how things work (think figuring out grammar rules implicitly).  On the other side of the coin you have teacher directed learning where knowledge is transferred from teacher to student (think explaining how grammar rules work).

Student-centred learning, which has its roots in constructivist theory, brings many benefits to learners.  Understanding occurs on a deep level when facilitated by a student-centred learning approach.  The trend in North America, among other places, is toward implementing student-centred learning due to its obvious benefits.  However, that is not to say that teacher-directed learning does not have its merits.   Teacher-directed learning is often more efficient than student-centred learning, particularly in relation to the time it takes to achieve the learning objectives. The question is:  when is it appropriate to use which method?

I recently read a blog written by an ESL teacher asking about how to get students to buy into lessons based in student-centred/constructivist methodology.  Sometimes students are very resistant to learning via this type of approach, especially if they have previously been educated in a part of the world that typically uses teacher directed methods.  I think part of the problem related to this resistance is what I call the pendulum effect, where teaching strategies swing sharply to one method of teaching for a period of time.  When teachers do their teacher training, there tends to be a bias toward teaching about newer methodologies.  The result is that the constructivist approach is implemented for every type of lesson.  The answer to this problem is allowing teaching strategies to be informed by a balance of teaching methodologies.

In an article relating the importance of the learning environment to the depth of knowledge acquisition, George Siemens (2003) states that  “even the best theories are accurate only some of the time and the task determines the approach.” In other words, he means that a variety of teaching strategies need to be used in order to develop a balanced teaching practice that is suitable for the range of concepts that need to be covered in the classroom.

What does it all mean in practical terms?  What are your thoughts about aligning tasks to approaches?



Siemens, G. (2003).  Learning ecology, communities, and networks extending the classroom. elearnspace everything learning. Retrieved from elearnspace.org


Hi, I’m Gwen Zeldenrust. After a brief absence from the profession, I realized that teaching is my passion and the path that my career should follow. Most of my practice has been focused on teaching ESL to adults in Ontario. In addition to that, I’ve been a trainer for an insurance company, a teaching assistant for several professors at university, taught English in Japan and Core-French at the local school board. While I’ve been teaching ESL I’ve also been working on a project which has developed organically among a group of teachers. Under the name of Language Foundations, we’ve produced a video that teaches strategies for interacting successfully in Canada. The video project has inspired in me a true passion for writing. I love being able to reach out with my thoughts, share ideas and discuss different perspectives. I think writing and teaching are very complementary!


5 thoughts on “Centred and Balanced”

  1. Thanks for sharing your balanced perspective, Gwen. I really enjoyed reading and reflecting on your thoughts. And I definitely agree with you about teacher ed and CTESL programs sometimes placing too much emphasis on one particular teaching methodology, when a balanced approach is needed – one that reflects the unique needs and interests of each group of leaners we are working with.

    1. Hi Michelle,

      Yes! Every class is unique. It doesn’t matter how many times I repeat the same lesson plan, there are always different outcomes because the students are different. I think this is something that makes our job as teachers so interesting!

  2. I completely agree that a balance is necessary. My teaching is a delicious hodgepodge of Dogme, lexical approach, Language Experience Approach, pattern practice, and so much more. I will throw in a bit of TPR when the situation calls for it. Since I am not 100% sure how the human brain acquires a second language, and since our students are such a diverse lot, I hedge my bets with a smorgasbord that I feel gives learners a lot of variety in their ESL diet.

    My teaching differs depending, too, on the group. It has taken me a long time to coax my seniors, most of them Chinese, toward a more student-centred classroom experience. In the end, we have struck many a compromise. After all, I want them to feel comfortable as we journey together.

    1. Hi Kelly,

      You have such great energy. I think you make a very important point, which is, you keep trying to implement different strategies even though sometimes the students don’t embrace new things initially. It can take time to transform adults’ perspectives.

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