Well, I thought I had better attend my own talk…
My abstract for this year’s talk is as follows:
It is widely acknowledged that language learning requires use of the target language outside the classroom as well as inside it. However, learner autonomy is often expected rather than fostered. This talk looks at what can be done in the classroom to help learners harness the rich resources of language accessible outside, with greater confidence and effectiveness.
My talk outline was a simple one:
- Definitions of learner autonomy
- Problems with learner autonomy
- Solutions and ideas (My 7 top tips)
Being the good old graveyard slot, getting towards the end of the day, I decided to turn my talk into a game: good old-fashioned bingo!
So having looked at what learner autonomy is and involves:
…and the issues we face in trying to foster it:
I asked the audience to pair up and brainstorm their top 7 tips. This became their ‘bingo card’, to compare with my own 7.
My top 7 tips
What I mean by this is, find out as much as you can, as soon as you can, about what your students do and don’t do already. Encourage them to find out as much as they can about what their peers are doing. This is your starting point. How: For example, at the beginning of the course, you could use a Find Someone Who activity (they find out about each other, you listen in and find out about them), followed by writing you a letter (you find out some more). They aren’t empty vessels.
Here is an example FSW I made and used with some of my classes.
In a nutshell, provide ideas. E.g. my experimentation with English handout. With higher levels, encourage them to add and share ideas of their own. There is no such thing as an exhaustive list. (For more information about this, look at my previous related posts! )
Nothing happens overnight…
In fact, the question of time works on many levels. Firstly, give them time to talk about their outside class activities in class. Doesn’t have to be heaps of time. Little and often is good. This provides opportunities to bolster each others’ motivation, spark interest in untried ideas, share victories or issues, celebrate, troubleshoot and so on. It also motivates them to keep going. Secondly, in terms of take up: Don’t worry if they aren’t all enamoured with the project from the get-go. Give them time to get used to it, and to start to recognise the benefits. Encourage discussion of the benefits.
This links to my previous tip, in terms of discussion of benefits. Helping students develop meta-awareness of the learning process is important, as understanding the why behind activities will help them be better able to select suitable activities themselves, independently. This makes them less teacher-reliant in the long run. This contrasts with just blindly doing what teacher tells them. For ideas of how to engage student metacognition, I suggest reading/using:
Having realistic goals to aim towards helps to break down the mammoth task of learning a language into achievable steps in the right direction. This helps students not to lose motivation and to be more aware of their own progress.
It’s important not to set everything up and then forget about it. Keep being interested in what the learners are doing. Give them that bit of time regularly, as mentioned before. If you forget about it, chances are they will too. Let them show off! Keep bringing it back into the classroom.
Use some kind of platform that allows them to share and communicate outside class e.g. Edmodo or a class blog or wiki. This immediately increases the scope and variety of what learners can do outside class. More activities become possible. (For ideas of how to use Edmodo or class blogs/wikis in this way, see the posts I have written in relation to this!)
Having shared my 7 tips and so brought the game of Bingo to its end, I shared a bit of feedback from students:
Then I asked the audience to discuss how they might apply these tips to their own context:
And finally offered a list of references/recommended reading:
Thank you to all who attended my talk, it was a pleasure to speak at IATEFL for my second time and I look forward to the next time! 🙂