My top ten materials development resources

For the next post in my “Top 10” series, I’m focusing on an aspect of ELT that has seen a significant growth in popularity in the last few years. This surge in popularity has led to the development of dedicated websites, a new IATEFL SIG and a lot of interest in ensuring “best practice” both among established authors and teacher-writers, as well as everybody in between, whether their goal is to be published or simply create materials for use in their classroom. Yes, you’ve guessed it! (Oh alright, you saw the post-title!) The focus of this “Top 10” post is Materials Development.

In this top 10 list, you will find a mixture of freely available articles, not-so-freely available but surely worthwhile books, ground-breaking websites and dedicated associations. Click on the picture to be taken to the corresponding site. NB: I am not on commission for any of these resources, sadly… 😉

Without any further ado…

ARTICLES

 

1. Materials Development for Language learning and Teaching by Brian Tomlinson

Screenshot of the article header, taken from the Cambridge University Press link.

Screenshot of the article header, taken from the Cambridge University Press link.

One of the great State-of-the-Art Article series, Materials Development for Language Learning and Teaching is by Brian Tomlinson, published by Cambridge University Press, in their Language Teaching Journal, and reviews all the literature related to the topic of developing learning materials. Interestingly, since it was published in 2012, a lot of growth has occurred in this field. Nevertheless, it provides a good starting point if you want to find out more about the development of the field and the associated literature. This article is currently freely available from Cambridge, by clicking on the above link, from which you can download it as a .pdf file. (Please let me know if this stops being the case!)

(Another good article, but which isn’t freely available so cannot be given its own entry in this list, is another in this State-of-the-art series, dealing with the prickly issue of authenticity in language learning. Authentic materials and authenticity in foreign language learning  [the link will take you to the article abstract] is by Alex Gilmore, published by Cambridge University Press in their Language Teaching Journal.)

BOOKS

 

2. Materials Development in Language Teaching by  Brian Tomlinson

The red-and-blue book!

Screenshot from Amazon: the red-and-blue book!

Known affectionately among our cohort in the Materials Development module at Leeds Met as “the red and blue Tomlinson book”, this edited book is another Cambridge University Press gem. It is divided into 5 sections: A: Data collection and materials development; B: The process of materials writing; C: The process of materials evaluation; D: The electronic delivery of materials; E: Ideas for materials development. For an example chapter from this book, you can see Andrew Littlejohn’s chapter, “The analysis of language teaching materials: inside the trojan horse” which is available on his website as a downloadable .pdf file.

 3. (a) Developing Materials for Language Teaching by Brian Tomlinson

The purple book! Screenshot from Amazon

Screenshot from Amazon: the purple book! 

(Don’t worry, not all the resources on this list will have Tomlinson’s name attached!) The purple book, or Developing materials for language teaching, is another edited volume, with a lot of practical as well as theoretical value. (I found it really useful when developing materials for my module assessment…) It has now, however, been updated and is no longer the purple book but a book with a cover whose colours are difficult to use as a brief name-tag! Unlike the red-and-blue CUP book, this one isn’t yet available in e-book format, but give it time…

Screenshot from Amazon: the updated purple book!

Screenshot from Amazon: the updated purple book!

…or if you insist on another that is available as an e-book (cos e-books are cheaper!):

3. (b) Applied Linguistics and Materials Development

Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 07.46.46

Screenshot from Amazon – the blue book!

The blue book is another edited volume, bringing together applied linguistics theory and materials development practice. It is divided into four sections: Part 1 – Learning and teaching languages; Part 2 – Aspects of language use; Part 3 – Language Skills; Part 4 – Curriculum development.

Ok, ok! Enough Tomlinson!! (Though he makes a reappearance as president of MATSDA – see below…)

4. Materials and methods in ELT by Jo McDonaugh and Christopher Shaw

Screenshot from Amazon

Screenshot from Amazon

This book, as you can see, is also available as e-book, though you don’t save so much on the paperback price – at least you wouldn’t have issues of storage, I suppose! It is broken down into three sections, each section having several sub-sections: Part 1 – Topics in the design of materials and methods; Part 2 – Teaching Language Skills; Part 3 – Aspects of Classroom Methods. For a complete break-down of all the different sections and a sneak preview of the content, why not visit Amazon and have a “look inside”! This is what the book sets out to do:

Screenshot from Amazon

Screenshot from Amazon

I think it succeeds pretty well: it is a very accessible book in terms of readability and contains lots of examples which are thoroughly discussed/analysed.

ONLINE RESOURCES/ASSOCIATIONS

 

5. MaW SIG

Screenshot of the MaW SIG Facebook page

Screenshot of the MaW SIG Facebook page

MaW SIG, or the IATEFL Materials Writing Special Interest Group, to give it it’s full name, came into being as a SIG only just over a year ago. Though young, it has achieved a huge amount in this time. It has produced the first issue of its newsletter, a pre-conference event, a stand-alone one-day event and a month of webinars known as “MaW SIG May”. An active SIG with a grand number of achievements already featuring in its young life, together with ambitions and plans for the future, this would be an association that is well worth joining, if you have an interest in materials development. As you can see from the screenshot, they aim to support materials writers of any level of experience/expertise, with any materials writing goals. I have had first-hand experience of this support so can attest that these aren’t just empty words.

6. ELT Teacher-2-Writer

Screenshot: ELT Teacher2Writer website

Screenshot: ELT Teacher2Writer website

This website is a very interesting resource for would-be and established materials writers. It gives you the opportunity to join a database of materials writers that publishers look at when looking for new writers to work on their projects, and access to resources such as a writers toolkit of a style-sheet, a template and a permissions sheet  (free) and their “How to…” training modules series (available as e-books, at a modest price), which deal with different aspects of materials writing and publishing, so that you can learn how to write materials more effectively, for a range of purposes. (I’ve got my eye on the EAP module, written by Julie Moore currently – looking forward to learning from it!) The brains behind the outfit have spoken at IATEFL twice now, as well as giving webinars. For more information about ELT Teacher-2-Writer and what they offer, why not read ELT Teacher-2-Writer: training teachers to be writers – my summary of their IATEFL presentationfrom Harrogate this year.

7. ELT-Resourceful

 

Screenshot: ELT-Resourceful site

Screenshot: ELT-Resourceful blog site

Rachael Roberts’s blog is a haven for anybody with an interest in writing materials, because, as the tagline says, it is FULL of tips and ideas. And all are simply expressed so that it is possible for any teacher to have a look and find something to take away and play with. Rachael is a professional materials writer, who has also presented at numerous conferences and delivered webinars. In her “spare time”, she also volunteers on the MaW SIG committee (see above) and is part of Free and Fair ELT (see below). Ever wondered about how to write activities using concordances? Activities for helping learners deal with connected speech when they listen? Find out about this and more on this gem of a site.

8. Free and Fair ELT

Screenshot: Free and Fair ELT

Screenshot: Free and Fair ELT

This Facebook page is the new kid on the block. And you know what happens when the new kid arrives? People talk. Well, Free and Fair ELT is no exception. Launched on the 2nd June, this page already has nearly 1500 “likes”! Their goal is to keep materials creation and sharing fair, to ensure copyright is respected. Obviously at 4 days old, it is early days, so who knows where this new kid is headed, but one thing’s for sure: it has taken the ELT materials writing world by storm thus far… Watch this space! Or, otherwise put, “like” the page and see what  happens next!

9. MATSDA

Screenshot: MATSDA's website

Screenshot: MATSDA’s website

MATSDA is the Materials Development Association. Headed by Brian Tomlinson, whose name is all over the materials development literature, they run conferences (the next one is on the 28th and 29th of June this year! Don’t miss out!), produce a newsletter (Folio) and have a website. The conferences are a great opportunity to connect with others who have a keen interest in materials development, as well as great social occasions!

10. ELT Materials Writer

Screenshot: ELT Materials Writer

Screenshot: ELT Materials Writer

This blog site maintained by John Hughes is another little gem for all you materials writers out there, containing a wealth of tips and resources. Topics are wide-ranging, from rubrics to videos to digital skills and much more. Well worth checking out if you haven’t done so already!

As ever, if you have a burning desire to see a site included on this list that isn’t already there, please do comment and share the link for others to have a look at! 

(One book I’d like to add, but won’t because it only exists in hardback at the prohibitive price of £52.50, is John Gray’s The Construction of English: culture, consumerism and promotion in the ELT Global course book published by Palgrave Macmillan. It’s a fascinating read, if you can get hold of it!) 

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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! 🙂

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:

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 09.23.56

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

Webinar on Learner Autonomy: Information and References

Today, the 19th of February 2014, at 11 a.m. C.E.T., I had the privilege of leading a webinar on Learner Autonomy Development, courtesy of the British Council’s Teaching English website. I started with a discussion regarding the theory related to learner autonomy, inviting participants to offer their own definitions and images of learner autonomy, and using the variety of definitions offered to illustrate how learner autonomy looks different in different contexts, before providing some definitions from the literature. This was followed with a brief look at each of my current learner autonomy development projects:

  • the Reading Project (click here)
  • the Experimenting with English Project (click here)
  • the Edmodo/Blog Project (click here)

(Links to these will be added in the next few days, as they are published)

Links to these can also be found on my Learner Autonomy page (click here). They cover largely the same ground as that covered in my webinar but with additional information regarding the process I went through with each project while developing it with my learners.

I concluded my webinar with a series of quotes from learner autonomy theorists. Each of these, I feel, makes an important point that is worth keeping in mind as you embark on the process of working with your learners to develop autonomy both inside and outside the classroom.

To see the recording of this webinar, please click here.

Many thanks to the British Council for giving me this wonderful opportunity, to International House Palermo for being supportive of my penchant for trying new things in the classroom, and last, but assuredly not least, to all the tutors in the M.A. ELT department at Leeds Metropolitan University for helping me find my voice and empowering me to question things as well as look for answers. Looking for answers may mostly lead to further questions (!), but it’s an amazing journey to go on. 🙂

Here is a full list of the references used in the webinar:

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.

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

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

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

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

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. and Ushioda, E. (2009) Under whose control? in  in Pemberton, Toogood and Barfield [Ed] Maintaining Control: Autonomy and Language Learning. 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. Palgrave Macmillan. Basingstoke.

If you are interested in learning more about Learner Autonomy, I would recommend the following resources:

Benson, P. (2003) Autonomy in language teaching and learning in Language Teaching vol. 40 issue 1 p.21-40. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

Menegale, M [ed] (2013) Autonomy in Language Learning: Getting learners actively involved. (Kindle Edition) IATEFL, Canterbury.

Palfreyman, D and Smith, R. [Ed] (2003) Learner Autonomy Across Cultures. Palgrave Macmillan. Basingstoke.

The IATEFL SIG newsletter, Independence, which comes out three times a year and is free to SIG members or £6.50 to non-SIG members.

If you are interested in learning about research done into the use of CMC tools in the language classroom, I would recommend the following resources:

Pinkman, K. (2005) Using blogs in the foreign language classroom in The JALT CALL Journal vol 1

Tratjemberg and Yiakoumetti (2011) Weblogs: a tool for EFL interaction, expression, and self-evaluation in ELT Journal vol 65/4. Oxford University Press.

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 on Learner Autonomy! (A final reminder…)

Don’t forget, the deadline for the 2nd ELT Research Blog Carnival is Friday 20th December – that’s 6 days time! Have you read a good article about Learner Autonomy that you’d like to review and share with us?

Please look at the guidelines here for information about how to participate. (Remember, you don’t even need to have your own blog in order to join in the Carnival: I would be happy to host your review on this blog, as a guest post.)

I look forward to receiving your contributions.

Happy reading and writing! 🙂

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.