There are many different ways to allow learners more freedom in the classroom. How did you start?
This is a good question - but I have a more basic question.... what do people do to encourage noticing and learning in class? How explicit are you with new language points and structures? I'm finding that 'given information' isn't being retained - and yet many of my current students can't discover it on their own. They don't look for or notice patterns on their own - they wait to be told what a particular language point is. How can I improve students' critical thinking skills so they can start independently analyzing language and noticing what's new and/or different for them? I think this is a first step in developing autonomy....
What do others think?
One thing that I have been doing recently with groups at several levels is allowing them to choose the vocabulary that they want to study and are tested on. This has worked well and, of course, the students 'notice' the items because they feel they are important for understanding a passage. Another advantage from this is when groups share their items, some will be known to other groups who can then explain, in the LI, which helps the others understand. As one student pointed out, it allowed him to learn without going to the dictionary and then having to use the dictionary to explain the words in the meaning.
I've also been having the students suggest different ideas for the quizzes they take, which has, once again, helped them to reinforce their understanding of the items.
This is also a very good question. The problem is that learners always wait to to be told what is new. I think learning strategies are a great tool to improve critical thinking skills and to help them to find out about new language structures.
When "teaching" learning strategies we help them to analyse a text and/or language problem independently. What I think is important is to show them how we do it. We need to make our own strategies explecit and let them see how it works.
Isn't it also a cultural thing? As far a I know Japan is always said to be very traditional and conservative when it comes to teaching and learning?!?! Isn't it?
Yes, I think it's definitely a cultural thing - and it has a lot to do with the way people have learned in the past, I would say. For students who come from cultures where traditional teaching and learning takes place, the road to independent learning, discovery learning and autonomy must be much rockier.
As for making learning strategies explicit, what do people do? I suppose think-aloud protocols would be good. Again though, it's that old dilemma about giving students information versus leading them to find it out for themselves.
I've been using color-coding a lot lately to highlight lexico-grammatical patterns for visual learners. This seems to work best for lower levels of proficiency. It's getting my more fluent (yet possibly fossilized) int and upper int learners who have acquired their current levels of proficiency in natural settings to notice patterns and focus on accuracy that is really doing my head in!
We also use moodle when it comes to learning new words. They can decide which words they find important and put them online. However, they also have to talk to other learners and see which words they want to put online.
Learning strategies are difficult to teach...What I always do is ask my students what they do7did in order to find the slution or to achieve a goal.
I agree, Christian. Rather than trying to explicitly teach learning strategies, I also ask them to report back on what they are doing outside the classroom to improve their learning, and how they are finding ways to overcome difficulties in the learning process.
Do you use the Moodle glossary for the words or another way of doing that, by the way?
I also use the strategy of asking my learners to report back and ask them to think of ways to overcome their difficulties. Sometimes though, a few brave learners have suggested that it's my responsibility as a teacher to tell them and show them how to make progress and overcome difficulties. Has anyone had a similar experience?
Yes, I use the glossary!
We did quite a lot of thinking about autonomy in the concept stages of our web service, English Attack!, and we set out to track teens and how (and why) they are shifting so strongly from print and television to online media in terms of their entertainment preferences. We concluded that the tween, teenage and early adult years are very important in terms of life learning experiences, and that having a choice - being autonomous - is for them synonimous with how they choose to explore the world around them. Books, textbooks, and television are by its very nature linear; you cannot jump around a 30-minute or one-hour television programme to zero in on the segment that interests you most. Online media like YouTube and social networks like Facebook, on the other hand, deliver media experiences in bite-sized chunks (rarely over 3 to 5 minutes long) but offer a vast choice of content, thus attracting hundreds of millions of young users thanks the the perceived freedom they have in surfing the available range of choices. To really bring autonomy to ELT, we first of all need to ensure that we are giving them CHOICE. With choice comes motivation, and with motivation comes self-learning and thus autonomy. My talk on out-of-classroom learning at 14:00 on Saturday (room 9) goes into this dynamic in more detail, and covers how online and mobile technologies can finally deliver on the promise of resources that actually further the cause of autonomy in ESL/EFL learners.
Do you really think that choice is enough in order to motivate our students? I mean some learners have a choice and still don't want to work/ learn/ behave...
At the risk of being pedantic - I don't allow my students autonomy and freedom - those features are a given. I seriously believe that students should be 'allowed' to make what they will of the input given first.
Dear Heather! Who decides on the input? But yes, it's true, they should be given!
Yes, Christian, like most folk I am governed by a syllabus. I give my students related activities to do and worksheets to accompany the syllabus and so on - BUT, if they decide to approach it differently or to ignore the tasks I offer, I discuss alternative approaches, look at their ideas and support them.
Like most people, I am accountable - and perhaps more so as when students fail, their first line of attack is to blame the teacher so I have to be able to prove that I set out to achieve something which followed the party line.
I really find this an awful clash of philosophy and conscience - and would love to really act out the anarchist approach to language learning (teaching)!