Thursday, January 28, 2010

What will the autonomous learner think of next?

Last Thursday Reading and Writing Class and How to Get Students to Ask Questions

Well, today was the last reading and writing class for the year, well not really the last because we have a test next week, but I never really count test day as a class. The activities for the lesson included a final worksheet on the indefinite and definite articles, a reading exercise, a sentence correction activity, a worksheet on ‘be going to’ and a writing task which asked the students to talk about what they would do during the break. After they students received their package and started working, I walked around telling them that if they had any questions, they could ask me; only one student did though. Of course I could add the adverb unfortunately, but the fact that one student asked me a question would be enough to end the previous sentence with fortunately, I think. Also, at the end, two students asked me about the difference between ‘a’ and ‘the’ and when it is needed. Now, this was written in Japanese on the handout, but as I’ve come to realize, perhaps a more direct approach to teaching the articles may be in order. However, that said, I think that students should try to ask more questions, even if it is after class. If I continue this lesson style next year, I will try a modified version of Karenne’s advice (again, thanks Karenne!) of having students ask me questions. However, as the students choose the order in which they do the activities, it may be difficult to ask students after each activity for questions if they don’t understand, especially if you have almost 40 students, so what might be a good idea in this class would be to have students email me, or write questions down and submit them before leaving (an idea that stemmed from Karenne’s advice). Perhaps in this way, students may feel more comfortable asking me things.

Was this really learner autonomy?

I am asking myself this question because it is a valid one, and perhaps some or maybe all of you are thinking that just giving the students a choice in what order to do the activities does not really constitute learner autonomy, and after conducting such a lesson for a year, I would probably agree with you. However, if we consider this as the first step to fostering learner autonomy, then maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. Of course, I now have to ask myself, ‘Ok, if this was the first step, then what next?’ to which I do have some ideas, such as giving students complete freedom in what they write about or having students choose what they would like to focus on/review next class and prepare that for them. However, these ideas still seem to be teacher focused to me, the latter more so than the former I should say, as they all come from me and not from the students. The more I think about it, though, perhaps what is really needed is a compromise between complete autonomy and complete teacher control. I know that it is important for students to take control of their learning in order to become fully autonomous learners, but I also know that not all students are interested in such control, let’s be honest, so maybe giving them the choice, with the guidance of the teacher, of course, of what to focus on based on materials provided by the teacher may be an idea to try, and by encouraging students to make opportunities for learning such as going to a library/SAC, going on-line etc, might just be the next step needed for fostering more learner autonomy in this class.

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