When I first came across this insightful quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 -1882) a few years ago, I found the quote to be an eye-opener - revealing as well as inspiring. Apparently, Mr Emerson was already advocating a student-centred learning approach when he emphasized on `respecting the pupil’ as the secret of education, some 150 years ago. Gibbs (1992) described student-centred learning as ` an approach that gives students greater autonomy and control over choice of subject matter, learning methods and pace of study.’ This definition describes the basic level of respect that a teacher should give to the learners if he is to adopt the student centred learning in his teaching.
Growing up in a pure teacher-centred teaching and learning environment all my life, it had been quite a struggle for me to adopt the student-centred approach when it was first introduced to me some five years ago. I admit I initially had my doubts on the effectiveness of such an education that is tailored and designed to meet the learner’s needs and prior learning experience. How could the learners be allowed to decide on what they should be taught, when they themselves are still green, immature and inexperienced? How on earth would they know what they should learn and focus on as part of their journey to be knowledgeable and scholarly?
Those questions pushed me further to seek the answers. From my readings, discussions and interactions with other senior educators, I become more aware of how natural learning actually happens. Individuals learn better when the motivation is intrinsically-driven, determined by the learners’ needs and values given to the subject matter (Armstrong 2012). Learning is more meaningful if the learner takes full responsibility of the learning process and contents, rather than being repeatedly directed to read this, do that and analyse those elements that the teacher regards as important for the learners! Student centred learning is strongly based on the constructivist theory, which assumes that human beings are active learners and must construct knowledge for themselves (Geary 1995).
It is empowering to redefine my roles as a teacher in a student centred learning. I no longer have to shoulder full responsibility of my students’ learning process. I changed the approach in my clinical teaching to accommodate and firstly show my respect to the students. I asked for everyone’s name before teaching sessions with genuine intention to recall the names, at least during that particular class. I would invite the students to share their learning objectives for the designated teaching session. It was difficult in the beginning, but later on I became more motivated to help the students who were also getting more attentive and involved in their own learning progress. I finally learn to relinquish my so-called `power’ as a teacher and hand it over to the students so that they could take charge of their own learning. However, I do not `abandon’ my students and let them go astray wandering lost. I choose to become a `guide by the side’, rather than a `sage on the stage’.
Reading what my final year medical student, Imran Faisal wrote as a feedback for my last bedside teaching session with his group in the middle of last March, I could not help feeling somewhat relieved and fulfilled. Imran wrote :
The approach used was student centred, making myself and friends able to decide for ourselves what we want to learn at that point of time and where we are going in the session. The interaction was two-sided, making me feel acknowledged and appreciated both as a student and a future colleague in medicine. The clinical teacher is able to highlight not only the medical aspect of the patient's disease but relationship and bedside manners as well. The teacher was also able to make us synthesize and develop the learning issues and what should be improved on was pointed out."
I promise that I will continue my struggle in becoming a more effective clinical teacher for my learners and provide them the experience that Imran had. May God provide me strength to strive for the best!