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How to Promote Learner Autonomy in the Language Classroom

By Dustin Baker,2014-08-30 09:35
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How to Promote Learner Autonomy in the Language Classroom

How to Promote LearnersAutonomy in the Language Classroom

    Abstract: Learning autonomy is an effective way to improve the efficiency of ELT. But, in China, learning autonomy is very weak because of examination systems. Learners' autonomy in language classroom means that learners take more control over the purpose for learning the target language and the ways to learn it and it needs some conditions for motivating learners' autonomy. for example, learning style and learning strategies, affective factors, motivation for learning language and so on, that's to say, learners' autonomy is influenced by these factors. There are four approaches to promote learners

    autonomy in language classroom. Firstly, psychological training for autonomy learning. Secondly, encouragement of learners to reflect their situation on learning. Thirdly, training of strategies to encourage learner to be active. Fourthly, encouragement of learners to monitor and check their own progress. These methods above are quietly effective for promoting learners' autonomy. However, it will take a long time to develop learners' autonomy because it's hard to break away from old habits or old ways of thinking. What's more important, the education system must be reformed in order to give learners more opportunities to take responsibility in their own learning.

    Key words: learners' autonomy, language classroom, learning autonomy,

    examination- oriented education system

     要?学习自主是一种提高英语教学效率的有效方法。但是在中国?由于应

    试教育体系的原故?学习自主性很差。在语言课堂上?学习者的自主性是指学习者更

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    多的由自己控制学习目标语言的目的和学习目标语言的方法。我们需要一些条件去激发学习者的自主性。例如?学习风格和学习策略?情感因素?语言学习动机等等。也就是说?学习者的自主性受这些因素影响。在语言课堂上?我们可以从四个方面着手去激发学习者的学习自主性?一是自主学习的心理训练,二是鼓励学习者反应学习情况,三是鼓励学习者积极参与活动的策略训练,四是鼓励学习者检测他们自己的进步情况,以上这些方法对提高学习者的自主性是非常有效的。然而?因为很难摆脱一些旧的习惯和思维方式?所以需要相当长的时间来发展学习者的自主性。其中更重要的是。为了给予学习者更多的机会去承担他们自己的学习?教育体制必须改革。

    关键词?学习者的自主性,语言课堂,学习自主性,应试教育体制

    Contents

    Abstract………………………………………………………………………i 摘要………………………………………………………………………ii Contents…………………………………………………………………iii Introduction…………………………………………………………………1 1 Definition of Learners Autonomy…………………………………… 1 2. Conditions for Learners Autonomy……………………………………2 2.1 Learning Style and Learning Strategies………………………………2 2.2 Affective Factors ……………………………………………………3 2.3 Motivation for Learning English ……………………………………4 2.4 Self-esteem ……………………………………………………………4

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3. Approaches to Promote Learner Autonomy in Language Classroom 5

     3.1 Psychological Training for Autonomous Learning……………………5

     3.2 Encouragement of Learners to Reflect on Learning………………… 6

     3.3 Training of Strategies to Encourage Learners to be Active………… 7

     3.4 Encouragement of Learners to Monitor and Check their own Progress9 4. Problems……………………………………………………………… 9

    Conclusion …………………………………………………………………10

    Bibliography ………………………………………………………………11

    Acknowledgement ………………………………………………………12

Introduction

    It is well known that English Language Teaching (ELT) in China has been inefficient and ineffective for years. The root cause may lie in the so-called examination-oriented education systems, which prepare students for examinations. Under this policy, learners’ autonomy has been neglected or

    even repressed so that the linguistic knowledge can not be transformed into linguistic competence.

     Many studies indicate that learners’ needs and attitudes play a very

    important role in their English learning, and that the analysis of learners’

    learning styles and strategies is necessary and desirable to improve English Language Teaching. Thus, more and more attention has been drawn to

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    English learners and learning process. It has become more and more obvious that learners’ autonomy is an effective way to improve the efficiency of

    English Language Teaching and thus should be introduced into and promoted in language classrooms.

1 Definition of Learners’ Autonomy

    Learner autonomy in language classroom means that learners take more control over the purposes for learning the target language and the ways to learn it. It can also be described as a capacity to take charge of or take responsibility of one’s own learning. From this point of view, learners’

    autonomy involves abilities and attitudes learners possess, thus can be promoted by teachers and exercised by learners in language classroom.

2. Conditions for Learners’ Autonomy

    2.1 Learning Style and Learning Strategies

    Learner style can be defined as a characteristic and preferred way of approaching learning and processing information. According to Kinsella (2002:170), a learning style refers to an individual’s natural, habitual, and

    preferred ways of absorbing, processing, and retaining new information and skills which persist regardless of teaching methods or content area. Researches on learning styles have made practical suggestions for expanding one’s teaching style to accommodate a wider range of learner characteristics

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    when helping learners develop a more flexible, effective approach to various

    [1]learning contexts and tasks.

    Learning strategies refer to the techniques used by learners to deal with input, assimilate new language, store, retrieve and practicing using it. These strategies include both cognitive strategies and metacognitive strategies. Cognitive strategies are thought process used directly in learning which enable learners to deal with the information presented in tasks and materials by working on it in different ways such as analogy, memorization, repetition, note-taking or inferencing. Metacognitive strategies involve planning for learning, thinking about learning and how to make it effective, self- monitoring during learning, and evaluation of how successful learning has been after working on language in some way.

    In order to help learners to assume greater control over their own learning it is important to help them to become aware of and identify the strategies that they already use or could potentially use. Research into learner strategies has contributed much to the field of English Language Teaching by highlighting the possibilities of learners becoming more self-reliant in their learning, and by generating discussion of how learners can be trained to take on more responsibility for their learning. Much of the research has tried to establish whether it is possible to facilitate learning through the use of certain strategies, or whether learners can modify their strategies and learn new, more

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effective ones.

    2. 2 Affective Factors

    Krashen (1985) has suggested the notion of affective filter, which plays an important role in language learning process on the part of learners. Affective filter is a representation of the way in which affective factors such as attitude, anxiety, competitiveness, and other emotional responses can help or hinder language learning. A learner who has generally negative attitudes toward learning English will have a high affective filter, which as a result will

    [2] make his language learning ineffective or even unsuccessful.

    Wenden (1998: 52) defines attitudes as “learned motivations, valued

    beliefs, evaluations, what one believes is acceptable, or responses oriented

    [3]towards approaching or avoiding”. For her, two kinds of attitudes are crucial:

    attitudes learners hold about their role in the learning process, and their capability as learners.

    I think that attitudes is very important whatever you do, of course including learning language .Some people said that attitudes decided everything. You do a thing with two different attitudes; the one is disregarding attitude, the other is regarding. It will appare two results .She/He will get a good, satisfactory result with regarding attitudes, in contrst, she/he will not succeed .So teacher should help students upright their attitudes of learning.

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    Anxiety is a response learned through early experiences and it can increase until the whole process of learning is badly affected. Thus, teachers have both the power and the responsibility to counter the development of anxiety by building self-confidence through positive early experiences, through providing reassuring feedback and through promoting self-perception of developing proficiency.

    2.3 Motivation for Learning English

    What most scholars seem to agree on is that motivation is “one of the

    key factors that influence the rate and success of second or foreign language (L2) learning. Motivation provides the primary impetus to initiate learning the L2 and later the driving force to sustain the long and often tedious learning

    [4]process” . According to Gardner and MacIntyre (1993: 3), motivation is comprised of three components: desire to achieve a goal, effort extended in this direction, and satisfaction with the task. It is now clear that motivation is of crucial importance in the language classroom, as many studies indicate the high correlation between motivation and successful learning.

     Motivation in language learning is a complex phenomenon which can be defined in terms of two factors: llearners' communicative needs and their attitudes towards the language community If learner need to speak the second language in a wide range of social situations or to fulfill professional ambitions ,they will perceive the communicative value of the second language and will therefore be motivated to acquire proficiency in it .like wise, if

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    learners have favour able attitudes towards the speakers of the language ,they will desire more contact with them.

     In the teacher's mind, motivated students are usually those who participate actively in class, express interest in the subject-mtter and study agreat deal. Teachers can easily recognize characteristics such as these. They also have more opportunity to influence these characteristics than students' reasons for studying the language or their attitudes toward the language and its speakers. If we can make our classrooms places where students enjoy coming because the content is interesting and relevant to their age and level of ability, where the learning goals are challenging yet manageable and clear, and where the atmosphere is supportive and non-threatening, we can make a positive contribution to students' motivation to learn.

     It is now clear that motivation is of crucial importance in the language classroom, as many students indicate the high correlation between motivtion and successful learning.

    2.4 Self-esteem

    Closely related to attitudes and motivation is the concept of self-esteem, that is, the evaluation the learner makes of himself with regard to the target language or learning in general. “[S]elf-esteem is a personal judgment of

    worthiness that is expressed in the attitudes that the individual holds towards himself' (Coopersmith, 1967: 4-5, cited in Brown, 1987: 101-102). Therefore, in language classroom, teachers should be fully aware of learners’ self-esteem

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    and try to respect or even elevate their self-esteem to facilitate better learning.

3. Approaches to Promote Learners’ Autonomy in Language

    Classroom

    3.1 Psychological Training for Autonomous Learning

    Since learners’ autonomy is determined by such factors as learners’

    motivation, and their beliefs about themselves as learners, it is apparent that changing some negative beliefs and attitudes will surely facilitate learning. In the traditional classrooms, teachers are viewed as authority imparting knowledge and dominating the classroom, while learners are seen as “container[s] to be filled with the knowledge held by teachers” (Benson &

    [5]Voller, 1997: 20). Therefore it is not easy for teachers to change their role from authority and dominator to counselor and manager of learning resources, and it is more difficult for teachers to let learners solve problem for themselves. Despite the difficulty, it is important and worthwhile to change the negative attitudes which might hinder learners’ autonomy. Attitude

    change can be made through psychological training on learners aiming at enhancing their awareness of their active role in language learning.

    Psychological training can be described as a change in perception about what language learning involves and a change in the expectation that language can only be learned through careful control of a specialist teacher. To ensure the change, teachers may have a discussion with learners at the

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    beginning of a course and make sure what roles they play respectively in language learning. It may be better for teachers to show by examples that language learning is a process in which learners are actively involved or even initiated by themselves if they want to achieve successful learning. What’s

    more important, teachers have to convince learners through specific activities that learners can really learn by themselves when they assume more responsibility in the learning process.

    3.2 Encouragement of Learners to Reflect on Learning

    At the beginning of a course which aims at improving a particular language skill, the teacher can encourage learners to reflect on their needs and problems in the skill and on the nature of the course they are to follow. It raises their awareness of what they come with to the course, their preconceptions and expectations of the teacher and themselves. It suggests by implication that there are ways of being more responsible for their learning. In addition, the teacher can ask learners to make personal recordings about their strengths and weaknesses while developing a particular language skill. This allows the learner to reflect and gives the teacher useful ideas for the class or individual guidance for the learner’s private practice.

    Learners can benefit from writing on their expectations of a course at the beginning of the term, and then filling in evaluation sheets, or reporting on the outcomes of a course, at the end of the term. These activities are bound to

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