Promoting the Learner Centered Approach in the Moroccan EFL Classroom

An article by  Amina Aghris, PhD student/EFL teacher, Kalaat Sraghna, Morocco

Abstract

A shift of focus from the traditional approaches of language teaching, that are based on transmitting knowledge to the learner, to alternative approaches that enable students to become active and responsible learners highlights the importance of adopting a learner-centered approach that positions the learner at the heart of the learning process. Thus, implementing learner centeredness in language education can facilitate the promotion of learners’ autonomy, independence and lifelong learning. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to present a brief review of the concept of learner centeredness, underline the importance of implementing the approach in language education, report on the findings of a small scale research study that was conducted in order to investigate teachers and students’ attitudes towards the appropriateness and the implementation of the learner-centered approach in the Moroccan EFL classrooms, and draw practical implications for promoting learner centeredness in the Moroccan EFL learning contexts.

Introduction

Promoting learner centeredness is a desirable educational outcome necessary for the effectiveness of the teaching-learning process. Unlike traditional approaches, the learner-centered approach gives great importance to the learner as an integral part of the teaching-learning process. Not only does the learner centered approach enable students to become active learners with more responsibility for their own learning, but it also empowers their own choices based on their learning needs and interests.

I- A Brief Review of the Literature

A-The Learner- centered Approach

In this approach, teachers are no more considered as mere instructors and givers of information but rather as facilitators of learning. Teachers are encouraged to take into consideration their students’ needs and interests while devising or planning their lessons. They are also called upon to actively engage students in creating their own learning. On the other hand, learners are viewed in the learner-centered framework as active responsible participants in learning and producers of knowledge as well.

The rationale behind the learner-centered approach is to help students become more responsible for their learning. According to Ouakrime (1991: 43) adopting learner- centered approach is meant “to produce “(…) independent learners, with enough AIR in their lungs to successfully sail through their language learning journey,” that is to help learners develop autonomy, independence and a sense of responsibility for their learning (1991: 43). Dr. Meziani (1991: 23) argues that teachers cannot “teach learners everything they need to know,” they should be given some opportunity for active long-life learning. For this reason, “teachers need to teach not only specific language skills but also learning skills”.

B-Defining Learner-centeredness

The learner-centered approach is an approach that positions the learner as an equal partner in the teaching-learning process. Cannon & Newble note that “Learner- centeredness is both a concept and a practice in which learners and teachers are equal parts of learning and teaching processes” (1989: 16-17). Moreover, learners’ needs are put at the centre of the learning process. Based on Weimer’s words, Matsau defines learner- centeredness as a focus on “ students’ needs, what and how they are learning and the conditions that contribute to their learning” (2007: 21). Learner-centeredness provides learners with a sense of autonomy and skills to process information, solve problems, make decisions and become responsible for their own learning. Thus, it assumes that learners go through experiences that foster their autonomy and develop their responsibilities.

C-The Learner Centered Approach in English Language Teaching

In order to help students become effective learners, Ouakrime (1991) suggests that it is important “that learners are made aware of the potential usefulness of learning the target language for their immediate needs and the more long-term plans they may have for their future lives and careers.” Being learner- centered means students’ being able to “see learning the language as part of their educational experience that aims at helping them acquire new knowledge and adopt positive attitudes towards this experience.” (47)

The learner-centered approach in language teaching requires a shift to communicative language learning. It aims to develop a communicative and authentic environment where language learners have the opportunity to negotiate meanings and develop their communicative competence. Therefore, “we should see English as a means of education relating closely to the development of the learner’s cognitive ability, rather than as simply the inculcation of a specific series of linguistic skills” (McLean, 1980: 272).

In the same regard, Chen, J (2007) claims that “EFL teachers should take responsibility for teaching learners how to learn efficiently and effectively by giving support to more effective learning strategies.” This requires teachers to introduce suitable strategies to meet the needs and learning styles of learners, and help them gain responsibility for their learning. Once this is achieved, learners will be able to “take an active involvement in classroom activities, and this will undoubtedly achieve considerable outcomes in language learning and contributes to a pleasant environment” (2007: 58).

D-The Learner Centered Classroom

The creation of a learner-centered classroom depends on five main practices as articulated by Harris & Cullen (2010): balance of power between teachers and learners,focus on relevant content of the subject matter, the role of the teacher as a facilitator, fostering responsibility for learning among learners, and using effective assessment and evaluation (65-66).

  1. The Role of the Learner

The ultimate aim of learner-centeredness is to make the learner responsible for his or her learning. This is because “Learning is most effective when the learner is the initiator of the learning process” (McLean, 1980: 271). In learner-centeredness, students learn primarily because of what they bring to their classroom experience in terms of their perceived needs, motivations, past experiences, background knowledge, interests and creative skills. Learners are not blank sheets that need to be filled with accumulated knowledge, but rather active individuals who have to take part in constructing knowledge. That’s why “learners need to have some AIR in their lungs; that is they should be autonomous, independent and responsible learners” (Ouakrime, 1991: 91).

  1. The Role of the Teacher

Many education systems are based on the authoritarian style of teaching and “only when the teacher’s authority recedes can the learner be thrown back on his own resources.” Khalil Gibran states that “if a teacher is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.” Here McLean infers that “teaching is not so much a process of cramming outside knowledge into the learner’s mind as drawing out the knowledge that each of our students has within him” (1980: 270-272).

In learner-centered classrooms, the teacher organizes learning activities with meaningful themes which are relevant to learners, helps learners develop a sense of critical and conceptual thinking, provides opportunities for students to choose their own projects and work at their own pace, provides opportunities for  collaborative learning, varies the use of instructional strategies and methods to match student needs, encourages shared decision making, and more importantly encourages learner autonomy and responsibility (Meece, 2003: 114).

  1. Role of Materials

In learner-centeredness there is a “clear need for the content of language-teaching materials to involve the learner to relate to his needs, interests, and moral concerns” (McLean, 1980: 271). Following Krashen (1981), Kisserli infers that materials needed for a learner- centered syllabus must be “comprehensible (…) appealing to learners, challenging, varied and authentic.” He also advises that the mere focus on classroom materials is not enough and that learners have to find outside- classroom materials. “This search for materials best suited for them will increase their sense of self-directed learning” (1991: 38-39).

E-Appropriateness of the Learner Centered Approach in the Moroccan EFL Classroom

The learner-centered approach is sensitive to the notion of context. “The culture of the learning context is as important to learning as the content and the methods used” (Milambiling 2001 cited in Brown, 2003: 50).Thus, consideration of learner- centeredness in the Moroccan EFL classrooms has to be analyzed. It is true that the Moroccan EFL education is moving toward a learner-centered approach, and this is evident in the communicative approach adopted for teaching English. The issue of learner centeredness has been raised in the Moroccan Association of Teachers of English (MATE) conferences since 1988 and 1991 in which discussions were held about having the learner the focus of language education. Besides, the Moroccan Resource Centres of English Network (MoRCE-Net) has the concept of promoting learner-centeredness among its main objectives and activities. Yet, the question that needs considering is to what extent the learner-centered approach is effective in the Moroccan EFL classrooms?

 II- Objectives of the Study

This study is meant to emphasize the importance of learner-centeredness as an essential approach of teaching and learning that has to be adopted in the Moroccan EFL classrooms. The ultimate objective of this study is to raise awareness among teacher and student respondents about the importance of learner centeredness for students’ educational development. A second objective is to investigate attitudes of teachers and students towards the appropriateness and the implementation of the learner-centered approach in the Moroccan EFL classrooms. And the third objective is to provide some suggestions for implementing learner centeredness in the Moroccan EFL classrooms.

III- Research Methodology

This study combines two research methods and gives equal priority to both the quantitative and qualitative research methods of investigation. In order to carry out this study two research instruments were used for data collection, namely the questionnaire and the interview. Besides, the population samples targeted for this study included both teachers and students of English. The sampling method used was convenient sampling, it had been chosen due to the accessibility of subjects and their willingness to respond.

Student-respondents ranged from undergraduates, B. A. graduates and Master students. Students were from two universities; Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah University, Faculty of Arts and Human Sciences, Dhar Mehraz, Fes, and Mohamed Fifth University, Faculty of Letters and human Sciences, Rabat- Agdal. High and middle school teachers, who participated in the research, taught in different parts of Morocco: Fez, Taza, Ouazane, Arfod, Taounate, Missour-Outat Lhaj, Taza-Ajdir, and Beni Mellal-Zaouit Cheikh. 50 students’ questionnaires and 13 teachers’ questionnaires were analyzed, and interviews were conducted with 38 students and 8 teachers.

IV- Results of the Study

A-Teachers’ Attitudes toward the Learner-Centered Approach

1.Understanding of the Learner- Centered Approach

The results obtained from both teachers’ questionnaires and interviews reveal that the teacher respondents understand the learner- centered approach. 100% of the respondents stated that learner-centeredness is about the focus on learners and learner’s responsibility, and 84.61% related this concept to interaction between learners and cooperative learning. The respondents believe that the teacher’s role is a facilitator of learning and a guide rather than an instructor. Besides, most teachers opted for the ability to think critically, participation, discussion, interaction, preparation and collaborative work as characteristics of effective learners.

  1. Students Responsibility

While about half of the respondents agreed to place responsibility in the hands of learners to manage their own learning, the other half disagreed to do so claiming that learners are not well qualified and cannot handle such a responsibility. However, teacher respondents know how they can make learners more responsible and suggested problem solving activities, critical thinking, and collaborative work as essential activities for developing responsibility and creativity in learners.

3.Learners’ Individual Differences

Most respondents asserted that they do not get to know learners’ individual differences since there are large classes and few hours of teaching. Nevertheless, about 92% of the respondents admitted that learners’ life experiences can bring something new to the learning process.

  1. Methods of Correction

69.23% of the respondents use peer-correction and 53.84% use self-correction as methods of correcting learners’ mistakes. They generally use teacher-correction as a last resort. By doing so, they give a chance to learners to correct themselves and benefit from their friends’ knowledge.

  1. Materials

As to the materials, the respondents said that they are not sufficient, most schools lack audio and visual materials. The only available material is the textbook which does not provide enough opportunities for developing learners’ skills.  Therefore, the teacher

respondents admitted that they do their best to provide other materials which can help in diversifying the lessons and the activities used.

  1. Appropriateness of the Learner- Centered Approach in the Moroccan EFL Classroom

Concerning the appropriateness of the learner-centered approach in the Moroccan EFL classroom, about 53.85% of the teacher- respondents believe that it is appropriate for the Moroccan context. It is difficult and challenging but it would yield positive results if implemented, especially for Moroccan university students. Those who considered it as inappropriate believe that large classes, lack of materials, teachers and students’ unwillingness along with the current infrastructure of schools hinder its implementation.

B- Students’ Attitudes toward the Learner-Centered Approach

1.Effective Learning

Generally, learners are aware of what constitutes effective learning. Learners admit that their teachers engage them in the learning process through various methods of teaching. Almost all students asserted that their teachers give them the opportunity to participate, and share their opinions. According to the respondents, teachers correcting students’ mistakes in a constructive way that causes no embarrassment. Rather, they thought such a novel way of correcting mistakes is likely to make students want to learn more.

  1. Students’ Preparation

Students are aware of the importance of preparation for their courses; they know what to do beforehand and how they can enrich the discussion by reading materials and searching for more information on the subject matter. Most respondents stated that they prepare lessons that they are most interested in.

3.Assessment

As deduced from the collected data most students are eager about taking part in assessment. They want to do so in order to know both their strengths and weaknesses and on that basis improve their performance.

  1. Becoming Autonomous Learners

Concerning learner-centeredness, data gathered suggest that learners have the potential of being autonomous but with the aid of teachers. Despite not being taught in a fully teacher-centered context, learners still show some dependence on the teacher to help them and guide them in the learning process. This is especially common among undergraduates who prefer teachers to be facilitators of learning, yet expect them to keep their traditional role as instructors.  In general, students, especially master students, showed willingness to adopt learner- centeredness and abide by its principle since they are in a level that allows for autonomous learning.

5.Students’ Desires

Most students-respondents consider a facilitator of learning as the best role of the teacher. They want their teachers to take students’ different styles and needs into consideration. They want to have a say in decision making concerning their methods of learning, and they want to be helped by their teacher to develop more intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

It is worth mentioning that learner- centeredness is already implemented in some courses. Although not all teachers use it in the undergraduate level, quite a few use it in master’s programs. Master students represent the category that knows the importance of learner-centeredness and it is the one that encourages and approves of the implementation of such an approach.

V-  Implications for Implementation

The results obtained from this study suggest that many measures should be taken in order to improve the quality of Moroccan Education and establish learner-centeredness in the educational system.

A-Decrease Reliance on the Teacher

Learners are aware of the importance of being effectively engaged in the learning process, yet they rely a lot on their teachers. So, it is suggested that this reliance decreases if learners want to achieve high quality performance.

B-Assume Independent Roles

Learners may consider practicing what they think are the roles of learners, and take their studies seriously. It is true that teachers have an essential role in the teaching-learning process, but students need to assume their role as independent learners capable of meeting the demands of their educational system.

C-Motivate Students

Learners are not helpless in the way they study. Most of the student-respondents have the potential to work effectively, assume responsibility, take part in decision making and contribute in the improvement of education in Morocco. Therefore, it is preferable that teachers motivate their students and give them more opportunities for being active contributors to the learning process.

D-Consider Students’ Needs

Teachers need to figure out solutions to overcome the obstacles that hinder the implementation of learner-centeredness. They can develop interesting methods of teaching by considering students’ different styles and needs. They can also give students a space for fruitful discussion and feedback. Teachers are equally encouraged to share the outcomes of assessment with students and enhance their critical thinking abilities.

E-Implementing Learner Centeredness

It is the role of both learners and teachers to promote learner-centeredness in all courses and especially in the EFL classrooms. This is along with the aid of decision makers to provide more effective materials, develop the context of learning and improve the infrastructure of schools, and more importantly reduce the number of students in each class. Besides, more teaching trainings should be provided in order to help teachers get used to the learner-centered approach.

 Conclusion

The outcome of this study confirmed that both Moroccan teachers and students have generally positive attitudes toward the implementation of the learner-centered approach with the hope to improve the context of learning and education in general. It is worth mentioning that the findings of this study are by no means generalizable since the study has been limited only to two universities and a limited number of teachers and students. However, it is high time the learner-centered approach started to be implemented in the Moroccan EFL classrooms. Regardless of the obstacles that may inhibit the implementation of the approach, it would prove to be effective if teachers and students collaborate together to meet the demands of learner-centeredness, try to overcome difficulties and invest effort and time to make it a reality in the Moroccan EFL classrooms. This is not to say a farewell to the teacher-centered approach, but to take from both approaches, and combine their advantages so that education in Morocco could witness more promising results in the future.

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Webliography

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MoRCE-Net ELT News – Issue 1, January, 2017                                                                                                                                                                                    

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