I would like to introduce you to a group of 9 talented young ladies : )
Some Saturdays a month I teach them at our local college, the KBZ. They attend a seven-hour course in English (and other subjects, such as Finance, Correspondence in German, Computing and others), in order to be qualified PAs (Personal Assistants) in companies, to CEOs, chairpeople and directors. I truly admire them because apart from three days a week of courses, homework and studying, they also work, do a lot of activities, have families, personal lives, hobbies and even so, they are always full of energy! Our course starts at 07:35 am and finishes at 13:45 pm.
This course will go on for two years, and they will sit an exam. Their English exam includes a lot of parts, such as reading comprehension, translation (German into English and vice versa) and they will also be asked to make a presentation. Today, we prepared our first presentation! I chose a very broad, general, simple topic, as their first. I wanted to give them almost no directions apart from the topic, which was: Who is the ideal employee? They gave me so many ideas for other classes as well. I love when the students take ownership of the learning process! This is all theirs, and I would love to share their work with you all (having obtained permission first).
The only other thing apart from the topic that I did was provide them with materials, so they could present any way they liked.
I split them in pairs and a small group (unfortunately two were absent today and hope they feel better soon!) and gave them about 25-30 minutes to prepare for an 8-minute presentation. As they were preparing, I went around with a notepad writing down all the amazing language they were using, making small corrections and helping out if needed. I cannot even begin to describe their enthusiasm as they came up with ideas, what materials to use and who would say what. So in the end, we had three amazing and varied presentations. Let’s have a look in the order that they were presented:
These ladies took blank sheets of A4 paper and made a flow chart, which they attached to the wall with magnets. I loved how they followed their own way of presentation – via the use of questions. They tried to find the ideal employee by asking us questions, and made it clear that the answers would come from us – which I thought was a great way of approaching such a broad subject.
Here is their flowchart:
The Board Display
This group of three ladies chose the chalkboard to write down bullet points, which they then analysed (each one took a bullet point in order, explained why they had chosen it and also gave us examples!). I loved this way of presenting as well.
Here is their presentation:
The Poster Presentation
These two ladies used the poster paper. They brainstormed any words or phrases they could think of when taking the ideal employee into consideration, and wrote them in different colours, which made the points stand out. It was colourful and a great visual aid for their presentation! Then they stuck the poster to the wall with magnets and explained each point, which they also illustrated with examples.
I can’t wait to explore many more topics with them and other types of presentations as well. I am so grateful because they are so motivated and willing to learn, that is absolutely contagious for me too! I will be sharing more on the blog.
A little message for them – and for all my students:
This year has been a great year in learning for me, not only for my profession but for myself in general.
Once again, I have attended amazing conferences and workshops, where I have learnt a great deal and networked with amazing educators.
A very important thing I learned – pretty late, but better late than never! Facebook rocks for teachers! I absolutely love it. I had only been on Twitter for three years and my great friend James Taylor and Ania Musielak managed to get me to take the plunge – I really wonder why I hadn’t done it earlier. It is much more visual for me and I can learn a lot from various groups I have joined. It is truly a buzzing community of educators. Plus when I joined, I really felt like I opened a door to a house full of friends!
I am really trying to improve my German – both for myself and out of respect to this wonderful country. I am trying to learn it the way I can best, the way I learn other things as well – by looking and listening. Not through traditional methods and I completely refuse to follow them. For me they just don’t work, as I feel I am running into a wall. For that reason, I observe and try to speak with people and friends around me as much as possible. I also listen to lots of podcasts and that has improved it quite a lot.
I have started learning Turkish for the past three weeks, ever since I returned from lovely Istanbul. I have been learning on an online programme and will start lessons very soon! I love how it sounds. I would love to be able to communicate next time I go there again!
I have learned to make time for myself, for things I like – be it a simple thing that makes me feel good. It can be reading a book, having a nice cup of coffee or eating cake. If I feel okay, I am healthy and then I am feeling fine for my students as well!
Most importantly, after fifteen years of teaching, I have learned (and I am actually applying it much better than I thought) not to self-flagellate when something goes wrong, either in my teaching or in life in general. I see every mistake, every mishap as just one more thing ahead and that I will try no matter what to correct it or not repeat it.
I hope 2013 is full of health, happiness and even more learning for all of us! I wish everybody a Happy New Year!
It is with great pleasure and honour that I feature a wonderful educator on my blog, Icha Sarwono who is based in Indonesia. Icha teaches at a Kindergarten and Preschool and is active on social media. She is also an iTDi Associateand has a blog. Here is Icha!
1. Icha, how did you become an educator?
I suppose it’s in my blood, as I come from family who works either in education or a health institution. I don’t think I know any other thing to do, as even my first part-time job during my junior high was tutoring my classmates in English. Then during my college year up till now I coach the school’s drumband (that is kind of a teaching activity too right?) . I suppose I became a teacher because I remember how my teachers used to have an impact on me, personally and of course educationally. So, though teaching has never been on my list of goals growing up, I chose this line of work because I want to influence and help people in a little way.
2. What would you like to have known back then, that you know now? What would you advise Icha the beginning teacher?
Well I would love to have known that teaching doesn’t always equal educating. I used to think that it was easy easy to transfer knowledge but it hasn’t always been the case as I found out. The first thing you need to do is to inspire them, so they will be excited in learning themselves. I would advise the young 24-year-old Icha (that’s the age I started teaching full-time) to take it easy, don’t get frustrated when the class doesn’t go as you plan, because the unexpected is much more fun for it opens up a new adventure! Oh, and remember that you cannot judge a student simply by his grades, because as Einstein said:
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
3. You teach at Kidea Daycare. What are the things one needs to keep in mind when teaching little ones? What are the pros and what are the challenges of teaching such young ages?
Actually it’s Kidea Preschool and Kindergarten and I am now teaching a K2 class, a bunch of 5-year-old students 🙂 . I think what we should have in mind when teaching young learners is that you cannot force them in accepting all you have to give at a certain time. They need time to bloom. We should know also that it is better for the kids if they can experience themselves rather than asking them to visualize. I mean, I know people say that kids are full of great imagination, but if we don’t lead them then how would we know we have pressed the right button? I believe in concrete to abstract concept in Montessori teaching because once my kids have got the concrete concept, it is easy for them to grasp the next lesson for they have it imprinted on their mind. The thing I love most about young learners is that they have always been enthusiastic in knowing new things, they cannot wait to be able to master something. The problems are a lot too, but mostly come from the outside, like from the parents. The biggest thing for me would be parents who are questioning our approach and skeptical about it, because I believe in teaching young learners, we need trust from them as we must have their support and sometimes it is not an easy case. I am very lucky that the parents of my class now back me and it has made it easier to give my all for their children.
4. What is the ELT scene like in Indonesia?
I must say I don’t know much as I haven’t been in touch with TEFLIN (the ELT organization I belong to) for quite some time as I am now teaching kindergarten rather than English – but I would say that it is still kind of divided in groups for we haven’t got a strong foundation. It is merely a political thing as each year there has always been some sort of new change in the school curriculum that can lead up to changes in English lesson too. Teachers here are trying hard to cope with the latest in ELT world, and I think we’re doing pretty well though we have lots to conquer still.
5. When you are not teaching, what do you do in your free time?
Oh, I love reading! And watching TV channels like NatGeo or NatGeo adventure , Animal planet and the Food channel. I love cooking, I cook a lot for my class and involve them in my cooking activity. I also love playing around with my 4 (soon to be more) cats!
6. What are your plans for your career in the future?
Simply being a better teacher. As I was introduced to Montessori teaching 2 years ago, I’d love to learn more about it, if possible attend a class on it. I would also love to engage in more discussion like #ELTChat or #ASIAElt to improve myself and my teaching. Hopefully I can contribute more to the education in Indonesia.
Icha, thank you so much! ELT and education are very lucky to have you.
I read a really great blog post today that made me think once again about the potentials kids have and how we should encourage them to externalise them and applaud them when they do. George Couros, a great educator from Canada (and my very first guest blogger!) wrote In Spite of Schools – definitely worth reading.
As educators, apart from the actual teaching we are there for our students, to show them what they can do and highlight their abilities. Sometimes, educators tend to tell their students what they can’t do, where they are not so strong and focus mainly on the problems they may face in their learning. I think it is equally, if not more important, to show them what they are great in and how they can become even greater! When they can do something, they gain confidence and build on their abilities even further.
An example that comes to my mind is a student of mine in Greece who wrote poetry – her poetry was beautiful and at the same time she practised her English, as she was learning it as a foreign language! She was developing two talents at the same time, her writing and her language skills. We recognised it early on and she developed it a lot on her own – her autonomy as a learner simply grew from there, as she could find where and how she could learn.
Chuck Sandy and Vladimira Michalkova, two amazing educators and the co-founder and associate of iTDi respectively, have developed the idea of Surpr@ise, through which you find a student or teacher who is doing a great job and surprise them with praise! Watch Chuck describing it in this YouTube Video:
As a great number of educators out there, I have always enjoyed being a learner. Be it a language, skill or so. In class, regardless of the age of the students I teach, I share with them what helps me learn. I like to point out what works for me, so that they can look inside them and see what works for them. When students and particularly kids see their teacher as a learner, that gives them extra motivation.
Especially with younger students we try to discover what helps them learn and we remember that everyone works and learns in a different way. I have heard teachers get annoyed because some children lip-read or whisper when they read. Not all of them read silently.
I remember a student of mine who loved visual cues – we used that to his advantage and he learned so much. Others are audio-learners, others kinaesthetic, others learn better taking down notes…a diversity that makes learning such a great experience!
Asking the learners also brings to my mind asking for their feedback about their learning in general – if they like what we do in class, what more they want and how we educators can help them. Surely we are there and can see what they need, where they are doing well and where they need improvement, what they like and what not – but giving them ownership of their learning and showing them that we care about and respect their opinions and presence in our classes, gives them motivation for their learning.
I would like to thank Martin Sketchley for sharing this fantastic blog post about his time teaching English in Korea. I have really enjoyed reading this – it is so interesting to see how things are teaching in another country. I love the extra reading list as well! Thank you so much, Martin!
Martin Sketchley has been teaching English as a foreign language for six years. He taught for three and a half years in South Korea for various private language institutes. During this period, he was a BULATS Examiner and assisted in introducing the exam to this region of Asia. Martin returned to the UK and recently completed an MA in English Language Teaching at the University of Sussex. Currently, he is a Cambridge ESOL Examiner for B1 and B2 CEF level examinations, works at a local language school in Eastbourne and maintains a blog (www.eltexperiences.com). Finally, Martin is now seeking for a publisher to assist his authoring of a book related to his experiences of language teaching and education in South Korea.
Personal Background to Teaching English in South Korea
I started teaching English as a foreign language in South Korea in December 2005 unqualified, inexperienced and totally out of my depth. As is common in South Korea, all budding English teachers require a degree in any subject and the enthusiasm to teach young learners or adults in a variety of settings. I started my teaching career teaching young learners and teenagers in a small private school in a small rural Korean village. This provided the beginnings of what is now a rewarding and interesting career. After completing one year of teaching at this small private school, I decided to commence a four week CELTA Course at the British Council in Seoul in February 2007. The rest is, as they say, history.
ELT in South Korea
English was initially introduced to Korea with the use of Christianity between the mid-fourteenth and early twentieth century (1392-1910). After the Japanese colonisation period of Korea (1910-1945), English was reintroduced to South Korea due to the Korean War, directly from the US Army (Shin 2007: pg.77). English Language Teaching was firmly established in South Korea within the 1990s, and prior to this, English was taught predominately by grammar translation and rote memorisation methods. However, Kim Young-Sam (a previous President of South Korea), persuaded the Ministry of Education to adopt a more “communicative English curriculum” (Shin 2007: pg.77). There has been slow change to adopt the ‘communicative approach’ of English language teaching, now commonly referred to as Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), inasmuch that the current President, Lee Myoung-bak, when he first came into power, asserted that the teaching of English should be in English so that Koreans are able to “communicate with Americans” (Shim 2009: pg.106). Consequently, this has implications for not only Native English Teachers (NETs) but also Non-Native English Teachers (NNETs). There is an expectation, due to current political pressure and the recent educational reforms, which encourage NNETs to teach English in their L2. Furthermore, these recent changes urge the Ministry of Education to implement “a national English proficiency examination that concentrates on practical English” (Shim 2009: pg.107). Although educational reforms have been implemented by the Korean Government, a study in 2006 reported that South Koreans spent an annual $15.3bn on private English lessons and $752m on tests such as the TOEFL (Card, 2006). It is believed that “incompetence in English … is claimed to have cost South Korea important business opportunities” (Song 2011: pg.36) and that Koreans have no option but to focus their financial resources to English learning. There are claims that some “parents will spend the equivalent of a month’s salary … on monthly [English] tuition” (Demick, 2002), with some parents deciding on extreme ‘linguistic surgery’ for their children so that they are “better able to pronounce” (ibid.) particular words thereby giving them a more ‘competitive edge’ in English. So how come South Koreans spend so much money on English education? Park (2009) considers the current ‘English fever1’ within South Korea is due to a Korean’s belief that education, albeit English in this case, is regarded as “the most powerful means to achieve upward social mobility and economic prosperity” (ibid. pg.50). The ‘national religion’ of acquiring English in South Korea is a big industry, with many Korean mothers pressurising their children to learn English with the belief that it obviously would improve their future employment prospects (Park 2009: pg.50). However, English in Korea is “a language hardly or never used in everyday communication” (Song 2011: pg.36) but has become an integral measurement in Korean educational performance.
The English Speaker Model in South Korea
The native speaker model is commonly implemented in South Korea, with Inner Circle teachers being recruited. Kirkpatrick (2007) noted that the Korean Government “decided to employ 1,000 native speaker English teachers in its schools” (ibid. pg.185), with advertisements in various Korean newspapers. There was an advertisement in the Korea Herald (www.koreaherald.com) which sought the following expected native speakers of English:
Type 1 teachers require a Certificate in TESOL or three years full-time teaching experience with a graduate degree in TESOL or experience and interest in Korean culture and language.
Type 2 teachers only have to be native speakers of English with a bachelor’s degree in any field.
(Kirkpatrick 2007: pg.185)
The above advertisement could require Type 1 prospective native teachers, at minimum, to have ‘experience and interest in Korean culture and language’, which was my situation late 2005. However, this raises one important matter whether native teachers, without any formal background or experience in teaching or education, are the best models for English education in the Expanding Circle. Nonetheless, what is and what defines a ‘native speaker’ of English? If English is now the lingua franca, are we not all ‘native speakers’ of a variety of English? A stereotypical ‘native’ speaker of English, in the opinion of South Koreans, is an individual who is considered from the Inner Circle. Kachru & Nelson (2001) refer to a ‘native speaker’ as “someone who learned a language in a natural setting childhood as first or sole language” (ibid. pg.15). However, Medgyes (1992) noted that there is a certain amount of ambiguity by defining the native and non-native speaker (ibid. pg. 340-341). Additionally, issues arise in relation to World Englishes which question “who can be labelled a NS or a NNS because a single norm for standard English no longer exists” (Higgins 2003: pg.616). Higgins (2003) also suggests that in an attempt to move away from the native and non-native speaker model, “scholars have employed a concept of ownership to investigate speakers’ ideological stances toward English” (pg.617). There are critics to the concept of native or non-native ‘ownership of English’, stating “things will fall apart and the [English] language will divide up into mutually unintelligible varieties” (Widdowson 1994: pg.383) if there is any diversification. However, there is some hegemonic assumption that Inner Circle speakers will be communicating with Outer or Expanding Circle speakers, or vice-versa, and, furthermore, to maintain some mutual understanding, Outer or Expanding Circle speakers must employ a normative variety of English to be intelligible with Inner Circle speakers. However, pedagogically, there is a suggestion for English professionals to expose varieties of English in the ESL or EFL classroom. It is noted “that being exposed to several varieties in the classroom can help learners become aware that the success of communication with other English speakers does not necessarily rely on the [expected normative] forms of English they produce” (Suzuki 2010: pg.146). Suzuki (2010) also highlights the lack of teacher awareness, during teacher training programmes, in relation to the diversity of English and the potential effects (ibid. pg.146-151) and she recommends that preparing teachers, as well as learners, for the diversity of English would encourage understanding and appreciation of non-standard varieties of English for both the teacher as well as the learner (Suzuki 2010: pg.152-153). There is additional ambiguity, within South Korea, in classifying a ‘native’ or ‘non-native’ speaker of English, as there could be some countries which use English as an official language, such as in India or Singapore, which may be perceived with less ‘prestige’ due to their ‘endonormative’ variety of English. A news article in early July 2008, from the Philippines, stated that those eligible for a Korean E2, Foreign Language Instructor, Visa to teach English in South Korea include “the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Ireland” (GMA News 2008, www.gmanews.tv) due to their ‘exonormative’ English policy. However, a South Korean news article which was published at the end of 2008 stated that English speakers from the Outer Circle “from India and other countries that use English as an official language will be able to teach at public schools from the following year” (The Korea Times 2008, www.koreatimes.co.kr). This demonstrated that there was some recognition, from the South Korean government as well as parent groups, with particular English speakers from the Outer Circle becoming more acceptable to teach English. Does this demonstrate a greater awareness and acceptability for the diversity of English? Well it is a positive step in the right direction but, as Shin (2007) pointed out, “the NS as an ideal teacher legitimizes the substitution of language politics for racial politics in ELT” (ibid: pg.79). Shim (2002) recognised that within Korea, there was “a strong preference for American English and a unanimous unwillingness to participate in a programme that would introduce them to non-native English varieties” (in Jenkins 2007: pg.101).
Medgyes, P. (1992) ‘Native or non-native: who’s worth more?’ ELT Journal, 46(4), pp. 340-349.
Park, J. K. (2009) ‘‘English fever’ in South Korea: its history and symptoms’. English Today 97, 25(1), pp. 50-57.
Shim, R. J. (2002) ‘Changing attitudes toward TEWOL in Korea’. Journal in Asian Pacific Studies. 12(1) in Jenkins, J. (2007) English as a Lingua Franca: Attitude and Identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Shim, R. J. (2009) Plenary: Empowering EFL students through teaching World Englishes in IATEFL 2008: Exeter Conference Selections edited by B. Beaven, April 7-11 2008. IATEFL: Kent.
Shin, H. (2007) ‘English Language Teaching in Korea: Toward Globalization or Glocalization?’, in Cummings, J. & Davison, C. (ed.) International Handbook of English Language Teaching. Springer: New York, pp. 75-86.
Song, J. J. (2011) ‘English as an official language in South Korea: Global English or social malady?’ Language Problems & Language Planning, 35(1), pp. 35-55.
Suzuki, A. (2010) ‘Introducing diversity of English in ELT: student teachers’ responses’. ELT Journal. 65(2), pp. 145-153.
Widdowson, H. G. (1994) ‘The Ownership of English’. TESOL Quarterly, 28(2), pp. 377-389.
1 ‘English fever’ was a term coined by Krashen in 2003. It is used to suggest an “overwhelming desire to (1) acquire English, (2) ensure that one’s children acquire English, as a second or foreign language” (http://www.sdkrashen.com/articles/fever/index.html, 2011). English education in South Korea has also been referred to as a ‘national religion’, a ‘craze’ or has a ‘cult-like status’ (Harris 2005: pg.172).
And after two fantastic days of learning and connecting, the third day arrived which was equally super! There was only one difference though…we were all feeling sad at the end of it, because we would have to end a great conference and say goodbye to very good friends.
The third day started off with a session by Willy Cardoso, Classroom Management – Who’s (Really) in Charge? It was the first time I had attended a talk by Willy. I am a big fan of his blog, Authentic Teaching– if you have not read his posts, I would highly recommend them!
I absolutely loved Willy’s talk. He shared his personal experiences in class with his students in London – Willy told us of how he gave his students ownership of the lessons. They felt comfortable enough to ask him to do something particular they liked in the next lesson and it worked – Willy had the greatest of lessons with them! They were still learning. He also spoke of seating arrangements that he changes all the time according to what he wants to do with students in class. I wish I could have seen one of Willy’s lessons!
After that, I had the privilege of attending the talk of a person I have admired for years for his work, and have had the good luck of meeting personally – and is a fantastic person as well – Simon Greenall! Simon talked about a subject very close to my heart, that of culture and diversity, which I have mentioned many times in the past as an integral part of my teaching. In his talk Mind the Gap: Designing Materials and Activities for Intercultural Training, Simon spoke to us about how he has integrated culture in his books and materials – the sensitivity we should have towards people of various cultures in our teaching, in order to pass this on to our students and show them that these cultural differences are important, in order to bring tolerance in our classes.
Another one of my favourite people on Twitter was up next – Arjana Blazič and her workshop Testing, testing, 1 , 2, 3! Arjana is a multi-awarded educator from Croatia with two blogs: her ownand one she has organised with her IT specialist at school to help students in their Matura exams.
Arjana, who integrates technology extensively in her classes, introduced us to a multitude of web tools in order to help our students with quizzes and online testing. The great thing was that on these websites teachers and students can be very flexible and create quizzes of their own. Arjana did a great job of pointing out the advantages and disadvantages of these web tools, which ones we could use free of charge and which we have paid versions of. You can see her presentation and all the slides including all the web tools on her blog.
The conference closed with a fantastic plenary by Geoff Tranter, called That’s a Funny way to Learn a Language! Geoff has an amazing sense of humour (which he also showed us during the Open Mic night the evening before) and demonstrated how we can use it in class effectively – he showed us funny acronyms, riddles, funny signs and newspaper headlines we can use in our classes! I liked what Geoff said at one point: If your students are making humorous remarks in a foreign language, you have come a long way with them. I really enjoyed this closing plenary, as it was full of tips and also quite different.
After the conference, the BESIG weekly workshop, with Helen Strong this time, was broadcast in the amphitheatre – some watched it, some of us had to leave Paris unfortunately, and a great conference and very good friends behind.
As a closing treat to these three posts about the respective days of the TESOL France conference, I have some photos for you! I hope you enjoy them.
It is with great pleasure that I introduce you a wonderful guest blogger, Andreas Grundtvig! I was very happy to meet him at the ETAS SIG Day in Zug.
Andreas Grundtvig teaches at the Staatliche Fremdsprachenschule in Hamburg, Germany and is currently preparing to take over the management of his local Cambridge ESOL Examinations Centre. In his freetime, he regularly presents teacher training workshops and designs and creates classroom resources for Cornelsen. He is passionate about politeness research as well as fostering learner autonomy and imaginative learning – in 2005, he supervised the foundation of the first ever, internationally recognised, EFL micronation – the Kingdom of Playland.
Beginning his career in Spain in the 1990s, Andreas has spent over a decade in academic management in countries as far afield as Portugal, Switzerland, Lithuania, France and Germany. His former students range from aircraft designers, cardiologists and politicians to six-year olds. His first student ever was a famous songwriter (buy him a beer and he’ll tell you about this)!
Andreas was born in Sweden and grew up and graduated in Suffolk, England. He lives in Germany with his Lithuanian wife and English Springer Spaniel. He still cannot make up his mind whether he is a dog or cat person!
Thank you so much, Andreas!
As I’m thinking here about what to write for Vicky’s blog, I’m on my way home after presenting for ELTAF, the English Language Teacher’s Association in Frankfurt. It’s been a long day – I’ve delivered two workshops and talked for over six and a half hours to a group of eleven teachers I’d never met before – but I’m riding on a high – from a sense of success and accomplishment. For a quiet, unassuming guy like me, it’s been a personal record.
Of the two workshops, I feel that the second went especially well. Even though it came after a heavy lunch on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I don’t recall seeing anybody yawning or checking their watches to see how much longer they’d have to bear up until the weekend could finally begin. Instead, I could see only keen listeners, who experienced several ‘a-ha’ moments (when a previously confusing subject suddenly becomes crystal clear) and, at the end of the session, left discussing amongst themselves which of the ideas I’d shown them they would use in their own classrooms. All of these responses – combined with an end-of-the-day refill of the amber nectar – were enough to give me the buzz to keep on presenting.
I began my afternoon workshop – ‘Go it alone – the secrets of the LA learner’ – by telling the participants a story about an earlier presentation I’d given – again to a bunch of strangers in an unfamiliar town. At the beginning of this year, I spoke in Cologne, where, half an hour before the workshop was due to begin, the first of the die-hard TEFLers began to arrive. One of them, I could see, was sizing me up and, as he began to circle and then to approach, I braced myself for what was coming next.
‘Tell me!’, he fired in a no-nonsense manner, ‘What’s the difference between learner independence and learner autonomy?’
I put the same question to the participants here in Frankfurt and – hopefully, sounding less like the Voice of Authority – asked them what they thought. They were as unsure as I had been but were a lot less afraid of admitting to the fact. Deciding which factors are involved in the concept of learner autonomy took up the best part of an afternoon. Working on the task together, we came up with an inventory, if you will, of characteristics of the LA learner. This is what we said:
The autonomous learner…
– needs to be motivated.
– needs to have a lot of contact with and be ready
to accept L2.
– mustn’t be afraid and should try to move from fear to freedom.
– can make connections with other languages they may know.
– shouldn’t try to understand every word they hear.
– thinks outside of the box.
– tries to listen to L2 as much as possible.
– looks at how language is used – context is everything!
At the end of the afternoon, we went on to discuss the negative impression that most of our students have of homework. Why is it that, all too often, when we suggest doing something outside of the scheduled lesson, students glower and grumble until we feel like throwing in the towel and just forgetting about the whole thing? Most probably, they experience flashbacks to the endless evenings of their schooldays spent bogged down with gap-fill exercises and a grammar rule book as their only guide. Come to think of it, the words ‘home’ and ‘work’ are, after all, significant of polarities. Perhaps we can do something to remove the stigma that homework bears (firstly, by giving it a new and better name) and to give our students more creative and – hopefully – motivational tasks.
On the main topic of learner autonomy, I’m interested to hear what you think about our inventory (did we miss anything?) and how can we introduce and tackle, raising our students’ awareness of each of the points mentioned?
By the way, my answer to the question originally posed to me in Cologne began with a shaky ‘Er… it is probably… ehmm…’ – get this wrong, I was thinking, and I’m finished! Swallowing hard, I pulled myself together and managed to come up with the following:
‘An independent learner is somebody who studies alone without the guidance of a teacher. An autonomous learner however, is someone who is able to do things alone but under the guidance of a teacher.’
Right or wrong, I was pleased with my answer. As it turned out, so was my wily interlocutor!
‘Just as I thought!’, he responded, clapping his hands together, and adding: ‘I’ll quote you on that!’