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Fostering Autonomy: Harnessing the Outside World from within the Classroom (Elizabeth Pinard)

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Session review, Monday 13th April

Lizzie Pinard teaches at International House, Palermo, is keen on professional development and materials design and shares her reflections on English language teaching with teachers around the world through her blog (http://reflectiveteachingreflectivelearning.com).

Today Lizzie addresses some key issues about learner autonomy, namely how to define it, what it involves and the challenges we face. As a solution, she gives us a series of tips on how to promote learner autonomy amongst students.

According to current research, learner autonomy can be approached from different angles:
    •    Resource-based approach means that we try to help students to use learning resources independently;
    •    Curriculum-based approach involves control over curriculum decisions;
    •    Classroom-based approach entails student involvement in classroom decisions;
    •    Teacher-based approach focuses on teacher roles and teacher education;
    •    Learner-based approach means focusing on the development of autonomous learning skills;
    •    Technology-based approach helps students use technology tools independently.

However, as Lizzie points out, the reality might look quite different. As teachers we face multiple constraints:
    •    Obligation to follow a course book;
    •    Being limited in time to cover a certain amount of teaching material;
    •    Some learners know more about certain things than others;
    •    Student motivation levels might differ.
Considering these factors, we all agree that in a lesson there is never enough time to cover everything. Therefore we have to know how to use that time in the most beneficial way for our students.

Lizzie gives us the following tips:

Tip 1
As a starting point, find out what your students already do in English outside the classroom. Do they read in English? What do they read, watch and listen to in English? Do they use technology? What do they use it for?

Tip 2
Plant ideas! Don’t expect learners to be naturally autonomous. Instead give them a choice of concrete ideas of what they can do in English. While the teacher’s role is to show students a range of possible activities that will have a positive impact on their learning, students need to find out what works for them. What is important is that students have enough choice to find something which appeals to them. These suggestions can be presented in a table format with columns for ‘What’ (you do), ‘When’ (you do it) and ‘Comments’.

Tip 3
Give students enough time to discuss these activities with other students, in order to discover for themselves how they can benefit from them. Some students might be resistant at the beginning, but seeing other students benefiting from a particular activity will encourage them. It is very important to allow time for sharing both the successes and the difficulties in order to establish peer support.

Tip 4
For these discussions to be beneficial, students need to be engaged in metacognition, involving thinking skills and understanding the rationale behind an activity in respect to their own language development. They need to see the concrete benefit of a particular activity as well as the connection between what they do in the classroom and what they can do outside the classroom.
You can read more on metacognition and related resources here: http://reflectiveteachingreflectivelearning.com/2014/05/21/my-top-ten-le...

Tip 5
Seeing the concrete benefit, will enable students to set their own goals, which should be concrete, achievable within the short-term and well-adapted to their level. Also remember to talk about whether goals have been reached or not. The teacher’s role is to help students identify their goals and adjust them if necessary.

Tip 6
Goals need to be revisited on a regular basis during the course, otherwise students tend to forget about them. Lizzie asks her students to monitor their progress by writing about their objectives regularly in a log.

Tip 7
Promote sharing among students through edmodo, blogs, or other sharing platforms.

Tip 8
Last but not least, don’t forget about the importance of feedback. One of her students gave the following feedback: “It was very helpful because it helped us improve our method how to learn English”

Lizzie’s techniques help students develop the ability to manage their learning and take it outside the classroom. You can read more about Lizzie’s learner autonomy related projects on her blog:
http://reflectiveteachingreflectivelearning.com/learner-autonomy

 
Link to her blog: Reflections of an English Language Teacher http://reflectiveteachingreflectivelearning.com

To get in touch with Lizzie, email her at lizzie.pinard@gmail.com or Tweet her @LizziePinard