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Student-focused

The third constituent of the structure of the lived experience of the student is that teachers are student-focused. To understand the reason for calling this student-focused, a passage from Confucius' Analects is instructive.

In his teaching, the superior man guides his students but does not pull them along; he urges them to go forward and does not suppress them; he opens the way, but does not take them to the place. Guiding without pulling makes the process of learning gentle; urging without suppressing makes the process of learning easy; and opening the way without leading the students to the place makes the students think for themselves.

At first glance, this sounds student-centred to the Western ear. Closer reading, however, reveals that the teacher is 'superior,' suggesting a difference in status between teacher and students. Second, the teacher is the focus of activity, even though that activity - guiding, urging, opening the way - is directed toward the students and their learning. The notion of student-centredness in the West is laden with philosophical underpinnings - shared authority and responsibility, inquiry-based learning and teaching, and so on (Felder & Brent, 1996) - that are not part of Chinese educational culture. Thus the Chinese teachers' approach must be recast not as a student-centred approach, but a student-focused approach.

This focus on the students is characterised by a commitment to student learning and development in every aspect of the teacher's interactions with them. We have already seen that P1 is 'constantly thinking' about her students, and how to better help them acquire Chinese language. For P21, this student-focused practice is used because students 'can have their own ideas, they have their own way of finding answers, or explaining certain questions, or finding certain ways to solve problems' (110) that might be different from his. Also central to this conception of student-focus is conducting class in a way that is interactive. The traditional teacher dispenses information to students, and students record that information in their notes for reproduction later on some exam. But 'sometimes I find that if it is the teacher who just gives every point, who tells them the rules, how should, everything is done, the students may not be so deeply impressed' (P21: 114). So P21 wants 'to interact with my students' (113) and 'want[s] all my students participating in the discussion' (130). Nonetheless, he is still in control of the classroom, determining content, sequencing, and approach.

 
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