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Friday, 27 February 2015

The Power of Understanding and imaginately entering in to another person's feelings... Let them be autonomous!


"The child seeks for Independence by means of work, an Independence of Body and Mind."  - (Maria Montessori)

Burcu Ozgur an experienced EFL teacher from Turkey is giving her saying about the importance of promoting "Learner Autonomy", she agrees that the greatest gift we can give our learners are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.



Autonomy is about how people control their own lives, so when teaching/learning process is taken for granted, teachers create an environment that the students feel themselves autonomous. So autonomy is analyzed both from the teachers’ and students’ perspective. 
It analyzes whether the students are independent or not throughout the learning process.  The scope of the research is to analyze the teachers’ perspectives towards learner autonomy during the class activities. For that purpose the literature part of that research paper is based on teachers’ perspective towards their learners’ autonomy. The empirical research is conducted on one of main private university in Istanbul. Convenient quota sampling has been used. 37 English Language Teachers covering a wide-range of departments participated in the research. The questionnaire is in Likert Scale form from strongly agree to strongly disagree and a space is provided on the questionnaire in order to analyze participants’ opinions. Additionally correlation analyses and mean results are found, the results of the questionnaires are correlated with the findings of the literature review.  The participants are given a questionnaire that analyzes how teachers assess their learners in terms of they are autonomous or not.  The findings reveal that teachers have a significant effect on autonomous learning is general. 
    
Learner autonomy is one of the most important issues in language learning. To start with, after analyzing the general concept of “autonomy” it should be put the forward the autonomous learner in classroom. An autonomous learner in class, whom engaged all the social activities in class and who can internalize the new information and make connections to what she/he knows. According to Dam et.al (1990:102), it is put forward that learner autonomy one can take responsibility of his/her own learning. Furthermore Gardner and Miller (1996: vii) add that autonomous language learners are people, who starts the planning and maintains responsibility for their own learning process. But on the other hand Nunan (1997:193) states that autonomous learners are the ideal rather than realistic one. He puts forward that there are degrees of autonomy and learners can’t succeed in all degrees of autonomy, so the learners who can reach the highest degree relies on factors such as personal traits,  the philosophy of school and the cultural context. But Nunan suggests that the levels of learner autonomy might differ even within single language skills such as a learner has high degree autonomy on listening but whereas in writing skill he/she feels dependent himself/herself to instructor.
   So as a result, it is suggested that training independence learning gain importance in other words the biggest responsibility is on the trainers’ shoulders, it is stated trainers should be very careful they make learners analysis, so that first of all teachers  train their learners in order to become an independent learner.




 Training for Independence in Learning 

To start with, after analyzing the general characteristics of autonomous learners, the point that should be taken for granted is, how students become decision makers own their own teaching process. 
  So in other words teachers have big responsibility, they are rarely aware of their students’ learning styles, but in fact learning styles are the most important determiner that shapes learners achievement while learning a language.Because of that before teaching a language, the learners needs are analyzed and accordingly choose the effective strategy in order to reach the learners to points that they want to. Moreover, maintaining a pattern-based approach provides the learners with taking the responsibility for his/her own learning with the aim of becoming autonomous.
Sinclair and Ellis (1985) propose a model of learner training for learner autonomy which encompasses 8 areas for learner training:

         1. Self-awareness - helps the learners to be aware of their selves, attitudes
and feelings towards language learning and using the language.
2. Language awareness - helps the learners to have insight into theirlearning problems, and research is shared from teacher training courses.
3. Language needs and goals - trains the learners to set learning goals.
4. Preparation and organization - helps the learners to discover the value of organizing their learning and how to do it.
5. Risk-taking - helps the learners to take a more adventurous approach in such things as guessing, predicting, and so on.
6. Personal strategies - encourages the learners to experiment and find  those which are appropriate for them.
7. Self-assessment - encourages the learners to check up on how well they are doing and record the results of their self-assessments so that   they can recognize their progress, and thus be motivated to continue.
8. Preparation for autonomy - helps learners to schedule their own learning, maximizing contact with the target language.
  
On the other hand the most important point that should be taken into consideration; before applying learner training activities, it is significant to determine the certain fields where the learners need to become independent, and then it is the teacher’s job to create materials and activities which enhance the strategies in demand. 
Activities for learner training can be categorized into 5 classifications:

1)    The activities that foster awareness of self and language.
2)    The activities that provide good self-monitoring practices.
3)    The activities that guide the learners in the field of particular task learning.
4)    Those that sustain ‘global practice oppurtunities’.
5)    Those that enable the learners to manage with the communication breakdown.

On the other hand there are 3 pedagogical principles in order to facilitate autonomy. According to these 3 principles, the teachers should use the target language and ask students to use merely the target language during the classes. Moreover, guiding the students to plan their own learning, goals and learning activities and putting the learners’ choices into discussion, analysis and evaluation through the use of the target language, are the responsibilities that a teacher should conceive as important, in addition to this teachers should also enable them to work collaboratively in small groups. It would be beneficial if the teacher asks their learners to write what the learners have done in the lesson so far by writing reflections and keep a record of their works (i.e. plans of lessons, projects, lists of useful vocabulary, and learner generated texts).

Research Question
·         What are the teachers’ perspectives towards learner autonomy during the class activities?
Conclusion
 According to the findings, it is stated that teachers play a crucial factor that affect learners’ autonomy, for instance experienced teachers are aware of what to do throughout the teaching/learning process, which is proposed in the review part of the research as well, Boud(1980:30) states that the key factor is the teacher, because if the teacher analyzes their learners’ needs and accordingly applies the activities then the communication between learner and the teacher is enhanced and the most important of all is, learners don’t feel themselves dependent to the teachers. For that purpose teachers should be as reflective as possible so teachers have to promote their professional profile, the best way to do is, attending in-service training programmes, because they have opportunity to analyze their students needs and design a syllabi that to be addressed to all types of multiple intelligences. So that ITI model can be applied in order to address all types of learners.  To sum up, learners’ motivation is a crucial issue not only for students but also for the teachers as well. Because generally becomes a problematic issue throughout the teaching/learning process. As a result, autonomy should be analyzed both from teachers and learners perspective. Because the findings of the research also indicate that teachers’ perspective become one step further. But at the end of the research the hypothesis is proven that, teachers’ attitudes towards learner autonomy play a crucial role.  

" I believe in hard work and independence, and that everyone deserves the chance to be independent."

Burcu.









REFERENCES
Al-Shaqsi Saeed, Thuraiya. Dakhiliya, Region. (2009)  “Teachers’ Beliefs about Learner Autonomy.”   In Borg, Simon (Ed.),  “Researching English Language Teaching and Teacher Development   in Oman” (pp.157-166). Ministry of Education, Sultanate of Oman.
Benson, Phil. (2010) “Teacher education and teacher autonomy: Creating spaces for experimentation in secondary school English language teaching” Language Teaching Research Sage Publication.
Benson, Phil.  (2006)  “Autonomy in Language Learning” Retrieved on August 10, 2006 from
           <http://ec.hku.hk/autonomy/what.html> and <http://ec.hku.hk/autonomy/#k>.
Kemp, Jenny. (2009) “The Listening Log: motivating autonomous learning” ELT Journal       Volume 64/4 Published by   Oxford University Press.
Lamb, Terry. Hayo, Reinders (2008) “Learner and Teacher Autonomy Concepts, realities, and responses”John Benjamins Publishing.
Littlewood, William. (1999)  “Defining and Developing Autonomy in East Asian Contexts” Oxford University Press.
Murphy, Linda.   (2008)   “Supporting Learner Autonomy: Developing Practice through the production of courses for distance learners of French, German and Spanish” Language  Teaching Research. Sage Publication.
 Pemberton, R.  Toogood. S, and Barfield. A,(eds.)  (2009) “Maintaining Control: Autonomy and  Language Learning” Hong Kong University Press.
Sabancı, Sevgi.  (2007) “EFL Teachers’ Views on Learner Autonomy at Primary and Secondary Schools in Eskişehir” M.A Thesis English Language Teaching Programme. 
Sawkins, Maureen. (1987) “Training for Independence in Learning” Tesol Canada Journal.
Spratt, Mary. Gillian, Humphreys. Victoria, Chan  (2002)  “Autonomy and motivation: which comes first?” Language Teaching Research. Sage Publishing.