Posts tagged student-centered

Energy, Renewal, Refreshment = Vacation

My Kazakh students are why I LOVE teaching here in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  A real teacher worth their salt would understand that first sentence. However, there are some of my students who are very, very lazy and yet expect to get a good grade.  I’m flabbergasted.  I gave a questionnaire today to my two listening classes, some of whom I am very proud of.  Others who should not be in this particular academic class at all!!!  The problem is, they don’t know they are of such low skill level. 

Another problem is that these immature, undisciplined students make fun of the diligent, good students who are in the same class.  Some of these yahoos have missed so many classes, for no good reason, or for very lame excuses.  They didn’t think to come to talk to me during office hours or ask their classmates what they missed.  NOW, they come snivelling into my office hoping for a break, a chance to do their final project by powerpoint.  Sorry, if they have already proven to me by their tardiness, absenteeism and deliquency, they will not have the privilege to present for my foreigner friends whom I’ve invited to come and listen and help evaluate their projects. 

I guess these poor students wrongly thought that this student-centered, American teacher was too easy going and lax to pay attention to attendance.  Wrong, I have to be both in this setting!  I have to be who I am as a student-centered teacher in a very rugged, teacher-oriented environment.  I need a vacation!!!

My academic writing classes are performing much better. I was very, very proud of their presentations yesterday and wished there had been foreigners to witness what they had learned from their final papers. 

I took these photos about a month ago, it is a significant monument close to Miras School off of El-Farabi.  I wish I knew more about it, I’ve been told different stories but I’d like to have the definitive answer to it.  For now, I need a vacation where I can regroup, energize, renew and refresh myself.  Going into the mountains seems as good as any plan so far.

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Teaching Our Hearts Out! (Part III)

Which approach (student-centered or teacher-centered) works best with digital natives and why?

D. – Digital natives need up-to-date approaches.  Modern technologies make the learning process easier and more effective, so teachers should have obligatory to use them.

R. – Majority of foreign teachers work best with digital natives.  Learner-Centered paradigm about professor role is much preferred by students because the professor is not only giver of primary information but also coaching and facilitating.  It makes education process much more interesting and involves the student in it.

A. – Today the impact of new technology is great.  People cannot live without using it in their lives.  Even education uses information technology.  Mobile phones, internet, e-mail and so on.  Everything in our lives I think it makes our living easy in this world.

A.S. I think I prefer Learning-centered paradigm because students are actively involved in the lesson.  They will improve their skill by their work they will not have ready materials they will do some research.  Also, learning by portfolios and papers can exactly show your performance, your progress.

Y. – As we already know, nowadays, it is impossible to live without any digital device (such as mobile phone/computer) so I think it is important to interact with digital natives via Internet.

X.– Our generation has many differences from the previous one.  Firstly, we prefer new system of education, we prefer to do everything with the help of electronic devices.

A. – Student centered is working better for us as digital natives, we work with computers and we learn from our mistakes.

N. – With digital natives, American approach works best, because they can easily find information using the computer.

D. – I suggest to Kazakh teachers to keep up step by step with time. Because NOW our world, technology, medicine, everything is not standing in one place, it’s changing everyday and month.  To teachers and students I also suggest to refresh their knowledge.

J.– students get numerous information from the mass-media these days.  So, rather than emphasizing one right answer, it is important to respect and listen to everyone’s different thoughts.

I. – Digital Natives are more independent and in good touch with technology.

A. – With student centered approach there appears interaction between students and professor.  Their students interest rises consequently professors get what he wanted, the interested to his subject.

If changes should be made at our university with teaching methodology, what should they be? If not, what is good about our university?

D. B.- Provide our Kazakh teachers access to modern trends in teaching, organize professional discussions, maybe some one chares his experience or ideas.

D. – I’m taking this writing class a second time and I love my second practice because the teacher is in touch with the students.  My first teacher even did not work with students on how to do a bibliography and reduced our scores for not right work.  I think more experienced teachers have to give some kind of “lecture” to these other teachers as a refresher course.  Maybe the first teacher was not new but she needs some work with teaching methodology.

K. – The professors create an atmosphere in which the student feels himself very organized, focused in learning, in good discipline and developing his individual skills.  It is a good and friendly atmosphere at our university where professors and students are learning together!

V. – As far as I am concerned, learner-centered paradigm is better.  But it is definitely not for lazy students.  But the teacher-centered paradigm is too old to work with digital natives.  I like the reminders via e-mail about assignments, it helps a lot and is the personal approach.  It should definitely be improved at our university.

Y. – In my opinion, we should write more papers like essays, short journals, to upgrade our writing skills first.  In my view, it is a good way to divide writing in three courses (Academic Writing I, II and III).

A. – Foreign teachers are more creative, they are trying to make classes interesting.  But, our Kazakh teachers try to give us all their experience.

X. – maybe change the way we write self-studies in order to kill plagiarism.  Do self-studies in class instead.  Another problem, is our textbook, it isn’t interesting, its boring.

A. – Our Kazakh students may become rude if lessons become too learner centered. They will not follow and listen to the teacher because she gave freedom.



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Teaching Our Hearts Out! (Part II)

Yesterday I wrote out what some of my writing students answered to the question: 

What have you observed as the major difference between your Kazakh teachers versus American or other foreign teachers?

A. – In Kazakh or teacher-centered class room, all work refers to the teacher and personally I can’t behave myself as I want.  It’s like the atmosphere is under the pressure.

N. – Foreign teacher relies more on students’ self study while Kazakh teachers try to explain things in detail.

S. – To be honest, I like to be taught by foreign teachers because firstly, their pronunciation of words is much better.  But the main thing is many Kazakh teachers tend to not value teaching.  It seems to me that many of our teachers try to use a foreign system of teaching and think that students should do everything on their own.  But I think they should show something like an example and after that value what we have learned.  The best way to incite students work to attract their attention is to show some interesting things which will relate to their interest.

A. – Kazakh teachers (not all of them) are concentrated on the structure of the teaching, the way they are following the syllabus, not on whether the students got the information or not.

D. – American teachers do not follow to particular system of teaching process.  They tend to be creative and connect with students during the lecture.  Kazakh teachers think as just instructor, they explain once and want great results.  Soviet system of teaching is ineffective and old.

B. – I think the foreign teachers will have very big success if they live in KZ several years, understand the local people and then teach.

L. – Kazakh teachers always work by outline or by their plan.  Most of the time of our lessons we do exercises, and only sometimes discuss or do something interesting and useful too.  Foreign teachers don’t work by outline. They always try to give us tasks, which we should do ourselves, lessons are really interesting. They like to do a lot of games and movies.

D. – To be honest, sometimes I don’t like some of our Kazakh teachers who studied in KZ and I graduated in Kazakh Institute, because they don’t develop personal peculiarity and sometimes they do not receive information which students say or report.  They react like it is unbelievable or is just imagined by ourselves.

J. – Usually Kazakh teachers teach the information for the whole lesson.  So, it is hard to express my opinion during the lesson.  American teachers give lots of opportunities for students to speak out their thoughts and gives lots of practical practice and elicits ideas from students.

I. – They use totally opposite ways to teach their students, American teachers are trying to encourage us, they are like coaches.  They give direction and then the students gather information and solve specific problems.  On the other hand, our Kazakh teachers are more teacher-oriented.  They are like a source of knowledge and information which they give the students but in this way the students passively receive it.  American teachers are involving students in brainstorming and helping them to integrate skills of inquiry and problem solving and critical thinking.

A. – Kazakh teachers rarely use “learner centered” paradigm because for them it is easier to give a ready information to their students. Thus students are not so active and they are not so involved into studying process.  However, foreign teachers try to overload students.  I think it is good, positively.  Because when student begins to search some information, he become involved in it, he is gathering information that can be useful for him in the nearest future.  I like this phrase: “When quantity transforming into quality.”

I’m not sure what that last phrase is about, I’ll have to ask my student to explain.  What I noticed in some of these responses is that under the teacher-centered, Soviet kind of teaching methodology there was fear and intimidation used against the students.  How foreign to us as Americans where each student is considered an individual with his own gifts or talents to be encouraged, not to be put down. 

I DO remember Mr. Nomland, my algebra teacher, in my  high school who struck fear in the hearts of everyone because he had such a temper and was very strict.  I remember him berating one hapless student for saying “Oh” in his number answer rather than saying “Zero.”  Wow, I would quake in my seat for fear of being called on to write something on the board and I was a good student!  So, I have an idea of what these Kazakh students refer to when they feel under pressure or not free and relaxed in an old style of Soviet pedagogy.


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Teaching our Hearts Out!

You’ve heard the expression, “He is so spiritually minded that he is no earthly good.”  I have a new spin on that regarding teaching “She is so theoretically minded that she is no pedagogically good.”  Last week I asked my writing students three questions related to student-centered vs. teacher-centered and also which teaching methodology fits them best as “digital natives.”  Many of my teaching colleagues who were born and bred in Kazakhstan under the old Soviet system had a lot of theory given to them but were not able to practice anything creatively outside of the box.  

These same teachers are having a difficult time keeping up with the 21st century in our “westernized” university in Almaty. I know that many of my colleagues are trying hard, but there are those who are not. They just gather their paycheck after punching the clock and go home to their families.  I read this in Streams in the Desert today and thought it applies to foreign teachers who are called to this diverse and challenging land of Kazakhstan.

 There is a legend of an artist who had found the secret of a wonderful red which no other artist could imitate.  The secret of his color died with him.  But after his death, an old wound was discovered over his heart.  This revealed the source of the matchless hue in his pictures.  The legend teaches that no great achievement can be made, no lofty attainment reached, nothing of much value to the world done, save at the cost of heart’s blood.

What have you observed as the major difference between your Kazakh teachers versus American or other foreign teachers?

D. – Enthusiasm.  For example, in college and h.s., teachers were not very enthusiastic.  They were not very much interested in teaching in a good quality level.  The situation is much better at our university.  Everybody wants to give us knowledge, but sometimes some teachers feel lack of skills to do it in an interesting, effective way.  Over this background, foreign teachers usually look more preferable.  It looks like they are working not for money, but for idea.  Another thing is that they probably have better education and richer experience.

R. – I think Kazakh teachers have more connections with students outside of class.  Also, during office hours, they can speak about topics which are not related to the subject that they are teaching.

K. – Of course I like foreign teachers! Why? Maybe because I am interested in the way they are teaching, in their language and in their specific behavior.  When you go to their lessons, you start to compare they way of their learning and our Kazakh teachers learning.  Of course, it is more interesting, you have a lot of useful, new information about other countries.  And what about our Kazakh teachers?  They always use info about our country, our culture, all about Kazakhstan!  We always speak about patriotism! I don’t like this.

Also, foreign teachers are more extensive, modern, focus on monitor learning, different tests, use a lot of supplementary material like short videos, movies, sounds, cases and so on.  And all this interests students in the learning.

A. – I like my classes with American teacher, because the language is more clear and understandable, also I am surprised by positive energy of this teacher, because she help me to motivate myself, she can do so many things during the class, as noone can do…Kazakh teacher is also good, but he is boring and classes is not interesting.  So, I think, that American teacher gives us more possibilities to know more and to develop ourselves like individuals.

S. – Foreign teachers are more creative, in particular Americans try to conduct numerous researches, tests including psychological tests.  Another feature they try to connect the practice to the theory.  Also, foreign teachers try to make students be interested in learning process using different creative methods.

 M. – Kazakh teachers try more to obey the rules, while foreign teachers (American) often pay more attention to learning more about the subject by students, making studying more free, actively involving students in discussions.

A.S. – I think the main difference is that our Kazakh teachers are still used to old system of education.   It is because of post Soviet Union system.  Foreign teachers use another way of teaching to involve all students in lessons.  Using modern technology during the lessons and giving a chance to choose topics by own choice – it is beneficial, because students will really be interested in the subject.  Kazakh teachers do not prepare new presentation of lessons for every class but they have ready presentations and program and they just repeat.  Moreover, taking courses from foreign teachers can improve your English.

X. – Foreign teachers relate to students as grown up people, and our Kazakh teachers want to be in the center of classes.  Foreign methods of teaching are better than ours because while in a foreigners class, I feel free and I can tell everything that I think.

Y. – I think foreign teachers are more supportive and helpful to students.  I felt that they always try to help us but here the local (Russian/Kazakh) teachers seem more strict than foreign teachers.

Z. – American teachers are more willing to help others (students) while Kazakh teachers in some cases forgot about helping others.  But at our university all the teachers are qualified and I don’t encounter differences between Kazakh and American teachers.





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On Being Student-Centered (part II)

The following is what I worked on over our mid-semester break.  This is what I had to figure out for 40 students in my listening and notetaking class.  I am both student centered for my own purposes but have to be teacher-centered for the purposes of the team and getting along with my colleagues.

The breakdown of percentages constitutes 60% of the students’ grade.  They have  40% left to improve their grade for their final grade.

TOEFL practice Quizzes 10% Self Study10/20 %






TOEFL Midterm



The following is what I had to fill out for another 40 different students in the reading and writing class:


In class Writing 10% Self Study10/20 %



Home Reading




I had given them three vocabulary quizzes of about 20 points each which needed to be squeezed into the 5% box and they had to do two self-study assignments (fancy name for homework) along with a working bibliography.  The midterm was a 50 minute discursive essay where they had to read three articles ahead of time to be prepared to write in the Computer Lab.  All very elaborate, right?


Finally, the following was what I computed for my masters students in the English Speaking and Listening II class.  I had 22 to compute in order to arrive at a midterm grade which is due tomorrow.

Participation 10% Self-study 10%

Quizzes 10%

Midterm 20%

I would have done this midterm grading anyway, because it is what I’m used to doing for my American students. I think it is only fair to give them a progress report instead of having them ending up the semester surprised.  However, I don’t know that I have ever done so much math to arrive at the results for just the midterm grades.  I have about 10 students who are failing out of the 100 I have.  I have more that should probably get A+ but I don’t believe in that grade, yet you can get 90-100% and that constitutes an A+


Anyway, all that to say that I’ve been busy but I think my students all appreciate the fact that I have looked at each piece of paper they have written in class or handed in as hard copy or sent to me electronically. 

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Kazakhstan Class Size and Academic Achievement

I finally signed my teaching contract for fall semester, even though I have been teaching over 100 students with five different classes and three preps for almost three weeks.  Unfortunately, there is NO wiggle room to negotiate.  Before I showed up on Almaty soil, while back in the U.S., I could see that registration showed my teaching FIVE classes!!! However, I didn’t know the enrollment numbers for my classes would exceed the max of 20 in each classroom.  In some classes I have on my roster 22 or 23 students.

The following answers to a quiz I gave to my writing students sums up what the reality is in Kazakhstan.  The fact that we are a “westernized university” seems to have little bearing on the fact that though I’m “student-centered” in my teaching methods, I am being paid as if I am “teacher-centered” in my approach.  Obviously, I will not be able to give as much time and attention to my students this semester because I have so many of them. 

“Teacher-centered” teachers or administrators don’t seem to understand the quandry I’m in because there is the financial crisis to attend to!!!  However, the students’ tuition continues to increase and they are not getting the quality of teachers that they should if we really ARE a western-styled university,  where “Education to Change Society” might come into fruition. 

Read on to see what my first year students had to write after reading the assignment on “Academic Achievement.”

 Sasha – Academic Achievement plays a great role in a society.  There are different ways to improve this such as reduction of class size.  We have a lot of problems with this and we need to reform our system of education.  Among the factors that affect academic achievement in our country are the low salaries for teachers, not sufficient books, corruption, etc.  And finally it is national test that was introduced several years ago.  All students must write this test to graduate from the school.  According to some experts such tests are not efficient.

Daniyar – In KZ, I had about 30 students in class but nevertheless, it didn’t make my achievements smaller (I guess).  More pupils – more competition.  I didn’t find how this article [about class size] connected to Kazakhstan, we didn’t consider this problem.

Aina – I read about how class sizes influence on students’ achievement.  If the class is small, students discipline will be good, they can take more knowledge and for the teacher it will be easy.

Karlygash – in my opinion, it is better to have small classes.  This text shows us different points about this topic.  In our Republic, classes are very big, nearly 30 people.  It is not good for children to get good knowledge.  So, I absolutely agree with this statement, that good knowledge is only in small classes.

Azamat – This text about academic achievement, the main idea is that it is better to have small class in order to have great academic achievement.  Because, teacher has more time and more chance to work with students.  Moreover, more time spent with each student in order to help him.  However, there are some problems with this.  It means that more classes, more teachers and more money needs.  I think in our country we have so many classes in schools which are full of students.  As a result, there is no individual work with students.

Jeon – Improving education is an important matter to every nation.  However, sometimes it is sad that education is evaluated by efficiency.  Making a person as a good member of society is crucial and takes hard work.  To make them like that we need many directors to care for them individually.  It is a reasonable opinion.  However, in Korea, there are many students in one class.  Even though the students cannot be cared for much, it is beneficial to them because they can meet a variety of friends who have different backgrounds.


Nariman – I have learnt that increase in quality of education takes a lot of resources, but it will give huge dividends in the future.  Healthy and well educated people contribute much more in a country they live in than that of less educated people.

Yerkezhan – In our country, sizes of classes also are big and it absolutely has bad influence on education.  Maybe the government should pay attention to this problem.

Xeniya – In our country, in villages, children study in very large classes.  I think that there are too small amount of teachers.  Children can’t gain good education.  Only in private school, children may study in smaller classes (10-15 pupils).  Because they have money.  I trust that these problems will be solved in the future, and all our pupils will gain perfect education.

Askhat – In this text I found a lot of information about foreign countries, how they teach their students.  Some methods, which our country needs, for example, small-size classes.  It is better than sitting in the big classes with 20-30 pupils.  There was some research which found in small classes easy to gain knowledge and there will be more attention from teacher to every pupils.

Saniya – I have learned that reducing class size having problems with money, class equipment and with professors.  Even if this program has problems, it’s really helpful for students.  I think we need this program in Kazakhstan. I know that in some private schools, there are classes with 5-10 people only.  But in the government schools, classes are full with sometimes forty children in one class.  It is a difficult situation for a teacher.

Jisun – I agree with the opinion that making the class smaller is more effective.  It could include problems such as cost and employing more teachers but it could help the students to study harder.  In fact, at the elementary, middle and high school in Korea, there are almost 40 students in one class, so it is hard for the teacher to make all of the students concentrate in the lecture and also the students don’t have many chances to participate.  If the class is smaller, I think the students will achieve more than studying in a large class.

Aigul – I have learned that class size is important thing because the smaller class (not class as in a room but less students or pupils) the more they understand the subject they learn.  But this causes some other problems, such as lack of teachers or lack of classrooms.  But some studies show that class size doesn’t play an important role.  In Kazakhstan, class sizes are normally 25 pupils for each class, I think its okay.  I have been studying 11 years at school in classes with 25 and even 30 people…

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Versus vs. Verses: Teacher Centered vs. Student Centered

Yesterday’s meeting revealed an “aha” moment for me in our institution of higher learning in Kazakhstan.  Long have I dealt with the cross-cultural aspects of teaching in an environment which is strongly teacher-centered vs. learner-centered.  No way to get around shifting paradigms without having head transplants for each and every teacher whose strong and foreboding presence looms large in their classrooms.  Supposedly the Kazakhstani teacher is to KNOW all and the students are to follow like docile, stupid sheep.  Refer to my blog about “Iron Rice Bowl” policy vs. “Naglyi” students.  The tide is turning where the teacher does NOT know all and some of the students are learning despite the teacher’s pretense of erudition.


American teachers are handy to have around at our supposedly “western” university, we can be blamed for things once we leave.  I’m not leaving any time soon but at our big meeting of the English teaching faculty yesterday I asked what I thought was a legitimate question of our director. He gave a respectful and measured answer. I wanted to know, in preparation for spring semester, how soon we would need to get a syllabus change for some critical issues that were changed from last spring semester.  My example was easily recognized by the 80 or so teachers who heard my question because half of them will be teaching this same reading and writing course next spring semester of 2009.  Two changes that I knew of that impacted our teaching this semester compared to last was requiring four essays down to only two essays (discursive and problem/solution) and three academic articles for the final portfolio augmented to FIVE journal articles!!!


Finally, I asked in front of the big group, what I thought was another legitimate question, why have a 10% reading “exam” that is spaced out 1 ½ weeks AFTER classes are finished when it could be a “test” administered during class time. Exam vs. test. If our students are successfully reading many articles they find of interest instead of the worn out topics set down by their teachers, then they will be reading and not knowing how much they have been reading.  I know, I know, we would have to come up with at least four different test versions because of the problem of leakage of tests and cheating from class to class.  Botheration, cheating and plagiarism is the bane of our existence and it hits us particularly hard at the first year level because we are supposedly the net to catch those cheaters from plagiarizing their way through the rest of their university years.


Last spring semester it was clearly stated in the Academic Reading and Writing syllabus that the students were to know how to write discursive, compare/contrast, cause/effect essays finally culminating with the problem/solution essay as the final portfolio project.  This portfolio is 30% of the final grade for this course and as I wrote in an earlier blog “Mr. Controlling Idea Meet Ms. In-text Citation” many of our students are not capable of writing an academic paper yet.  Some don’t even have the basic, rudimentary skills of writing a cohesive sentence in English let alone using proper APA citations and knowing all the intricate formatting rules.  We are expecting them to write a type of research paper.  Preposterous, you may say.  Wait, I just got started!


I had earlier recommended to the team leader that more of an emphasis should be put on students learning how to LOOK up information by going to the electronic research databases rather than being driven by a fixed outline. Outline-driven vs. Source-driven. This penchant for wanting to have every sentence in its place so it is easier to grade is, I believe, counter productive.  The only sentence I want to see in a particular place in any given essay is the thesis statement.  Typically it is the last sentence in the introductory paragraph, even that seems rigid to me. 


However, the students were handed an example of how to write a problem and solution essay and they are supposed to show the problem in the first paragraph and then have two solutions in subsequent paragraphs.  Each solution is to show that they have advantages and disadvantages, however, the second solution is to have MORE advantages than disadvantages.  I looked up in my friend, Joy Reid’s book on the Process of Composition, and there are many different outlines that can satisfy a problem and solution essay.  It does NOT have to be the cookie cutter outline that has been accepted as the norm by all our teachers in the last several years.  The teachers themselves would NOT want to write an essay which they require their students to write. 


Criminy, on top of that these poor students are required to have FIVE sources from the electronic database rather than the prescribed three articles from last semester.  The only reason I had recommended a change to five sources listed in the References page was to make the final project more Source-driven rather than Outline-driven.  I refused to have my students use this restrictive outline as it is like tethering a overly tight bridle on a high spirited horse with accompanying whips and blinders on it and expect it to move forward.  It won’t, the horse will come to a standstill.  The students with those kinds of restrictions will HATE writing. I know I would hate to have such a prescriptive outline that dictates in 1,000 words what I am supposed to write.  I also am well aware that many of the teachers are required to teach writing and they HATE it as well.  I’m saddened by this fact since I love to teach writing because I can see into my students’ hearts with what they write.  Some of mine have written quite eloquently if you get past the occasional grammar errors or strange word choices.  See an example of my students reviews


Stay tuned for Part II of Versus vs. Verses







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