What really matters: OUR LEARNERS!

I’m writing this post in response to @kalinagoenglish challenge presented in her blog

I have heard about Dogme very recently. Therefore, I’m not a specialist on the subject. However, I believe that some of the ideas supported by this methodology / approach (?) to TEFL make a lot of sense, as they are down-to-earth, common-sense ones.

When we have just graduated and we are teaching our first classes, we get so engrossed in trying to make our lessons as complete and interesting as possible; we are so worried with time limits and afraid of running out of activities; that we forget the most important element in a teaching-learning situation: THE LERNERS! They are the main protagonists and they are not taken into account. We don’t leave any space in our classes for them to take control of their learning and work on their interests, likes, needs and so on and so forth.

But Why do the lives of the learners matter? Reading some of the bibliography that Karenne has provided, I have came across an answer to this question that I’ve found quite satisfactory.  In the Delta Publishing blog it is said: “… Not just because they are interesting; not just because their exploration yields language that is of immediate relevance and value. But because without space for them in the teaching process, space to establish and express the identity they want to bring to the classroom (real or virtual), they will be disenfranchised. And they won’t learn the English they need…”

After all, as it is said in Karenne’s quotation “Learning is a dialogic process,  where knowledge is co-constructed rather than transmitted or imported from teacher/coursebook to learner.” The teacher is not the one who possesses the knowledge and transmits it to his/her students. Learning should be constructed as a result of the interactions between the teachers and the students. As we cannot plan in advance what the students are going to say or propose in our classes, we should leave space in our classes that will be filled with what comes out in our lessons on the spur of the moment . We should react to our students’ needs as they appear in the classroom and a coursebook cannot cater for that.  It is an indirect route to learning as the book doesn’t cater for our own students’ needs. It is not personalised.

To sum up, I believe that there is a great temptation for using a coursebook in our classes. We tend to think that it simplifies planning and we feel more secure. In general, we don’t trust so much in our ability for creating our own activities and lesson plans to cater for our students’ needs and interests. But it is unbelievable what wonderful things we can do, if we just give it a try. Believe me, once you tried it, you wouldn’t like to go back to teaching with a coursebook anymore. You would feel constrained by it.  What do you think? Share with us your opinions and experiences.


Posted on October 7, 2010, in Reflections on Tefl/tesl, web 20 and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Hi Sabrina!

    It’s the first time I read your blog, and I’m here because of the challenge.

    It seems you are the first to post thoughts on the subject and I should say they’re sensible. Regarding writing your own material I think it’s possible but at the same time novice teachers (and even mature ones) are not equipped with what it takes to do it well, or are simply not confident enough.

    I’ll post mine soon.

    best wishes

    • Thanks Willy for passing by. I’ve had a look at your blog. It’s already in my greader. Looking forward to your post.

  2. Hi Sabrina,

    I too came here through the challenge and see myself in many of your words and thoughts (starting with the fact I’ve only learned about unplugged teaching very recently).

    I especially liked what you said on worrying so much about planning thoroughly (and mechanically so many times!)that we end up forgetting what really matters: the learners!

    I believe one of the greatest qualities of a good teacher to be the ability to see teaching opportunities that unexpectedly emerge during class, produced by the students and their interests. Why should we stick to the plan when this happens? Because it’s there? No!!! Jump at the opportunity, seize it!

    I am still undecided about the use of coursebooks being ALL bad. Balance is the key (along with seizing opportunities).

    Great post! 🙂

    • Hi Cecilia! I totally agree with you. It is not a question of coursebook or not coursebook. We can use coursebooks and it may simplify our tasks at some moments. However, we should always use the books with our learners in mind. We should adapt the coursebook and encourage connections to the learners’ lives. And of course, we should seize at the opportunity when students are interested in something or they come up with an interesting idea. It is at this point in our classes that a magical atmosphere is created and learning is taking place! (Both the teacher and the students are learning!)
      Thanks for passing by! Nice to meet you!

  3. Sabrina,

    Sorry for taking so long to come back!!! I loved your post and I agree wholeheartedly on all of your sterling points – namely that we ignore the needs of our learners specifically because we teachers often think that textbooks are a short-cut and will make our lives easier.

    In some cases they do, in some cases they are beneficial – I am using a book at the moment specifically geared to the automobile industry in Germany and it’s fantastic -it has saved me so much time in gathering materials but it doesn’t mean that I don’t step away from the book, it doesn’t mean I don’t turn around and make sure that the materials are mostly about the learners!

    Looking forward to reading more articles!


    • Hi Karenne! Thanks for passing by and mostly a big thank you for having made us reflect on all these issues. Being a reflective teacher is extremely important. However, I believe it is even more worth it, if we can share our reflections with others, discuss about the issues, exchange opinions, ideas, and so on and so forth. And therefore, as a result of all that, as we’ve previously said, start constructing learning together. It is amazing how far we can get, and the wonderful things that can come as a result of collaborative work. I’m also really looking forward to the next challenge.

  4. Hi Sabrina

    Thank you for visiting me on my blog and inviting me to visit you on your blog and read your very interesting post. We seem to be interested in the same topic 🙂

    I think when students are training to be teachers or teachers are newly qualified, then it is not surprising that they tend to think more about their own ‘performance’ than they do about learners’ learning. After all they are being assessed for their teaching. But I think we need to keep talking about the fact that teaching is about focussing on the learner and learning rather than on a teacher’s performance.

    I am interested in this comment you have made – ‘The teacher is not the one who possesses the knowledge and transmits it to his/her students’ because I agree with the fact that transmission of knowledge usually doesn’t or won’t work, but the teacher very often does possess more knowledge that the student. I think the question for the teacher is how to use this knowledge to the advantage of the students’ learning.

    Finally I am interested in your comments about the coursebook, because I can see this from both sides. I once worked for a headteacher who would not allow the use of coursebooks. This sometimes made life very difficult when teaching a class of up to 35 children with a wide range of abilities. It was very difficult to invent activities for all the different groups of ability such that each group would be fully engaged in a well-matched task. On the other hand, I was forced to be creative and learn what a well-matched task is and how to engage children in their learning. But the amount of planning I had to do was exhausting and a tired teacher is no good to anyone – so in principle I think we can find better approaches than a coursebook, but there may be times when it would help.

    I’m playing devil’s advocate here 🙂


    • Hi Jenny! Thank you for passing by! I was introuced to your blog by Eduardo Peirano (@emapey). He sent me a link to your blog post via delicious.
      I totally agree with what you said about coursebooks. Some time ago, i used to be a bit more radical about the issue. I wanted to do away with coursebooks altogether in my school. However, the English coordinator convinced me that sometimes coursebooks are needed. She told me something similar to what you said. It is very useful to have some ready-made material at hand we can resort to when needed. The important thing is to use the coursebook having always the learners in mind. And, you are right “a tired teacher is no good to anyone”. I love that last phrase, we should pass it to the authorities.
      Kisses and hope we can continue learning together.

    • Hi Jenny, thanks for comments on Sabrina´s post. We are working together teaching online ICT couses to school teachers.

      I really liked your post!! I am not very active on the PLENK2010 MOOC but you can be sure that I follow John, Heli and your blog.

  5. Hi Sabrina and Eduardo – it’s good to know that you are working together. If you are teaching online ICT courses then you must be very ICT proficient – which I definitely am not 🙂 which is why I am often very slow to respond to comments. So apologies if I often appear uncommunicative – but I usually am around somewhere 🙂

    Good to ‘talk’ to you both,


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