mercoledì 31 agosto 2016

Learner autonomy and Language Teaching and Learning

Some weeks ago I was able to see the interesting webinar which was presented by David  Little. The webinar was online on 20th August and it  was offered  thanks to  a group of  professionals - IATEFL

This organization runs  regular CPD webinars , just check online- they are offered for free and are seen by many teachers of  English living in different countries :

Who is the Presenter

David Little has been  a Professor at Trinity College Dublin and has studied the issue of learner autonomy  and language learning- online I have found a lot of materials he has been working  on- - European Language Portfolios and Learners

The  European  Language Portfolio  ( ELP) is part of his  great  work in the European Union and teachers have been involved in  implementing it:

 ELP Material 2008 pdf document

The  Webinar : Learner autonomy and its implications for the  discourse of language teaching and learning 

The webinar described  how some learners can be successful and what teachers should do in order to help all the students master  their knowledge and their  autonomy.
He focussed on different learning environments and how students could better while they were or became more aware of their learning process. This link is important as in our learning situations, the traditional ones with students who are learning in a non-English-speaking country  we often face the issue of students who are passive learners and do not work well and they lack autonomy.
Reflecting on our  traditional way of learning and by analyzing learning  situations in which learning happened and had a lot of successful learners can help us think  about what language activities  teachers should do:

The teacher can support the learner but what is really important is the idea of creating a good learning environment which can facilitate and support students: the role of L1 is not  neglected and L1 is still important

An interesting idea presented by Professor Little was the one about optimal learning environments: intrinsic motivation is the key for promoting autonomy and the students' success

He underlined the fact that the target language is used not only for working in class but also by the students when they are thinking and  reflecting about  their own learning.

This is really important as good learners can reflect on their process of learning . In my experience as a teacher of English I have done a lot of activities and created a lot of tasks to help my learners but I have never asked my students to use the language as a reflective activity. This will be my great goal this year as I am aware that in some ways I have made some mistakes while I tried to be supportive but did not give my learners " the tools" or rather  " the  tasks"  which might help them and drive  their learning and their autonomy.  

The role of  Writing- a key idea in the presentation

I have always used writing as a controlled activity but what was suggested in the webinar  was a great way for building autonomy among learners.  We should provide opportunities for our learners who  write down about what is happening in their  learning . Working on  reflection and  narration can enhance their autonomy as learners.

The webinar  ended with a long list of activities which we can use and can provide opportunities for learners who are working on the  language and their autonomy: instruments of scaffolding

What new ideas about learning and learners  did  the Presenter introduce?

- any learner can learn well if he or she is aware of the progress  and what  has been done or achieved   when studying the foreign language
-  L1 can be used and it is also important for the learners- teachers can, therefore ,use it  if they are not   English mother-tongue speakers 
- teachers need to  provide opportunities for using the language not only in a guided  written discourse but also in the personal reflections on what has been done
- teachers need to think about writing tasks which help the learners : blogs, reflective 
  writing , portfolios are just some  good examples . I would also add  writing articles for the school magazine or online presentations or working on digital storytelling thanks to the modern web tools.

Professor Little  provided some examples of students' assessing their progress: they showed the great level of language reflection they had and they used  English in a correct way!

I wish to thank  him for the great ideas and  sources which he provided us with: food for thought and new ideas for my personal reflections on  ESL and TEFL.  I will have to check  some sources about scaffolding and how we learn.

                                                      Useful ideas and tips

Ideas for scaffolding  can be found online :

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