Student-Centred and Interactive Teaching/Learning: An Integrated Skills Approach Workshop, 29th July, 2003
Dr. Pimporn Chandee
In this age of globalisation, with the importance and acceleration of knowledge, information and com-munication revolution (Salmi, 1999), and the necessity to make learning a life long process (The National Education Act, 1999), it is essential to maintain a balanced view and a wide perspective of world events as they happen. People, how ever remote an area they live in, can now witness political, social, and business events or disasters as if these are happening right before their very eyes through various media such as the television, the internet and so on. It is now not impossible for people to travel and be anywhere in the world at any time, hi addition, as English has long been a world language of communication among, especially, educated people, no longer can people operate at their fullest potential whether nationally or internationally without high level of proficiency in the four skills in English. Essentially, Thai students need to have high level of proficiency in English and to be computer literate in order to access information almost at first hand experience and in real time. Hence, a student-centred and interactive learning and teaching would be appropriate as a means to meaningfully and speedily improve students' English proficiency in the four skills. This is also an essential principle in the National Education Act of B.E. 2542 which encourages a break from traditional Thai educational norms such as lecturing and rote learning to a more creative, questioning approach to studying. Education, which aims at the full development of the people in all aspects - physical and mental health, intellect, knowledge, morality, integrity, and the pursuit of a desirable lifestyle in accordance with society and in harmony with other people, cannot be achieved without a learning reform with which the highest importance is placed on the learners and allows the students to develop at their own pace and within their individual potential. This, consequently, will prepare students for new social requirements, encourage them to develop towards more analytical and independent thought (The National Education Act, 1999).
Lecturers of the Faculty of Arts attending Dr.Pimporn's lecture checking results.
At Assumption University, the first international university in Thailand, students study all their courses in English. This means that they have to listen to lectures in English, read English textbooks, write assignments in English and speak English when discussing work with their lecturers and presenting their work. Textbooks used in the different courses are genuine textbooks published by western well-known publishers such as Longman, Me Graw-Hill and so on. The results of the corpus analyses of the textbooks and the articles taken from various sources such as newspapers, the internet, journals and so on reveal that the average English grades used lecturers are from various countries of the world. This means that students have to try to understand all the different accents of English. Within this international environment of learning, students need to be highly proficient.
However, not all students enroll with such expected proficiency level as the in-house TOEFL tests show graduate students needing special help with English to have a score range of between 390-500, and an average score of 449. This range is inadequate even for undergraduate studies in most disciplines in western universities. In addition, their vocabulary knowledge is also low (see table 1). Asssumption University graduate students' average TOEFL score is similar to the results of the Chulalongkorn Academic Testing Centre's (CU ATC) study which reveals that Thailand's TOEFL average was below 500 (Vichitsorasatra and Paisalpichitsodsai, 2002).
Table 1 Students' Average Number of Words Known at Different Levels of Frequency of Use
||University word list
The workshop is based on a research on "Student-Centred and Interactive Learning as a means to Meaningfully and Speedily Improve Students' English Proficiency: A Case Study of MBA Students at Assumption University" by Dr. Pimporn Chandee. As a consequence, the workshop presented aims at creating awareness among lecturers in the Faculty of Arts of the above problems and to equip them with another approach to the teaching and learning of English or other languages. Hence, to improve students' language proficiency as much and as soon as possible, students may be asked to read, besides the assigned graded readers, articles of their own choices from the internet or other sources.
Choosing their own topics should be a motivating factor for students who then individually read the articles, underline the main points, and summarize the articles. This is followed by a comparative summary of the articles for students sharing the same topics of interest. Each student then presents his or her topic to the whole class. This gives individual student an opportunity for speaking skill practice using the vocabulary that they have passively learnt from their reading more actively. The language used by each student is also at the level that each student can cope with as they would probably not choose a topic at the level of English that they cannot understand. Furthermore, it also provides opportunities for the class to listen to non-native speaker students of various nationalities such as Chinese, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Bangladesh, Indian, Napalese etc. talk on different topics. All students could try to become familiar with the different accents. The contents of the articles are also used for more speaking skill practice when each student prepares open ended questions that require the interviewees to think about the answers which should be based on the topics presented and the interviewees' own opinions on the topics. This exercise is for real life speaking practice. In addition, students are also able to use the language that they know actively. The varieties of topics presented re-enforce the learning of the language that students already know and allow them to learn more vocabulary related to the topics.
Literature Review: Relating Syllabus Design Concepts to the Thai University Context
Allen (1984) divides approaches to syllabus design into two major categories: Type A and Type B. These two types can be summarized in terms of the distinction between an interventionist approach which gives priority to the pre-speci-fication of linguistic or other content or skill objectives on the one hand, and a non-interventionist, experiential, 'natural growth' approach on the other, an approach "which aims to immerse the learners in real-life communication without any artificial pre-direction or arrangement of items" (p. 65).
The approach found in Type A can give rise to syllabuses which may appear to have little in common because of differences in content. Whether the focus is on form, function or skills, the basis for such syllabuses remains essentially the same: the focus is on objectives to be achieved, content to be learned. In contrast, in a Type B syllabus, content is subordinated to learning process and pedagogical procedure. The concern of the syllabus designer is with the 'how' rather than the 'what' and the basis for such a syllabus will be psychological and pedagogic rather than linguistic, and the view being either learner-centred or learning-centred. Accordingly, in such a syllabus, the selection and grading of language content will be 'roughly tuned' in terms of selection difficulty, and there is little or no attempt to intervene in the language learning process through the selection, ordering, and presentation of content by the syllabus designer or teacher. Much of what is done in the Thai University system, particularly in literature-based courses, seems to be in tune with this approach. Equally, however, there is a strong linguistic emphasis in many courses although it is sometimes difficult to detect the basis for linguistic selection (Chandee, 1977).
Nunan (1988) has argued that analysis of the language used in different domains seems to indicate that, with the exception of technical terms, linguistic elements are very similar (p. 21). Thus, it might be argued that learners should be taught the "common core" of language. However, there is still controversy as to what this "common core" is. As Nunan says, even children who are native speakers sometimes have difficulty when they begin formal schooling. This difficulty may be due to the unfamiliar uses to which language is being put. The difficulty may relate not so much to syntax and vocabulary as to discourse. Even so, for the learner of English as a foreign language, vocabulary, syntax,, morphology, phonology and discourse construction are all critical: the problems relate to selection, coverage and ordering. To achieve the level of proficiency required of students in tertiary education, good coverage is essential. It is interesting, therefore, to examine that coverage. In doing so, one discovers that linguistically-centred courses tend to focus on a limited number of items, the vast bulk of items being picked up in context in less linguistically-centred courses such as those typically taught under the heading of ESP or literature-centred courses.
Widdowson (1983) has made a distinction between general purpose English (GPE) and English for specific purposes (ESP). ESP, he argues, has a training function which is aimed at the development of "restricted competence", while GPE has an educational function and is aimed at the development of "general capacity". ESP is essentially a training operation which seeks to provide learners with a restricted competence to enable them to cope with certain clearly-defined tasks. These tasks constitute the specific purposes which the ESP course is designed to meet. The course, therefore, makes direct reference to eventual aims. In this sense, ESP cannot, of itself, be appropriate for students entering tertiary education. Such students require much more than "restricted competence". GPE, on the other hand, according to Widdowson (1983), is essentially an educational operation which seeks to provide learners with a general capacity to enable them to cope with undefined eventualities in the future. Here, since there are no definite aims which can determine course content, there has to be recourse to intervening objectives formulated with reference to pedagogic theory (Widdowson, 1983, p. 6). The intense focus on ESP in Thai Universities raises, therefore, some critical issues in relation to learning goals.9."
Learning goals for tertiary students should, one must conclude, be broadly defined and inclusive. Nunan (1988) states that an important step in the development of a language programme is identifying learning goals which provide the rationale for a course or programme. Learning goals maybe derived from a number of sources, including task analysis, learner data, Ministry of Education specifications, and so on. The goals can be affective, communicative or cognitive. Learners entering tertiary education must develop confidence in using the target language; develop skills in monitoring performance, and develop the ability to establish and maintain relationships through experiences and plans as well as developing an awareness and understanding of study requirements (Nunan 1988, 25). There is some doubt as to whether the courses currently available in Thai universities are such as to meet these goals. Wilkins( 1976) makes a distinction between synthetic and
analytic syllabuses. He describes the synthetic approach as the language teaching strategy in which the different parts of language are taught separately and step by step so that acquisition is a process of gradual accumulation of parts until the whole structure of language has been built up. The synthetic approaches, he argues, involve grading according to grammatical complexity, frequency of occurrence, contrastive difficulty, situational need, and pedagogic convenience (Wilkins, 1976, p. 2).
Analytical syllabuses, on the other hand, according to Wilkins, "are organised in terms of the purposes for which people are learning language and the kinds of language performance that are necessary to meet those purposes" (Wilkins, 1975, P-13)
Contributed by Dr. Pimporn C.
To be continued in August '03