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Topic 25A – The process of teaching and learning in a foreign language learner-centered: fundamentals and applications. The identification of the motivations and attitudes towards English. Practical applications.



1.1. Advantages.

1.2. Theoretical bases.

1.3. Methodology in a learner‑centred curriculum

1.4. Materials in a learner‑centred curriculum.

1.5. Assessment and evaluation in a learner‑centred curriculum.

1.6. The role of the teacher.

1.7. Potential problems.

1.7.1. Learner resistance.

1.7.2. External restraints.

1.7.3. Demands on the teacher.


2.1. Techniques for identification of motivations and attitudes.

2.2. Applications.



Campbell (1992) has stated that the main principle in learner‑centred teaching is that all class activities can be done using information that the learners themselves bring to the class. It is true that humanistic approaches[1] also accept active pupil involvement in learning methodology, but learner‑centred teaching is more radical because it believes that every single one activity can be based on the knowledge, experience, and expertise of our pupils.

Learner‑centred teaching can be used in different ways in the English classroom. It can be any of the following:

‑ the only method used in the classroom

‑ a complement of other materials, providing topicality and practising language not covered by other materials

‑ a set of remedial procedures to use in unpredicted situations such as poor attendance


We next study tile most important aspects of a learner‑centred curriculum:

‑ advantages

‑ methodology

‑ materials

‑ assessment

‑ the role of the teacher

‑ problems

1.1. Advantages.

Campbell (1992) mentions nine advantages of using learner‑centred teaching:

‑ the potential of the learner

‑ constant needs analysis

‑ topicality

‑ previous learning experience

‑ learners as authors

‑ pace

‑ the element of surprise

‑ peer teaching and correction

‑ group solidarity

The potential of the leanier. Our pupils bring a lot with them into the classroom. They have their own ideas, beliefs, attitudes and interests. These things are very important for them, so, if they can see them reflected in the way they learn English and the activities within the classroom they will be more motivated to use language for effective communication.

It is easier for a pupil to talk freely about a topic he himself has chosen, and therefore, he can draw on his knowledge to talk about, than about a topic which may be totally irrelevant. The way to fluency is more direct this way.

It is also important not to forget that a great part of the knowledge our pupils bring with them into the classroom is their mother language and culture. Learner‑centred teaching encourages them to incorporate this into their target language competence.

Constant needs anaNsis. In learner‑centred teaching, analysis is a continually developing process. Activities are chosen to met the current needs of its members. As our pupils carry out an activity, we spot the problems they have and introduce suitable practice activities in subsequent lessons. As we can see, the analysis never stops.

Topicality. Learner‑centred teaching allows us to introduce those issues our pupils are interested in into the classroom. This may be used to supplement or replace unsuitable coursebooks topics.

Previous learning experience. A learner‑centred approach offers an open‑ended experience to our pupils. We give them a basic framework that they must complete according to their interests and needs. This way, the same framework can evolve in completely different ways with different groups. Even if we repeat the same activity it may be different if the members of the group are different.

Learners as authors. Language practice is doubled in learner‑centred learning because our pupils are involved not only in using the materials but also in preparing them as well. They will be interested in seeing how other people will use the materials they have prepared so they have a real‑life reason to pay attention in the feed‑back stage.

Pace. Preparation work is longer in learner‑centred activities. However, as the activity progresses, the pace increases. Also, the involvement of our pupils is total from the very beginning.

The element of surprise. The fact that pupils in a learner‑centre teaching situation do not have the materials in advance, adds a strong element of surprise to the lesson. Not only do our pupils not know what is coming before the lesson starts, but they are often unable to l.:redict how the lesson will d elop, and how the material they have produced will be used.

Peer teaclang and correction. Learner‑centred teaching encourages pupils to work together and learn from each other, thus increasing their level of socialization. Activities are structured in such a way that our pupils have to pay attention to what their colleagues are saying. They can teach and correct each other. This working together means that the class can pool whatever individual linguistic resources they have.

Group solidarity. The fact that our pupil’s work together in activities which are based in their interests and needs will tend to create a spirit of group solidarity. Learners are working with one another, not in competition with one another and therefore the atmosphere of the classroom is one of really purposeful commitment to learning English.

1.2. Theoretical bases.

The basic principle of permanent education in the General Law of Spanish Educational System (LOGSE) can only be achieved if the instructional programmes are centred around learners’ needs. Only in this way should education develop in our pupils the capacity to control their own destiny. Therefore, the learner should be seen as being at the centre of the educational process. Bearing this in mind, the following principles of learner‑centred curricula can be identified:

– pupils who value their own experience as a resource for further learning or whose experience is valued by others are better learners

– pupils learn best when the learning objectives are congruent with their current self‑concept

– pupils react to experience as they perceive it, not as we present it

– pupils do not learn when they are over‑stimulated or stressed

– pupils learn best when the content is relevant to past experience or present concerns and the learning process is relevant to life experiences

– pupils who have learnt how to learn are the most productive learners

– pupils learn best when new information is presented through a variety of sensory modes

We next study how these principles are reflected in all aspects of pupil‑centred teaching.

1.3. Methodology in a learner‑centred curriculum.

Traditional approaches to language teaching have tended to separate considerations of syllabus design from methodology. Syllabuses specify the “what” of teaching whereas methodology specifies the “how”. In recent times, the shortcomings of this lack of integration have become apparent, and there have been calls for a more integrated approach. In learner‑centred models, all the elements are in interaction and each may influence the other. This change in perspective has been prompted more by the development of communicative language teaching than anything else: for communicative language teaching to become a reality, there was a need for methodologies to reflect curriculum goals.

A communicative curriculum uses pedagogic tasks which must be linked in principled ways to the real‑world tasks pupils might be required to engage in outside the classroom. Learnercentred approaches draw on these activities and in studies on classroom acquisition which may provide psycholinguistically motivated learning tasks. But this is not enough because so far the language learner, who is the centre of our methodology, has been neglected. What happens if our pupils do not see as helping him learn activities which we consider to be communicative and psycholinguistically justified?

If we want to adopt both a communicative and a pupil‑centred approach we may find ourselves in a big problem. Some pupils favour more traditional learning activities rather than communicative type activities. An analysis of pupils data reveals that there may be four types of learners:

‑ concrete learners: they prefer learning by games, pictures, ‘Video, talking in pairs, learning through the use of the cassette …

‑ analytical learners: they prefer studying grammar, studying English books, studying alone, finding their own mistakes, having problems to work on …

‑ communicative learners: they enjoy learning by observing and listening to native speakers, talking to friends in English, watching TV in English …

‑ authority‑oriented learner: they like the teacher to explain everything, writing everything in a notebook, having their own textbook, learning to read …

As we can see it is very difficult to use a communicative approach with analytical andauthority‑oriented learners if, at the same time, we want to follow the principles of learner centred teaching. These pupils may say things like “I don’t want to clap and sing. I want to lean English. ” These differences must be taken into consideration and a process of negotiating learning activities should begin.

If our pupils do not believe in the learning value of communicative activities we can begin by setting traditional learning activities, and gradually try and move our pupils towards acceptance of more communicative activities. The danger here is that our pupils get used to these traditional activities and do not want to change into communicative ones later on. For this reason some teachers prefer to make quite clear their expectations from the beginning. Whatever choice is made we must provide the maximum amount of information to learners, and set up mechanisms to facilitate negotiation and consultation.

1.4. Materials in a learner‑centred curriculum.

Pupil‑centred teaching materials are by definition limited to those produced by the learners in class. Therefore paper and pen are usually all that is needed though the use of more sophisticated equipment such as photocopiers, audio or video recorders and so on may be motivating.

The focus will be on assisting our pupils to do in class what they will be able to do outside, the materials should reflect the outside world. To do this, they should have a degree of authenticity. The materials should also foster independent learning (learning how to learn) and, as all our classes have mixed ability groups of learners, materials should be designed so that they are capable of being used in a variety of ways and also at different proficiency levels.

We now study these characteristics in detail.

1.4.1. Authenticity.

Nunan (1988) describes authenticity as follows:

“Authentic materials are usually defined as those which have been produced for purposes other than to teach language. They can be culled from many different sources: video clips, recordings of authentic interactions, extracts from television, radio and newspapers, signs, maps and charts, photographs and pictures, timetables and schedules. “

Despite the difficulties associated with the use of authentic materials, they are easily ju, ‘ified on the grounds that specially scripted texts are artificial. Comprehending and manipulating this type of texts does not mean that our pupils will comprehend and manipulate language in real communicative situations and this is one of the principles of communicative language teaching that we have adopted.

While authenticity is generally thought of in terms of the materials used in a given teaching activity, there are other factors which may be equally important. Candlin and Edelhoff (1982) suggest that there are at least four types of authenticity which are important in our classrooms:

‑ authenticity of goal

‑ authenticity of environment

‑ authenticity of text

‑ authenticity of task

Nunan (1988) thinks that the most important type of authenticity is what he called “learner authenticity”. By this he means “the realisation and acceptance by the learner of the authenticity of a given text, task, set of materials or learning activity”. If we want our pupils to think that the materials we use are authentic they must fulfil two conditions:

1. They must be recognised by learners as having a legitimate place in the language classroom.

2. They must engage the interests of our pupils by relating to their interests, background knowledge and experience, and through these, stimulate genuine communication.

It is important to make our pupils realise that they are learning something. This is especially easy with traditional activities, such as drills or translations, but new, communicative activities may seem to them a waste of time. In some activities we can have, as Gavin Bolton said of drama, a unique pedagogic situation, where a teacher sees himself as teaching, but our pupils do not see themselves as learning. The second condition is easily fulfilled if we take into account our pupils characteristics and needs.

The problem is that these two conditions can be mutually exclusive. Television can be an engaging experience for our pupils, at home, but they may not legitimate its presence in the classroom. In this case we must found a process of negotiation, through which our pupils are gradually sensitised to the new element.

Those who take a hard line on authenticity insist that these should not be edited in any way. However, especially with our pupils, who are beginners, it may be necessary to edit authentic materials in a way. Edited materials can be classified into simulated authentic and artificial.

1.4.2. Learning how to learn.

Learning to learn approaches take into account that different pupils have different ways of learning (as we have seen when discussing learners’ types). This means that they also have different preferences regarding learning materials. Therefore, the materials we use must aim to develop self‑awareness and gradually lead pupils to a conscious development of their own learning strategies, so that they become more effective and independent learners. This entails using materials that enable our pupils to acquire the following strategies:

1. Metacognitive strategies, such as planning for learning, hypothesizing, self‑assessment and reflection on the learning process.

2. Cognitive strategies, such as sorting, classifying, matching, predicting, using dictionaries, repeating …

3. Social mediation strategies, such a’s collaborating and peer‑correction, which may be developed by means of materials designed for pair or group work.

4. Communication strategies, that is, using phrases to enable them to participate and maintain communication in English, e.g., Can you say that again, please?

Acquiring learning to learn processes develops our pupils’ curiosity and fosters a positive attitude towards foreign language learning. This is extremely important with our pupils as one of the main aims of Primary foreign languages education is to familiarize our pupils with English. This will prepare them for more formal and exam‑oriented courses in secondary school.

1.4.3. Heterogeneity.

Heterogeneous materials can be used at different levels of proficiency. As all classes are composed of mixed‑ability groups, homogeneous materials cannot provide effective practice for all our pupils; they may be too difficult for the weak pupils and may lack in volume or challenge for the stronger. The use of heterogeneous exercises not only ensure that a higher proportion of our pupils get learning value out of the practice, it also has a positive effect on our pupils’ attitude as responses at different levels may be right.

The previous characteristics should be present in learner‑centred materials.

1.5. Assessment and evaluation in a learner‑centred curriculum.

No model would be complete without an evaluation component. We normally use the terms evaluation and assessment interchangeably, but they may mean different things for theoreticians. Assessment is taken to refer to the set of processes by which we judge pupil learning. Evaluation, on the other hand, is wider term, entailing assessment but also some additional processes which are designed to assist us in interpreting and acting on the results of our assessment.

In any pupil‑centred system, localised evaluation processes involving both teachers and pupils need to be developed. Our pupils should learn how to assess their own progress, and also evaluate, from their own perspectives, other elements within the curriculum including, materials, activities, and learning arrangements. Such pupil‑centred evaluation will assist in the development of a critical self‑consciousness by learners of their own role as active agents during the learning process. This is one of the main goals of a pupil‑centred approach.

Self‑assessment at basic level should not take a complex form. Our pupils’ learner diary typical sheet may take the following form:


Completa una hoja cada semana.

1. Esta semana lie estudiado ….

2. Esta semana he aprendido …

3. Esta semana he usado el inoles en …

4. Esta semana he hablado con …

5. Esta semana he visto los siguientes programas en in 16s …

6. Esta semana he cometido estos errores …

7. Mis dificultades han sido …

8. Me eustaria saber ..

9. La semana que viene voy a aprender …

1.6. The role of the teacher.

Whithin a pupil‑centred system, the teacher has a central role to play in all aspects of the curriculum. Accordina to Nunan, in traditional curricular systems, the teacher is reduced to the role of servant to a centralised curriculum process in which decisions about what will be taught, how it will be taught and how it. will be assessed are made by an authority remote from the point of lesson delivery.

In a pupil‑centred system such a control is undesirable. Our curriculum sets a group of shared minimum contents which may well be differentiated in terms of topics, themes, materials, learning tasks according to the particular teaching situation we are in. The main role of the teacher in a learner‑centred approach will be that of curriculum developer. He must adapt the curriculum to his pupils’ characteristics (third level of concreteness). He must adapt the planned curriculum, which is set down in curriculum documents, to his teaching situation, implemented curriculum. Finally, he will assess what the pupils actually learn (assessed curriculum).

Derived from this main role of curriculum developer, we may find others such as:

‑ participant

‑ resource

‑ monitor or assessor

As active participants we contribute ideas and opinions or relate personal experiences, helping to bridge the traditional gap between pupil and teacher. In learner‑based teaching, the teaching and learning are taking place on both sides.

We are also a resource, answering our pupils questions on vocabulary, grammar of activity procedures. By providing what our pupils ask for, rather than what we think they need, we can facilitate more effective learning.

At other times we will be assessors or monitors, checking what learners have produced. This assessing could be overt or covert. In communicative activities it is not very convenient to interrupt our pupils.

1.7. Potential problems.

Campbell finds three main problems:

‑ learner resistance

‑ external restraints

‑ demands on the teacher

1.7.1. Learner resistance.

Learner resistance arise with groups of learners who have specific preconceptions about the learning process. This will not normally happen with our youngest pupils as it is the first time they are learning English, but it may well happen if they have had a different teacher during the second and third cycles of primary education. Some learners will feel that they are only learning when doing the type of activities they are used to. A gradual introduction of learner‑centred activities may convince our pupils of their value.

1.7.2. External~restraints.

Even if you are required to follow a syllabus which, despite having been approved by .iie School Board and the teaching staff, you do not quite like, you may find that it is still possible to cover parts of the syllabus using pupil‑centred teaching activities.

1.7.3. Demands on the teacher.

If we follow a pupil‑centred approach we are faced with the responsibility for the sequence of events in ;he classroom, a role which was normally left to the coursebook in conventional teaching. It is therefore essential to keep a record of all work done. We can make this in a pupil‑centred way as well if the pupils collaborate in the production of a regular class newsletter, which serves as a summary of all that has been achieved over a period of time, and reassures all concerned that progress is being made.


We have already studied the main features of a learner‑centred curriculum. We now know that the contents of a learner‑centred course should be justified in terms of relevance and motivational potential for our pupils. We must now analyze procedure which have the potential for generating different curricula for learners with different motivations and attitudes towards Enalish. The starting point is generally the collection of various types of biographical data.

This description of our pupils is obviously the same one we need in order to select and design materials for them:


1. Age:

2. Number‑ of boys and girls:

3. Familiar background:

4. Parents’ occupation:

5. Motivation/attitude:

6. Knowledge of the world:

7. Knowledge of English:

8. Interests:

9. Pupils with special needs:

10. Pupils with discipline problems:

11. Based on the above, what conclusions can we draw about the kind of materials that would be suitable for our pupils?

Once we know our pupils we can begin a needs analysis procedure to get to know their motivations and attitudes towards English.

Needs‑analysis made its appearance during the 1970s in language planning. It serves three main purposes:

– obtaining wider input into the content, design and implementation of a language programme

‑ developing goals, objectives and content

‑ providing data for reviewing and evaluating existing programmes

Initially needs assessment was linked to accountability and relevance in political terms rather than to educational aims. Nowadays, however, taking account of our pupils’ needs when designing the cours of instruction is well established.

Our pupils’ need can be divided into two groups:

‑ objective

‑ subjective

Objective needs are those which can be diagnosed by teachers on the basis of the analysis of personal data about learners along with information about their language proficiency and patterns of language use.

Subjective needs, which are the motivations, attitudes, expectations towards English we are more interested in, are more difficult to diagnose, even by our pupils themselves.

Objective needs analysis results in content specifications derived from an analysis of the communicative situations our pupils are likely to find themselves. As they are derived from the language situation, they can be carried out in the absence of our pupils. On the other hand, subjective needs are derived from the learners themselves. While there is a tendency to equate objective needs with the specification of content, and subjective needs with the specification of methodology, the two need not be seen as synonymous. In learner‑centred approaches techniques for subjective needs analysis will therefore figure as prominently as techniques for objective needs analysis.

2.1. Techniques for identification of motivation and attitudes.

Techniques for data collection and course planning can be ranged on a continuum from formal to informal. Formal techniques include standardised interviews and proficiency assessments, while informal techniques include such things as classroom observation and self‑rating scales for use by learners in evaluating learning activities.

At the initial data‑collecting stage, we will probably not need all the data listed in the following survey. It may be interesting, however, to see the wealth of information we can get from our pupils referring to their subjective needs (motivations, attitudes and expectations). This survey is a practical application of the learner‑centred approach theory in relation to the identification of our pupils’ motivations and attitudes towards English.

2.2. Applications.

The following questionnaires have been adapted from Brindley [Hunan, (1988:187)]:

A. Dime si el siguiente use del inglés es importante para ti. (Mucho, regular, nada)

1. Tell people about yourself …

2. Tell people about your family …

2. Tell people about your interests …

3. Use buses/trains/ferries …

4. Find new places in the city ..

5. Receive telephone calls …

6. Make telephone calls …

7. Join hobby or interest groups …

8. Watch TV …

9. Listen to the radio …

10. Read newspapers/books/magazines …

11. Give/accept/refuse invitations …

Elige los cinco usos que quieras aprender en primer lugar.






B. ¿Cómo to gusta aprender? Contesta SI/NO

1. In class do you like learning

a. individually?

b. in pairs?

c. in small groups?

d. in one large group?

2. Do you like learning

a. by memory?

b. by problem solving?

c. by getting information for yourself?

d. by listening?

e. by reading?

f. by copying from the board?

g. by listening and taking notes?

h. by reading and making notes?

i. by repeating what you hear?

3. When you speak do you want to he corrected

a. immediately, in front of everyone?

or …

b. later, at the end of the activity, in front of everyone?

c. later, in private?

4.Do you mind if other pupils sometimes correct your written work?

Do you mind if the teacher sometimes asks you to correct your own work?

Do you mind if the teacher asks you to correct some other pupils’ work?

5. Do you like learning from

a. television/video films’?

b. radio?

c. tapes/cassettes? (e. g. language lab, language masters, cassette players)

d. written material?

e. the blackboard?

f. pictures/posters?

6. Do you find these activities useful?

a. Role play

b. Language games

c. Songs

d. Talking with and listening to other students

e. Memorising conversations/dialogues

f. Getting information from guest speakers

g. Getting information from planned visits

7. How do you like to find out how much your English is improving?

By …..

a. written tasks set by the teacher?

b. oral language samples taken and assessed by the teacher?

c. checking you own progress by making tapes, listening to the critically and comparing them?

d. devising your own written tasks for completion by yourself and other students?

e. seeing if you can use the language you have learnt in real‑life situations?

8. Do you get a sense of satisfaction from:

a. having your work graded?

b. being told that you have made progress?

c. feeling more confident in situations that you found difficult before?

In this way we can get practical information about our pupils’ motivations and attitudes, enabling us to use the principles of learner‑centred teaching in our classroom so that we could make the most of its advantages. For example we can use the following learnercentred activity in order to practise the simple present and physical description vocabulary.

First, we draw a circle on the board. Secondly, we tell our pupils they are going to build this into a character deciding previously whether it is a man or a woman. Next, we continue to ask questions to build up the physical representation on the board, e.g. Does he have a moustache?, Is he fat? …

We continue to ask questions about where he lives, his job, interests, family and so on. We point out contradictions e.g. he is 16 and father of three. As our pupils come with suggestions the pace increases and our pupils will point out contradictions and suggests alternatives by themselves.


Brewster, J.; Ellis, G. and Girard, D. The Primary English Teacher’s Guide. Penguin. London 1992.

Brumfit, C.J., and Johnson K. (eds) The Communicative Approach to Language Learning. OUP. Oxford, 1979.

Campbell, C. and Kryszewska, H. Learner‑Based Teaching. OUP. Oxford, 1992.

Crystal, D. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. CUP. Cambridge, 1987.

Harmer, J. The Practice of English Language Teaching. Lon‑man. London, 1983.

Halliwell, S. Teaching English iii the Primary Classroom. Longman. London, 1992. (There exists Spanish translation: La Enseiianza del Ingles en la Educacion Pri»raria. Longman. London, 1993. )

Littlewood, W. Communicative Language Teaching. CUP. Cambridge, 1981.

Nunan, D. The Learner‑Centred Curriculum. CUP. Cambridge, 1988.

Richards, J.C., and Rodgers, T.S. Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. CUP. Cambridge, 1986.

Richards, J.C., Platt, J., and Platt, H. Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics. Longman. London, 1992.

Savignon, S. Communicative Competence: Theory and Classroom Practice. Addison‑Wesley. Reading, Mass. , 1983.

Widowson, H.G. Teaching Language as Communication. OUP. Oxford, 1978.

[1] Humanistic approaches consider the following principles important: the development of human values; growth in self‑awareness and in the understanding of others; sensitivity to human feelings and emotions; active pupil involvement in learning. See unit 13 for further information.