My top 10 resources for learning about and teaching pronunciation

Pronunciation has been referred to as “the CINDERELLA of language teaching in that it has been neglected, and become disconnected from other language learning activities” (Underhill, 2010). Yet, it is known to exercise an important influence on all four  language skills, not only speaking: when we read, we “sub-vocalise” words, or hear them in our mind;  when we listen, our awareness of pronunciation will affect what we are able to hear and how the sounds we hear are represented in our mind. When  we write, knowledge of sound-spelling relationships comes into play, as we hear the words internally first. (Hancock, 2013; Underhill, 2010). This all-encompassing element of teaching is the focus of the latest post in my “ELT Top 10’s” series. 

So here we are:

My top 10 resources to help you get Cinderella to that ball! (Click on any picture to be taken directly to the corresponding resource.)

BOOKS:

 

1. Sound Foundations by Adrian Underhill

Screenshot from Amazon

Screenshot from Amazon

This book is fantastic. I came to it with nearly zero knowledge of phonology and little idea of how to teach pronunciation effectively. It revolutionised my approach to teaching pronunciation and reading it marked the beginning of an interest in this element of teaching that continues into the present. It’s written in a way that makes it accessible to anybody, regardless of knowledge level. It is a guided discovery to phonology and pronunciation, and contains a great number of activities that you can do alone to enhance your own understanding, or with your learners to help them develop theirs. There is also a “classroom toolkit” of further activities designed for classroom use. A word to the wise, though, don’t read it in public: it will get you making noises and faces that you may not necessarily want to share with the general public! 😉

2. Teaching the Pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca by Robin Walker

Screen Shot 2014-06-07 at 08.11.04

Screenshot from Amazon

This book recognises that pronunciation is no longer connected only with native speaker speech and sounds. English has become a globalised language, a lingua franca, and in many contexts learners will use it with fellow non-native speakers rather than native speakers. Have you ever wondered about the practical applications of Jennifer Jenkins’ lingua franca core? Do you know about English as a lingua franca but struggle to see how to apply this in the classroom? Then this book is for you. It also comes with an accompanying audio CD of sample speech from 15 ELF speakers, which you can put to various uses, helped by the book.

3. Pronunciation Games by Mark Hancock

Screenshot from Amazon

Screenshot from Amazon

A collection of games for teaching different aspects of pronunciation, this book is a must-have for any staffroom. The games are divided into three sections: 1. Syllables and stress; 2. Sound awareness; 3. Connected speech. Each game comes with complete instructions and photocopiable materials for you to take into class with you. Why not play the games with a colleague before using them with your students, so that you know what to expect? This book is completely different from Sound Foundations, being materials rather than theory-based, but both remind us that pronunciation need not be dry and dull, and provide us with a way to make it stimulating and engaging.

ONLINE RESOURCES AND ASSOCIATIONS

 

4. The Adrian Underhill online bundle!

 

a. Sounds: the pronunciation app

Screenshot from the Macmillan Sounds app website

Screenshot of the Macmillan Sounds app website

An ELTon award winner in 2012, this wonderful app is aimed at learners of English but can be equally as useful for teachers. You can hear the sounds on the chart, example words with those sounds in them, record&play back your own pronunciation, practice your phonemic spelling (great if you don’t know phonemic script and have embarked on a Delta!) and use a variety of quiz modes to test yourself on what you’ve learnt. It also comes with extra materials such as lesson plans and tips from the brilliant Mr Underhill, himself. (Can be used on both Apple and Android operating systems. Free version with fewer features, paid version at £3.99)

b. Adrian’s Pron Chart Blog

Screenshot of Adrian Underhill's pron chart blog

Screenshot of Adrian Underhill’s pron chart blog

So you’ve discovered the wonderful pron. chart and now you want to know what to do with it, how to use it with your learners and generally find out more about the marvellous world of pronunciation. This blog would be a good place to start. Here, you can learn all about how to integrate the chart into your lessons and how best to help your learners get their mouths around pronunciation. (Free resource)

c. A youtube video of an Adrian Underhill pronunciation workshop

Screenshot of Adrian's workshop youtube clip

Screenshot of Adrian’s workshop youtube clip

…And if you want to see it all in action, in the flesh, have a watch of this great youtube clip, in which Adrian demonstrates a range of techniques for making pronunciation more physical and visible for learners – and teachers! (Free resource!)

 5. ELF Pronunciation

Screen Shot 2014-06-07 at 09.10.54

Screenshot of the ELF Pronunciation blog

This blog is maintained by Katy Simpson and Laura Patsko – two teachers with an interest in teaching pronunciation to learners who need English as a lingua franca, who won’t be speaking to native speakers in the majority of their interactions. They have come together to create this fantastic resource for other teachers. From non-native speaker models to adaptations of well-known games for learners (so that the games become more ELF-friendly) to information about resources such as BBC Voices, and more, this blog has something for everybody. It’s full of practical, helpful information and materials for taking ELF pronunciation into your classroom, and it’s free! Can’t say fairer than that.

6.  English Communication Global

Screenshot: English Communication Global blog site

Screenshot of English Communication Global 

This is Robin Walker’s site. On it you can find a mixture of great resources e.g. articles, links to books that may be of interest, materials, blog posts – so it is not just the services offered, although these may be of interest to you too e.g. coaching for presentation-giving and INSET training workshops. Well worth having a look!

7. Hancock McDonald English Language Teaching

Screenshot of Hancock McDonald English Language Teaching

Screenshot of Hancock McDonald English Language Teaching

This website is maintained by Mark Hancock and Annie McDonald, successful speakers and materials writers, and is a pronunciation treasure trove of quality content. You can find talks, materials, activities, blog posts, articles and more, all related to pronunciation and related issues. And, it’s free! So what are you waiting for? Get discovering and experimenting!

8. Teaching English British Council

Screenshot of TEBC Pronunciation Articles page

Screenshot of TEBC Pronunciation Articles page

The Teaching English British Council website has a collection of articles relating to pronunciation that would be worth reading if you want to extend your knowledge and understanding in this area. All freely available! If you are interested in English as a Global language, due to the effect this has on pronunciation teaching and, indeed, all other areas of teaching, then don’t forget to have a look also in the research publications section, where you can find The future of English as well as other publications, all freely available to download.

Screenshot of The British Council phonemic chart

Screenshot of The British Council phonemic chart

Another interactive phonemic chart, this time by The British Council and freely available to use online, in addition to being downloadable as an app.

9. IATEFL Pron. SIG

Screenshot of IATEFL Pron SIG's website

Screenshot of IATEFL Pron SIG’s website

If you are interested in pronunciation, you might like to think about joining IATEFL’s Pron. SIG. This would connect you with like-minded individuals and entitle you to receive Pron SIG newsletters too. Like other IATEFL SIGs, you can expect webinars and pre-conference events around your area of interest.

The Pron. SIG also have a Facebook page which you can “like” for free:

Screenshot of IATEFL Pron SIG Facebook Page

Screenshot of IATEFL Pron SIG Facebook Page

Again, this is a great way to connect with others who have a keen interest in all things pronunciation-related and keep up with any new developments in this area of teaching.

10. Online learner dictionaries

 

Screenshot of Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary

Screenshot of Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

 

Screenshot of Macmillan Online Dictionary

Screenshot of Macmillan Online Dictionary

 

Screenshot of Cambridge Learner's Dictionary

Screenshot of Cambridge Learner’s Dictionary

And finally, let’s not forget the venerable online dictionary. These days, online learner dictionaries, such as those pictured above, are very complex affairs, dealing with the wide range of crucial elements that are involved in “knowing” a word. One very useful element within these dictionaries is the combination of the phonemic spelling provided with each word, with the sound file. So you can see the phonemic script and listen to a recording of the pronunciation. Both of these are usually given in both British English and American English versions. 

As usual, there is no doubt that I have inadvertently omitted some quality resources from this list – so if you have a burning desire to have something (a book, an article, an online resource) added to this collection, please do comment below! 🙂 

References:

Hancock, M. and McDonald, A. (2013)  Adrian Underhill on pronunciation as the Cinderella of ELT published on their blog.

Underhill, A. (2010) Pronunciation – the poor relation? Teaching English British Council website

 

My IH Journal column no.2: learner autonomy and metacognition

My IH Journal (International House Journal) tagline is as follows:

“To celebrate my 30th birthday (18/06/2013), I made an attempt to identify 30 things that I’d incorporated into my professional practice over the preceding year. 30 is quite a large number, but having spent an academic year at Leeds Metropolitan University learning vast amounts while tackling the Delta integrated into an M.A. ELT, I thought I should be able to pinpoint any number of things and by doing so, it would reinforce them in my mind as well has creating a record to look back on. Despite the final length of that blog post, each of the 30 items was only briefly treated. In this column, I revisit that blog post, selecting items and expanding on them.”

For my second column, which recently appeared in issue 36 (Spring 2014), I focused on learner autonomy and metacognition. As I get lots of searches relating to metacognition leading to my blog, I thought I would post a link to this column for any who are interested in this area and that of learner autonomy.

The contents page shows the wide variety of articles and columns that IH Journal has to offer – something for everybody to read, so why not have a look?

Enjoy! 🙂

Innovation in education: looking for learning (British Council Associate blog post 3)

For my third blog post as a British Council Associate, I chose the topic of innovation in education.

This was the brief:

As learning technologies become more and more ubiquitous in our teaching, how can we ensure that pedagogy is at the centre of what we do to increase learning? What tools do you incorporate into your teaching and how do you ensure they help learning?

I shared the approach I use to ensure that the tools I use help learning, and to ensure that pedagogy remains central, using Edmodo and Wordandphrase.info as examples.

To read my blog post, please follow this link.

To see other blog posts I’ve written for the British Council, please follow this link. (Topics so far are: “Course books in the classroom: friend or foe?” and “How does blogging help you to be a better teacher?”)

Thank you, British Council Teaching English, for letting me post alongside some really great bloggers.

IATEFL 2014: Bridging the gap between materials and the English-speaking environment

My very first IATEFL talk!

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 09.21.10

Date: Thursday 3rd April 2014

Time: 17.45-18.15

After introducing myself and my three invisible hats (teacher of English, learner of language/teaching, ex-student of the Leeds Met M.A. ELT/Delta – the origin of the ideas on which this talk was based), I provided the following talk outline:

  • Over to you! (A few questions…)
  • Student-led interviews (benefits and issues)
  • My materials
  • Using the framework

Attendees then discussed the following questions:

  • What context do you teach in?
  • What materials do you use?

Which led to these:

  • Do the materials exploit the rich resources of language outside the classroom?
  • Do the materials encourage students to exploit it?
  • Do materials scaffold students to exploit it?

Following this discussion, I revealed two quotes by Tomlinson (2008, 2013):

“None of the books seem to really help learners to make use of the English which is in the out of school environment everywhere.” (Tomlinson, 2008)

“Little[No] attempt is made to encourage the learners to make use of English in their actual or virtual environments outside the classroom.” (Tomlinson, 2013)

One way in which language schools try to encourage learners to engage with the language in the out-of-classroom environment in English-speaking places is to send learners out to interview members of the public. I asked attendees to consider the benefits and potential issues with this activity, before providing some of my own:

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 09.32.42

The question of how to guide learners across the murky waters of the potential issues to reap the possible benefits is where my materials come in. The next part of the talk discussed the influences that informed the development of my materials:

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And then revealed the basic framework I’d created using Task-Based Learning (Ellis, 2003; Willis and Willis, 2007), Language Awareness Approach (Svalberg, 2007) and the Intercultural Approach (Corbett, 2003):

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 09.41.48

 

Of course this bare frame doesn’t demonstrate how those theories were woven in, and does give rise to possible questions/issues. So at this point I predicted some possible questions that might have been forming in the audience’s mind:

But…

  • Won’t they get bored?
  • Is it a good use of so much time?
  • What about linguistic development?
  • Isn’t it a cop out? Mucking about instead of learning language?

And then explored how I used the approaches I’d chosen, to address these issues and to maximise learning and learner engagement, and how I’d addressed issues that critics have raised with regards to the theories. The result was this framework:

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 09.42.00

(F.L. stands for functional language and S.E. stands for students’ experiences.)

 

The final part of the talk dealt with using this framework and exemplified this with a task from my own materials. The initial steps of using the framework have much in common with a genre-based approach:

  • Think about how you want your ss. to use language
  • Find texts produced in that genre/those genres. (Or make your own with your colleagues!)
  • Identify common generic features (language, structure, organisation, appearance etc)

To this I add:

  • Pinpoint interesting/engaging non-linguistic outcomes.
  • Consider scaffolding.
  • Pick out linguistic and cultural dynamism.
  • Build in reflection.

Obviously the first bullet point of part 2 of the list is in keeping with TBL tenets. The second refers to how the tasks are going to feed into each other, how the activities within each task are going to feed into each other and how the whole is going to enable learners to be able to do something by the end of it. The third is in keeping with the Intercultural Approach and the Language Awareness approach. The final bullet point, opportunities for reflection, is crucial to all three approaches as well as being the key to turning experiences into learning, and connecting learning to experiences.

To exemplify this, I used the third task of my materials:

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 10.03.44

 

I discussed how content generated by students in the second task fed into the pre-task activity, in which students collaborate and exchange information, in preparation for the main task of this third task. The main task requires learners to synthesise the information they’ve collected between them, and use it as the basis for their question preparation. They are then helped to analyse  these questions by considering cultural and pragmatic issues, before moving on in the post-task activities to engaging with input in the form of a real interview, which leads to language focus and speaking skills development. Throughout the task, learners are encouraged to reflect and connect their own experiences and knowledge with what they are learning, and to identify similarities and differences between their own culture, other learners’ cultures and the target language culture.

Being a twenty minute talk (plus ten minutes for questions), I had to bring it to an end pretty swiftly by this point, by thanking International House, Palermo, for allowing me to attend IATEFL 2014, and the Leeds Met M.A. ELT department (and especially Heather Buchanan, who was my supervisor for the dissertation project in which I made these materials) for all the guidance and support that I was given in my learning and in realising my ideas, because without the course I most definitely wouldn’t have been giving this talk today. And the final thank you, of course, to everybody who attended!

Here is a list of references for my talk:

Svalberg, A. (2007) Language Awareness and Language Learning in Language Teaching vol. 40/4. Cambridge Journals

Moran, P. (2001) Teaching Culture: Perspectives in Practice Heinle and Heinle. Canada

Murray, N. (2012)  English as a lingua franca and the development of pragmatic competence in ELT Journal Volume 66/3 Oxford University Press

Corbett, J. (2003) An Intercultural Approach to Language Teaching Multilingual Matters. Clevedon

Ellis, R. (2003) Task-based Language Learning and Teaching Oxford University Press Oxford.

Willis D. and Willis J. (2007) Doing Task-based Teaching Oxford University Press, Oxford

Tomlinson, B. (2008) English Language Learning Materials: A Critical Review Continuum London

Tomlinson, B. and Masuhara, H. (2013) Survey Review: Adult course books in ELT Journal Volume 67/2. Oxford University Press Oxford

“Experimenting with English”: scaffolding autonomy

How can we create “a supportive and encouraging learning environment which can help to lower anxiety filters and challenge students to consider new or alternative methods of learning.” (McCarthy, 2013 kindle loc 4662)? That is the question that I consider in this post, a question that I have been exploring since doing a module on Multimedia and Independent learning, as well as one on Materials Development at Leeds Met as part of my M.A. in ELT. It is also one of the questions that formed the basis of the webinar on Learner Autonomy that I did in collaboration with the British Council Teaching English group.

Learner autonomy is complex and multi-faceted, as this diagram shows:

Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 20.42.12

This diagram shows the range of levels on which learner autonomy can operate. My post will focus on “independent use of learning resources“, “independent use of learning technologies” and “development of autonomous learning skills” as well as “focus on teacher roles“, as the form of autonomy development that I discuss requires the teacher to play an active role in a non-traditional way.

The “Experimentation with English” project developed partly as a result of my keenness to investigate ways of helping my learners become more autonomous partly in response to an institutional requirement that learners do 10 hours of independent learning (homework excluded) in order to pass their courses. Benson (2011) draws attention to the difference between programmes that foster autonomy and those that require it. Without teacher  intervention, I felt that the afore-mentioned institutional requirement was part of the latter category. This was no criticism, but pushed me to consider ways of working with it so that I could use it as a means of actively fostering autonomy too.

Firstly, I considered potential reasons that learners might not be successful in their independent study. I came up with the following:

  • lack of motivation: some learners may not feel motivated to complete this component of the course. They may not see the value of it. The result? They may do the bare minimum and not gain very much from it, thereby creating a self-fulfilling prophesy in a vicious circle kind of a way.
  • lack of tools/ideas: some learners may be very keen but not know where to start, or where to go next. The result? They may do only a very narrow range of activities, thus limiting the potential benefits.
  • lack of success: some learners may struggle as they study independently with nobody to tell them what to do. The result? They may feel inadequate and anxious, they may give up or resort to doing only the easiest activities, those which they believe themselves able to do.
  • lack of confidence: some learners may believe they are not good enough to do things using the target language or they may believe that they don’t know the “best” way and therefore there’s no point trying. The result: They may not try in the first place, to avoid failing or using the “wrong” way of doing things.
  • lack of time: some learners may find that life gets in the way. “Language learner” may only be a very tiny part of what it is to be them, the commitments, responsibilities, pressures. The result? they may put off independent study, in the hopes that later they will be able to find enough time.

So how can the teacher face these potential issues, perhaps in a way that minimises the possibility of them arising in the first place and/or nips them in the bud if they do emerge? Importantly, how can the teacher help the learners become better able to manage these potential issues themselves?

Experimentation with English

This is a very simple solution, drawing on a sociocultural perspective of learner autonomy. This version of autonomy places importance on the learner as a member of a social group, in which  learning, or in this case autonomous learning, is mediated by more experienced others. (Oxford, 2003).

Requirements:

  • activity sheet: a collection of ideas for using English outside class, with space built in for learners to write comments regarding their use of the activities, on a handout for learners to keep with them.
  • regular class time allocation for discussion: 10-15 minutes at the start of one lesson per week is sufficient – arguably not a big ask.
  • that’s all!

What?

Of course, the activity sheet/ideas will look different depending on your context and learners’ needs:

  • Working in a non-English speaking country, in a private language school, the ideas on my Experimentation with English sheet are geared towards helping learners maximise their exposure to the target language and communicative use of the language outside of class.
  • I have not used this project with young learners or early teenagers, the youngest have been 16 years old – teenagers who are considered old enough for adult classes. A YL version of this would look different – I leave it to the YL experts amongst you to figure out what it should be!
  • ESP classes would require activities that related to their specific needs and learning goals.
  • In an English-speaking environment, such a handout would include ways of harnessing that environment, empowering learners to benefit more fully from it. (Although it is often assumed that learners in an English-speaking environment enjoy more opportunities to use the target language on a regular basis, it is important not to forget that accessing these opportunities may not be as straight-forward as we might assume.)

How?

  • In the lesson where I introduced Experimentation with English, I gave learners the handout and asked them to look at it before the next class, and to identify any activities they were familiar with and any ideas that immediately grabbed their attention/interest.
  • Then, in the next class, I gave them time to discuss, in small groups, whether they had already tried any of the ideas, and if so how useful they had found the ideas, and which of the ideas interested them. Being a group of individuals with widely varying experiences and interests, there was plenty to discuss.
  • I then proposed that they choose one or more activities to experiment with and said that I would give them time at the beginning of a lesson a week to discuss what they had tried, how useful they had found it, any problems they had experienced etc. Thus, learners went away knowing that there was a safety net underneath them as they tried new things: they had support.
  • Subsequent discussions saw learners sharing their experiences/ideas, their problems, solutions to classmates’ problems and setting goals regarding what they would try each to do each week.

Benefits?

I feel it would be most useful to look at this in terms of the problems identified above.

  • lack of motivation: By trying different things, learners gained more from their independent learning, which fed positively into their motivation.  Learners’ motivation also increased as a result of regular goal-setting (and satisfaction of reaching goals) and as a result of discussion.
  • lack of tools/ideas: the activity handouts gave learners a starting point, which they were encouraged to compare with what they already and use as the basis for further experimentation.
  • lack of success: this was addressed in two main ways. Firstly, the regular discussions meant that learners weren’t isolated when they faced problems in learning to learn independently. Secondly, part of the discussions involved goal setting, which helped learners become more motivated when they met their goals.
  • lack of confidence: discussion and experience-sharing helped learners see that there are many different ways of learning rather than “right” and “wrong” ways. Starting with comparison between what learners already do and the ideas on the handout built in an opportunity for learners to validate their current methods, helping them feel less insecure about their learning habits. Having new ideas to try, in a supportive environment, helped learners have the confidence to extend their current learning approaches, increasing their effectiveness.
  • lack of time: learners were not castigated for spending time doing things other than language learning and were encouraged to spend any small amount of time that they could fit in amongst their other commitments. Thus learners were better able to focus on what they could do rather than what they couldn’t do. Every little helps…

Feedback

In a feedback form that I gave to learners at the end of the course, I asked them if they had found the “extra” activities useful, using a Likert scale but also providing space for explanation of answers. In a separate question, I also asked them if they understood more about how to learn. Here are some of the comments:

“The discussion at the beginning of the lesson was stimulating to do more work at home.”
“They are very helpful to do something interesting with English”
“I think that the ‘extra’ activities are useful, because they are moments to improve our English and you can compare your extra homeworks to your extra homework of your classmates”
“It was very helpful because it helped us to improve our method how to learn English”
“Because they helped me to use English out of the class and to improve my speaking”
“The extras are useful. I can practice on the internet even not attending an English course.”
“Yes, because now I understood that I have to read or listen a lot in order to improve my English. Before this course I have only studied the grammar”

The comments show that the discussions had a dual value for learners: as well as the autonomy-related value, in terms of stimulation to learn outside the classroom, learners appreciate the opportunity to use language meaningfully, to discuss their experiences, and the effect this has on their speaking ability.

On the same form, giving them a choice of yes or no, and space for explanation, I also asked learners whether they had found setting goals useful. Here are some of the comments from learners who circled yes:

“otherwise it’s easy to waste time”
“setting goals and communicating them to others is an effective way to gain motivation”
“the goal compels you to accomplish a task in a shorter time”
“I’m glad when I reach my goals, even if they are a bit ambitious”
“They helped me to study more”
“You feel very satisfied when you reach your goals”
“With a goal, I was more motivated to continue the activities”
“Yes because I’m lazy so I need it”

Increased motivation was the most common theme with regards to the comments about goal-setting. While setting goals within this framework, where learners communicate their goals to others on a regular basis is not independent, I would argue that learners show autonomy in choosing goals for themselves and develop that autonomy in a supportive atmosphere, learning about different types of goals as well as how to set challenging yet achievable goals. It is clear that the learners cited above recognise the value of the goal-setting process, so hopefully this has become another tool for them to manage their learning – a tool that they will be able to use independently beyond the end of the course.

Conclusion

Learner autonomy can be scaffolded from within the classroom, in order to enable learners to benefit more fully from all the learning opportunities beyond it. Harnessing and managing motivation is as important as stimulating that motivation in the first place. However, in the classroom, teachers tend to focus on that initial stimulation, forgetting that any motivation that is stimulated also needs to be maintained (Dornyei and Ushioda, 2012). (To illustrate this, consider the difference between the project/framework described above and initiating the same project but then leaving it outside the classroom.)

By stepping into the role of enabler rather than transmitter, encouraging learners to try new activities outside the classroom and bringing that learning back into the classroom regularly (through reflective, collaborative guided discussion) as well as helping learners develop their ability to set effective goals, I believe that teachers can help learners to “systematise the capacities that they already possess” (Benson 2011:91), thus fostering autonomy rather than simply expecting it.

References

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) Pearson Education. Harlow.

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

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) IATEFL, Canterbury.

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

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

The 2nd ELT Research Blog Carnival on Learner Autonomy has arrived!

Here it is, ladies and gentlemen, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the opportunity to see, for the first time united in one place, a collection of links to a series of reviews of articles related to the fascinating area of study that is learner autonomy!

First up we have:

Anthony Ash writing about an article that features in the English Language Teaching Journal (vol. 62/4) published by Oxford University Press. This article is entitled Learner Autonomy and was written in 2008, by Richard Smith.  Please find Anthony’s review here and a link to the original article here. A fine choice of article and a succinct review. I’d highly recommend reading the original article, it’s freely available and offers a brief overview of issues around the concept of learner autonomy.

The second contribution came from:

Me! I reviewed an article by Robert Godwin-Jones (2011): Emerging Technologies: Autonomous Language Learning in Language Learning & Technology vol. 15 number 3. October 2011. You can find the review here. This article looks at various technological tools from the perspective of interest in developing learner autonomy. Godwin-Jones also addresses various issues related to learner autonomy along the way. Again, freely available by clicking on the link attached to the title (above) of the article.  In my review, I also finish off by indulging in some of my own reflection on the content.

The third review to join the party was sent by:

Another Anthony! He treats an article by Cynthia Carr: Enhancing EAP Students’ Autonomy by Accommodating Various Learning Styles in the Second Language Writing Classroom which appeared in the INTESOL Journal,  vol 10/1 in 2013. As well as reviewing Carr’s article in depth, Anthony writes of his own experience as a teacher and learner in relation to learner autonomy and learning styles. You can find his review here. The article itself is available freely, but the link I found generates an automatic download rather than a webpage. So, if you want to read it, just put the title and author into Google and click on the link provided. 

Our fourth contributor was:

Mura Nava, who reviewed Possible effects of free online data driven lexicographic instruments on foreign language learning: The case of Linguee and the Interactive Language Toolbox in Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences , issue 95, a conference paper by Buyse K. & Verlinde, S. (2013).  You can find the paper here. The paper reports a study of the use of online corpora-driven dictionary Linguee and their success in comparison with other online dictionaries.  Mura’s review is available here.

The fifth review was submitted courtesy of:

Nathan Hall, who reviewed the following article: Lee, Lina. (2011). Blogging: Promoting learner autonomy and intercultural competence through study abroad in Language Learning & Technology, 15(3). 87-109. You can find this article here.  As the review explains, it reports on a study relating to the use of blogging tools  and ethnographic interviews in the context of studying abroad. Nathan brings out and comments on some interesting elements of the study, and you can read his review here.

Finally, in by the skin of his teeth, came:

Glen Cochrane and his review of Dias, J. (2000). Learner Autonomy in Japan: Transforming ‘Help Yourself’ from Threat to Invitation in Computer Assisted Language Learning, 13(1), 49-64. This article treats an action research project at a university in Japan, in the context of a speaking/listening class. Unfortunately, the article is not freely available, but nevertheless Cochrane gives a detailed synopsis of the findings and again highlights the importance of sensitivity to context in the development of learner autonomy. You can read his review here.

This brings us to the end of the 2nd ELT Research Blog Carnival, which has brought together an interesting range of perspectives on the topic. I hope you’ve enjoyed this snapshot of ELT Research on a very topical issue in ELT If your interest has been aroused, I recommend also having a look at the following pieces of work, if you can get your hands on them:

  • Benson, P (2007). Autonomy in Language Teaching and Learning in Language Teaching vol. 40 /01. January 2007, pp 21 40. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

(An overview of all the literature related to LA up to the point of publishing!)

  • Illes, (2012) Learner Autonomy Revisited in ELTJ vol. 66/4 Special Issue. Oxford University Press. Oxford.

(A look at some of the very interesting and pertinent issues that emerge in relation to LA in this day and age.)

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

(A brave – and extremely useful! – attempt to synthesis and systematise the theories surrounding Learner Autonomy)

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

(A look at different approaches to realising learner autonomy as well as the importance of context and its influence on the approaches chosen.)

**Learner Autonomy Across Cultures is a great book if you can get hold of it, brings together a lot of interesting research and theory on the topic of LA

  • Vandergrift L. and Goh, C (2012) Teaching and Learning Second Language Listening. Routledge. Oxon.

(An in-depth look at metacognition, which also addresses the role it plays within the development of learner autonomy)

And finally, from the most recent ELT Journal, (an article I read yesterday and would have liked to review for this carnival if I hadn’t already done one on a different article!):

  • Humphreys, G. and Wyatt M. (2014) Helping Vietnamese Learners to become more autonomous in ELTJ vol. 68/1. Oxford University Press. Oxford.

 

2nd ELT Research Blog Carnival: A Review of “Emerging Technologies: Autonomous Language Learning” (Godwin-Jones, 2011)

For my contribution to the 2nd ELT Research Blog Carnival, whose theme is Learner Autonomy, I have chosen an article by Robert Godwin-Jones (2011): Emerging Technologies: Autonomous Language Learning in Language Learning & Technology vol. 15 number 3. October 2011. I have used Godwin-Jones’ own sub-headings to organise my review. Obviously this is only my interpretation of what Godwin-Jones has to say…

LEARNING TO LEARN

Godwin-Jones begins by highlighting the explosion of interest in learner autonomy that has taken place over the last ten years and the relationship between learner autonomy and developments in technology. He acknowledges, however, that learner autonomy, as a concept, substantially pre-dates the age of computing. Like the majority of articles, chapters and books published on the subject of learner autonomy, Godwin-Jones tips his hat to Holec’s work in the late 70’s and explains that learners plus “appropriate learning material” does not equal learner autonomy: necessary, too, are the skills, mindset and motivation that lead to successful independent study.

Godwin-Jones suggests that the development of effective strategies is insufficient without the willingness to reflect on and improve on these over time, as language learning progresses. He cites learner diaries as a traditional means of cultivating this type of metacognitive awareness and suggests that online writing tools such as blogs and electronic portfolios or online editors like Google Docs. He alludes also to the European Language Portfolio and LinguaFolio, and the role these could play in providing learners with “concrete evidence of achievement”.

THE TEACHER’S ROLE

In the second part of his article, Godwin-Jones moves on to consideration of the role of the teacher within learner autonomy. Within this section, he addresses the cultural aspect of learner autonomy, explaining that in a culture where learning is teacher-centred, both teachers and learners may find the role changes required unsettling. He also explores issues inherent in distance learning and learning management systems e.g. Moodle, in terms of learner autonomy, e.g. that the teacher is usually the sole decision-maker with regards to content presentation, organisation and expectation with regards to progress through a course.

A significant role for teachers as individuals, that he discusses, is that of enabler and motivator: teachers need to offer their learners advice regarding online tools and services. Teachers can also help by enabling learners to discover and evaluate tools themselves.

AUTONOMOUS, NOT ALONE

In the third part of his article, Godwin-Jones addresses the importance of a peer network in the development of learner autonomy. He dispels the myth of the autonomous learner as stuck alone in an ivory tower surrounded by materials and cites the prominence of the “social dimension” of learner autonomy within the literature. (Maintaining Control: Autonomy and Language Learning (2009) is offered as an example of this.). He quotes Edith Esch’s definition of autonomy, from her chapter in this volume, “autonomy as the capacity to exercise critical thinking about learning as a participant in a social milieu”.

He goes on to discuss computer mediated communication (CMC) tools such as Second life and tandem learning networks, explaining that teachers may provide initial guidance but ultimate success, in terms of utility, is dependent on the learners themselves. Allusion is also made to peer-scaffolding, in helping learners to become more confident and independent. Godwin-Jones also points out issues with CMC, such as exclusive focus on content at the expense of focus on language, while suggesting that a balance of focuses may be important in language development through CMC.

SELF-DIRECTED STUDY

In this section, Godwin-Jones moves on to consider CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning) and its role in promotion of learner autonomy, flagging up the issue of getting learners to take full advantage of what is available and the importance of metacognitive knowledge in enabling this. He also discusses tools that enable experimentation with concordancing and the potential effects of such tools on learning.

He also explores mobile devices e.g. tablets and the effect these have on language learning choices, wondering whether the development of these will mean a shift from favouring print materials to preferring multimedia options.

OUTLOOK

In this final section the idea of personal choice is discussed initially in relation to mobile devices and then in relation to examples of learner autonomy that hold a socio-political significance. Godwin-Jones also reminds us again of the effect of culture on learner autonomy, stressing that it will “look different in different cultures”, and the importance of adaptation to these differences by the teacher. He concludes by identifying further areas of potential interest for research (as he does throughout) and expressing “a hope that more emphasis on autonomous language learning results in empowering learners, not sacking teachers”.

References:

Esch, E. (2009). Crash or clash? Autonomy 10 years on. In Pemberton, R., Toogood, S. & Barfield, A., (Eds.). Maintaining control: Autonomy and language learning. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

NB: A particularly useful element of this article is the inclusion of hyperlinks to the various tools discussed as well as a list of resources as an appendix. 

My own reflections:

Immersed, as I currently am, in learner autonomy directed projects, both as a teacher and as a language learner (currently learning Italian) I have found it interesting to return to this article and re-read it, contrasting it with other articles and book chapters that I have read. He seems to present the influence of culture as a potential barrier to learner autonomy, though he does make up for this by identifying that learner autonomy “will look different in different cultures” and that teachers need to adapt to this, which is more in keeping with Smith (2003), who outlines a strong version of learner autonomy that doesn’t view learners as deficient, lacking certain behaviours associated with a ‘successful autonomous learner’ but rather focuses on helping them develop their own ways of being autonomous. I think this strong version of learner autonomy has a lot going for it.

Returning, to Godwin-Jones, I do appreciate the dedication of a section of the article to the teacher’s role within learner autonomy: I agree, based on my own (albeit limited) experience, that the teacher does play an important role in enabling autonomy. Learner autonomy does not only exist outside of the classroom: what happens in the classroom plays an important role in the promotion of it. Equally important, also discussed in this article, is the role of learners’ peers in development of autonomy.

Godwin-Jones makes a brief allusion to the importance of motivation in independent learning. In some ways it seems obvious that the two are linked. However, obvious though it may seem, it may still be very useful to consider theories of motivation (e.g. Dornyei, 2013) when considering how to scaffold the development of learner autonomy.

It was also interesting to read about the issues with distance learning, as I am currently doing a blended course so can empathise with the issues from a learner’s point of view.

All in all, it is a succinct article, freely available, offering a lot of ideas to experiment with.

References:

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