Learning contracts and language learning

The concept

Have you or your students ever made a learning contract before? Up to now, I’ve mostly encountered the concept in association with teaching young learners/teenagers and it generally includes rules for behaviour, which the student and teachers should follow. The idea is that by involving the learners in decisions regarding what should and shouldn’t be done in class, they will be more invested in adhering to these rules and take more responsibility for their own and each others’ actions. If we extend the scope of these contracts to include language learning behaviours then I think (hope!) they could become a very useful motivational tool. As my students have identified, through the projects I’ve done with them, “making goals and communicating them to others is a good way to gain motivation” (Student Feedback).

There would be echoes of:

  • goal setting theory (Locke and Latham, 1990, in Dornyei and Ushioda 2012:loc 569, in terms of goal difficulty, goal specificity, goal importance and commitment)
  • motivation theory (e.g. Egbert, 2003, in Dornyei and Ushioda 2012:loc 2039, and Motivational Flow, which requires a balance of challenge and skills, opportunities for focus, clear goals, intrinsic interest and authenticity of task and sense of control over the task process)
  • learner autonomy theory (in terms of taking responsibility for own learning, making decisions regarding one’s learning etc. e.g. Benson, 2011).

So, I think (hope!) learning contracts, if the scope were extended to include language learning behaviours rather than just classroom behaviours, could be a very useful motivational tool.

How useful? Well, I hope to find out this summer…

The experiment

I’ve just come back to England for approximately three months. During this time, unlike the past 8 months, I won’t be regularly exposed to Italian by default, which means it would be very easy to just ‘not get round to’ working on my language skills and systems. This would be rather a shame as I would inevitably regress fairly significantly in the process. In a vain attempt to maintain my Italian, I am going to make myself a learning contract.

My research questions: 

  • Will making a learning contract help me be more motivated, for a longer period, to keep up my Italian learning while away from la bella Sicilia?
  • Will I actually do what is on my learning contract or will it have more power than that? What difference will it make?

My methodology:

  • Make the learning contract on this blog (therefore communicating it to a LOT of people!); copy it to Evernote as a checklist and check things off as I do them. Then uncheck them for take 2, recheck for take 3 etc. In order to keep track of what I’m doing.
  • Attempt to do what I said I’d do. (!)
  • Be aware of and make a note of when the learning contract influences my language learning behaviour.
  • Reflect on my progress with the language and with regards to the contract at regular intervals. (So the contract doesn’t get forgotten!)
  • See how rusty/otherwise my Italian is by the time I go back to Palermo!

My learning contract:

  1. Read extensively in Italian for at least 20 minutes every day. (I did this in Sicily, so it’s not a huge ask!)
  2. Listen extensively to Italian for at least 20 minutes every day. (This can include radio, podcasts, tv series, films etc.)
  3. Use my Italian graded reader regularly: To include reading it, listening to the audio, completing all the activities, reflecting on the process of using a graded reader for language learning. (I’m very curious to find out what it will be like! Will be a first for me!)
  4. Write on my Italian blog at least once a week. (If I do it more often, great, but a minimum of once a week.) I wrote on the plane yesterday, still need to upload it, so I have done so this week = a good start!
  5. Study grammar at least once a week. (Again, if more, so much the better but at least once is better than nothing!)
  6. Do intensive listening practice at least once a week. E.g. use this site . (Re frequency, as above!)
  7. Record myself (following muttering along to recordings or speaking freely, depending on my focus) at least once a week. (Re frequency, as above!)
  8. Use Quizlet to learn vocabulary at least once a week. Alternate between adding words and playing with words each week. (Re frequency, as above!)
  9. Read something from my Italian magazine at least once a week. (It’s a big magazine, full of lots of articles of varying sizes. It’s sort of science-y, technology-y, news-y in content. I’ve only read about two things so far!)
  10. Send a message to one or more Italian friends on Facebook once a week. (Dual benefit of keeping in touch with people and using Italian!)

Signed: Lizzie Pinard   Date: 4/6/14

Next update on my progress due: 4th July or as near thereafter as work permits!

Wish me luck! Let’s see what happens to my Italian in the next few months…

Depending how things go, I may attempt to transfer what I have learnt through this experiment to my teaching in the autumn! I.e. try learning contracts with some of my learners.

References:

Dornyei, Z. and Ushioda, E. (2012) Teaching and Researching Motivation. Pearson Education Limited.

Benson, P. (2011) Teaching and Researching: Autonomy in Language Learning. Pearson Education Limited.

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2 thoughts on “Learning contracts and language learning

  1. Pingback: Learning Contracts and Language Learning (part 2): how I’ve used one and what I’ve learnt (other than a lot of Italian!) | Reflections of an English Language Teacher

  2. Pingback: Learning Contracts and Language Learning (part 3): another month of outcomes | Reflections of an English Language Teacher

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