Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Week 7 - Learner's Autonomy

Learner's Autonomy is the concept I came across in 2000 and since then I have been trying to use it in my teaching. Even though the articles of our compulsory reading were a bit too academic, I found what I was looking for in them. The most appealing idea of Autonomous Learner is 
"autonomy – "feeling free and volitional in one's actions" (Deci 1995, p.2) – is a basic human need. It is nourished by, and in turn nourishes, our intrinsic motivation, our proactive interest in the world around us"

Unfortunately, in my opinion, in our country, regardless some of our educators, the Autonomy Learner is an idea of future. Even though teachers probably know what it is about, they have no power or willingness to  proceed with it. Moreover, our traditional classes are teacher-centred and the move towards student-centred ones is almost impossible. Teachers, parents and students are used to parroting, memorizing without understanding and they are not used to giving, contradicting or sharing their opinions. Apparently, this might have been caused by the previous regime in which nobody should step out of the line. 

Nevertheless, being a teacher who supports the Autonomous Learner is a challenging issue. There have been parents and students who have complained about my approach in terms of the requirements and assessment. They have not been able to understand that providing materials - with or without the use of technology, explaining grammar rules, setting vocabulary, giving hints or provoking discussions have been techniques used to encourage students to think. In addition, they have always waited to be told what to memorize, what to think, what opinions to present not to contradict those of the teacher and  when they have not been "satisfied", they have complained. You, as a teacher, have to explain and explain and withstand such protests and resistance.

Sparking attractiveness in language learning through the interests of learners seems to be one of the most effective way how to nourish our intrinsic motivation. As it has been mentioned in my previous posts, teachers should find out what their students like and  learn something about their interests themselves to understand what might help their students be involved. Most of my students are teenagers so I do read books they read, I watch films and series they watch, I try to listen to music they do. On the other hand, adults have either professional interests or hobbies to talk about so I have learnt about snowboarding, radioactive waste disposal or assembly of RC planes. Accepting such an approach leads us to our proactive interest in the world around us so we are not frozen in time and we are exposed to new challenges to improve our education. Everybody knows that the education does not end with a diploma.

Being responsible for your knowledge is the most important issue teachers should teach students. The pyramid below shows how I explain to my students that it depends on them what they will learn and how.


  1. Hello Monika,
    Great reflection! I think dealing with parents is the most difficult thing, isn't it? It's one of the reasons why I don't teach in schools.

    You never know, I might in the future. Probably, by that time, the idea of learner autonomy will be set and there will be no complaints about that.

    Have you tried mixing your approach with a little bit of what parents want so they don't bother? Only for the objective of introducing your excellent approach. If it isn't a good idea, just leave it.

    Keep the good work!

  2. Hi Monika!

    Your situation sounds challenging! It sounds like the situation we were in some years ago and probably there are still parents who think that schools and tuition should be the way it was when they went to school, i.e. very teacher-centered. Mostly, however, teaching is a combination of student-centered and teacher-centred approaches always depending on the grade, subject and topic at hand. Since teachers have very free hands as how to organnise their instruction as long as they include all the topics of the syllabus, there is agreat variation in how student-oriented tuition is.

    I think my lessons are maybe about 40 - 60 %, forty percent being the percentage of student-oriented tuition. I try to have them do a lot of oral pair work both when it comes to working on texts and vocabulary and when it comes to practising grammar items. They are usually pretty active when they do exercises in pairs and they all actually have to do something ; )

    Stay strong and continue on your chosen path! : )


  3. Hi Monica,
    I've read your post about learner autonomy with great interest. I am a bit surprised when you say that the Learner Autonomy is an idea of future. It looks as if you won't be trying anything to change this perception which seems to be deeply-rooted among students and parents. If you are convinced about the necessity to have a learner centered class, don't you thing that as a teacher you have a mission to reverse this ... trend ?

    Many thanks



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