Promoting Learner Autonomy
We want our students to be proactive, take risks and take responsibility for their own learning because we know that’s how they will go on to be successful in their future studies. ..but they aren’t. Why not?
There are many reasons, but most of them seem to fall within these categories:
1) cultural and educational background
2) unrealistic goals
3) lack of awareness of critical thinking skills and autonomous learning strategies
Want to see how autonomous your learners are?
Here’s a little checklist adapted from EAP Essentials.
Do your students…:
- feel uncomfortable if they do not know some words in a text?
- show reluctance to make guesses?
- rarely seek out material or activity beyond the classroom?
- regard errors as failures?
- rarely self-correct?
- move from task to task without analyzing the task or their approach to it?
- get upset / show reluctance at trying new approaches to learning?
If you answered yes to these, chances are your learners are passive, risk-averse and/or unreflective – in other words, possessing low independence competencies.
But just what does it take to gain a high level of autonomy in both study skills and continued language acquisition?
There are lots of different theories and ideas on this, but the main thinking is that students need to be encouraged to become active, comfortable with risk and reflective.
As such, our role as the teacher needs to incorporate not only this recognition, but also active facilitation and effort to develop these attributes.
To check your own ‘autonomy pulse’, here’s a quick check list of practical classroom activity. See how many you incorporate into your daily teaching. You might be surprised by just how often you do encourage independence.
Ask yourself to what extent do you…
- engage in reflective dialogues when students come to you with a problem?
- share your privileged knowledge (e.g. assessment criteria) with your students?
- use their expertise in the classroom?
- actively encourage students to better understand their learning styles and strategies?
- set tasks that require learners to work independently?
- set tasks that demand your learners take risks?
However, like change, autonomy cannot come before awareness and as teachers, we must be aware that we can’t ‘demand’ autonomy, we can only encourage and facilitate it.
Read Susan Austin’s excellent article on Encouraging Learner Autonomy
EAP Essentials, by Alexander et al. published by Garnet Education.
Posted by Tania