Michelle has been involved in English language intensive courses for overseas students for about 20 years. She is a regular speaker at learner autonomy events.
This talk is a narrative. She is going to tell us about a journey she has embarked on, originally started as an idea for some action research. With research, once you start… Michelle has come up with more questions than answers.
Students: upper intermediate level, university pathway college in Australia, trying to get their English to move up by .5 of an IELTS band in ten weeks, learning academic skills as they go through. Autonomy is a strong theme in Australian schooling from primary to university, seen as being important. Michelle’s belief is that if we can get ss to use indirect learning strategies (metacognitive) to decide what cognitive strategies to use, when completing a task, they will be more effective and successful learners. Students will move from being taught to actually learning. Requires a big shift for them and for how teachers approach their teaching. Michelle wants to move away from practising for an exam to actual learning.
The starting point for the research was a student survey on student learning – to complement the other surveys that have to complete at the end of a ten week course. She wanted to find out if students at different levels were more less reliant on their teachers to inform what she needed to do.
In terms of self-assessment, students mostly thought they had improved. Superficial results but a place to start. In terms of problem area identification, the lower level students were teacher reliant, the post-grad students were more able to work it out themselves. One teacher has been quoted as saying “I know what my students need, I tell them what to do”…needs a bit of re-education.
Michelle’s plan was to get both the teachers and students involved in her action research, through learner journals and through take up of change/meetings/reflective writing for the teachers. Students had two major writing tasks – short report and longer problem/solution essay. She did a learning survey in week 2 and 9, students are invited to join a closed class FB page (generally successful and sought after by ss). The students fed back that they didn’t understand the purpose of the report, they had trouble writing questions…because the task was designed to give them autonomy as to what went into the report and they had to reflect on it on a weekly basis in their journal. Michelle created an FB page for discussion and sharing of ideas among teachers and wanted meetings to focus more on task design, learning strategies and indirect metacognitive strategies used in daily classwork (rather than just administrative stuff).
Another survey showed the following positive changes between early on in the course and late on in the course.
Their journal entries relating to the various aspects of Michelle’s project also showed positive feedback:
Teacher engagement during the project was mixed:
In terms of future directions, Michelle is looking to build on what has been done so far…
The product to process is because most teachers favoured a product approach due to time limitations but Michelle wants to explore alternatives.