Workshop on Learner Autonomy at the ELTC

Yesterday (Wednesday the 3rd December, 2015) saw me deliver my first workshop at Sheffield University’s ELTC. This seems a rather fitting way to round off (well, there *are* only a couple weeks left!) my first full term as a teacher here! Inevitably, perhaps, my topic of choice was Learner Autonomy.

In preparing this session, the main challenge that I faced was the wide range of teaching programmes that run at the ELTC and elsewhere around the campus by the ELTC. This contrasts with my previous context where General English (for all ages) was the main offering, with a smattering of exam prep in the form of IELTS classes. At the ELTC, the courses on offer split into three major categories – full time, part time and language support, and there are a lot of acronyms in use (to add to the vast quantities in the ELT world in general!).  For example, we have PAE (Pathway)  and AEPC (Academic English Preparatory Course) which are both full time courses run during the academic year, and ISS (International Summer School) which is the full time summer programme. As well as the academic focus classes, there are exam preparation classes (IELTS, FCE, CAE, as well as the USEPT, which is the ELTC’s equivalent to IELTS and, along with IELTS, is accepted as an entrance requirement) and General English classes (e.g. my own Upper Intermediate lot). You can find more information about the ELTC’s programmes here.

My own experience is limited to General English, exam prep and two summers of ISS. So, my general idea of the workshop was to share my own experience and some of the theory behind what I’ve done with learner autonomy within this, and encourage exploration of how this could be applied or adapted for the various programmes running at the ELTC. I believe that much of what I shared was adaptable for use on various programmes, as I offered various frameworks for systematising the fostering of autonomy which are based on Smith (2003)’s strong methodology so start with and build on what the learner brings to the table. Also, on a more selfish note, as I hoped, I also managed to learn more about these different programmes here in the process of sharing my ideas! Fortunately my colleagues are a nice bunch, so while I was incredibly nervous beforehand (particularly with regards to how much more experience and knowledge they have compared to me!), I could at least be reasonably sure they wouldn’t chew me up to spit me out in a thousand little broken pieces, which was reassuring! 😉

I started with a little discussion and drawing activity, to elicit participants’ ideas of what learner autonomy is and looks like, highlighting that definitions of learner autonomy tend to depend on the context, beliefs and past experiences of the person doing the defining. We all talk about learner autonomy but often we are talking about different things. I guess this could be called the buzzword effect! From there, we looked at some of the theory around learner autonomy in the literature, starting with Holec (of course!)’s both oft-quoted and less frequently referred to ideas. Different perspectives of learner autonomy (as described in Oxford (2003), different aspects of learner autonomy (Benson, 2011), the role of motivation (see Dornyei and Ushioda, 2012) and methodological possibilities (e.g. Smith 2003) were also considered.

I then shared a little bit about how I get students reading and using English outside the classroom, highlighting the importance of effective goal setting (see Dornyei and Ushioda, 2012 – 6 main principles of goal setting) and motivational flow (see Egbert 2003 in Dornyei and Ushioda, 2012) as well as looking at use of internet based tools (Google Classroom, Blogs and which lead to some very lively discussion around the use of technology in the classroom! Next I moved on to talking about my EAP experience (yep, all two summers of it!) and some of the tools I used with my learners in the listening component of the summer programme, such as listening logs, strategy tables and metacognitive pedagogy (see Vandergrift and Goh 2012).

To round off with, I used a few sound bites from the literature and strongly recommended Morrison and Navarro (2014) and Vandergrift and Goh (2012) as go to books for ideas of how to systematically bring autonomy into the classroom.

Here are some of the resources I used:

Here is a list of the references I used:

Benson, P. (2003)  Learner autonomy in the classroom in in Nunan, D. [ed] Practical English language teaching. PRC: Higher education press/McGraw Hill.

Benson, P. (2011) Teaching and Researching Autonomy (2nd Edition) Harlow: Pearson Education.

Borg and Al-Busaidi (2012) Learner Autonomy: English Language Teachers’ Beliefs and Practices London: British Council.

Dornyei and Ushioda (2012) Teaching and Researching Motivation (Kindle Edition) Harlow: Pearson Education.

Holec, H. (1981) Autonomy and foreign language learning. Oxford: Pergamon. (First published 1979, Strasbourg: Council of Europe.)

Holliday, A. (2005) The struggle to teach English as an International Language (Kindle Edition) Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McCarthy, T. (2013)  Redefining the learning space: Advising tools in the classroom in in Menegale, M [ed] Autonomy in Language Learning: Getting learners actively involved. (Kindle Edition) Canterbury: IATEFL.

Morrison, B. and Navarro, D. (2014) The Autonomy Approach: Language learning in the classroom and beyond. Delta Publishing.

Oxford, R. (2003) Towards a more Systematic Model of L2 Learner Autonomy in Palfreyman, D and Smith, R. [Ed] Learner Autonomy Across Cultures. Basingstoke: Palsgrave Macmillan.

Smith, R. and Ushioda, E. (2009) Under whose control? in  in Pemberton, Toogood and Barfield [Ed] Maintaining Control: Autonomy and Language Learning. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. Hong Kong.

Smith, R. (2003) Pedgagogy for Autonomy as (Becoming) Appropriate Methodology in Palfreyman, D and Smith, R. [Ed] Learner Autonomy Across Cultures. Basingstoke: Palsgrave Macmillan.

Vandergrift, L. and Goh, C. (2012) Teaching and Learning Second Language Listening: Metacognition in Action. Oxon: Routledge.

*The* keys! :-) Image taken from Google image search for images licensed for commercial reuse with modification.

Could these resources be the key? 🙂 Image taken from Google image search for images licensed for commercial reuse with modification.



3 thoughts on “Workshop on Learner Autonomy at the ELTC

  1. Thanks, Lizzie. Your workshop was very interesting: Providing a framework of autonomous learning that the students (and the teacher!) can visualise, measure, evaluate and ‘share and compare’ is so valuable. I’ll be applying what I’ve learnt in my pronunciation class, next week! Thanks for the useful links for studying outside the classroom.

  2. Pingback: ELTC Training Day 2016 – my takeaway (including lots of tech-y stuff!) – Reflections of an English Language Teacher

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