Student autonomy - your knowledge is in your own hands

Promoting student autonomy - for teachers; Tips to be a more pro-active learner - for students; Personal Experience - Julia Vlasova.

PROMOTING STUDENT AUTONOMY


Can you remember a time when something inspired you to learn a skill all on your own? I was once scrolling my newsfeed and saw a beautiful corset, that I immediately knew I had to have. I tried to find the store that sold it but it turned out that it had been hand-sewn by a regular person. The realisation ignited something within me and half a year later I have a sewing machine and have made two corsets, a few dresses and a skirt.
I asked around and my colleagues all shared similar stories - one got inspired by her partner and took up photography, another’s innate curiosity led him to master Photoshop, yet another colleague wanted to eat healthy organic food so much that she set up her own kitchen garden and learned to make butter, oil and vinegar. Therefore we can conclude that the things that can motivate you to learn are other people, curiosity and need. Why not take the same approach to language learning? 

This brings us to the discussion of student autonomy. What is it and how can we nurture it? The definition that Prof. Jack C. Richards gave is this:
Learner autonomy refers to the principle that learners should take an increasing amount of responsibility for what they learn and how they learn it.
An autonomous learner will be involved in the learning process, will make decisions about their learning and will reflect on and evaluate their learning.
Let’s look at different ways a teacher can promote autonomy:

ENVIRONMENT

Learners need to feel that the classroom is open to their sharing of their own ideas and their own emotions, a sense of support and care from their instructor, that their peers are listening to them and that they are safe to express themselves. It is important to acknowledge their ideas and establish a set of rules that forbid criticising others’ mistakes and encourage helping each other. Students will be more likely to ask questions and clarify what they may have misunderstood.
In online classrooms use your groupchat as a space for exchanging ideas, articles, links and memes. The initiative may first come from a teacher, but once students realise how fun it is to engage in using the language this way, they will start talking and sharing on their own.  

REAL TOOLS, NOT FAKE ONES

Countless drilling and testing our knowledge in the safety of our classrooms may be a necessary step in mastering a language but field practice is undoubtedly more motivating. While we teach writing essays and emails, why not ask our students to write an instagram post or a tweet in English? Comment on somebody else’s post or reply to a question on Quora? In the past, having a penpal was a thing, but today you can find like-minded people all over the net. Encourage your students to join Facebook groups and write there, switch their dating app to English or simply follow more English-speaking bloggers on Instagram. The digitalised world around us is brimming with opportunities to practice a language and we need only to reach out and grab them. 

LEARNING TO LEARN

How much say do students have in what they are learning in class? Give students more opportunities to decide what kind of vocabulary they would like to study, pay attention to what grammar they are trying to use.
Teachers also know what kind of target vocabulary students should learn (a specific list of words and phrases on a particular topic). However, situational vocabulary is no less important. Pay attention to what kind of language that students ask for and need to complete the task. Note those words separately and revisit them as you would target vocabulary.
There are certain ways to ensure that the students are making their contributions in the lesson:
- Ask other students before asking the teacher (by learning from each other they become more independent);

- when a new word comes up, ask one of the students to write it on the board (usually the one that inquired about it);

- Ask students to write sentences in messages (their own examples in group chats and so on);

- Encourage students to take notes during the lesson; write their own definitions of words.


HOW TO BECOME A PRO-ACTIVE LEARNER

Have you ever noticed that if you have a real desire to do something, you will do so no matter what. I think learning languages is the same: if you want to speak fluently, you should practice as much as you can. Even when you study with a teacher, doing some independent work yourself will ensure a much faster progress. Here are things you should do:

- Write down after your teacher
Mark any word you don’t know and any rule you don’t really remember. It will start to accumulate in your brain and one day you’ll catch yourself using these words or rules without any hesitation.

- Ask!
I think this rule is the most important. Don’t be afraid to ask. Ask every thing you didn’t hear or misunderstood, or simply don’t know. You are here to learn, you are here for knowledge, so use any chance to get it.

- Finish by yourself
Try to open your textbook not only during the lesson. Learn by yourself too: repeat new words, search for more information and practice more.

- Let your teacher know
Every time you find the topic exciting tell your teacher about it. They will know more and will be able to explain things through. And if you think you don’t really like your theme, try to find words to say that you don’t think this kind of explanation works for you.


PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

It’s not a secret that you can really do a lot outside the class. Having lessons with a teacher is great, but the progress doesn’t only depend on your teacher’s contribution, but also on yours.

Of course the best thing you can do is to travel or even live for a while in a foreign country, but not everybody can afford that, so there are a lot of things we can do just sitting behind a computer. Here they are

- put your vocabulary into practise. After learning new vocabulary, use the words! If you don’t have any opportunity to discuss this topic with a partner (e.g. a foreign friend), make up a story with new material. Try to bring all the words and expressions together (even if they are from different areas)

- projects. Ask your teacher to help you with the ideas of the topic. For example, combine past tenses and stages of life. Make a presentation about one love story which impressed you in a positive or negative way. If you discuss modal verbs of ability, talk about your favorite Marvel/DC hero or say some words about your secret superpower

- my favourite tip - TALK TO YOURSELF. That can sound crazy, but just give your opinion out loud about any topic that you’d like to discuss and give different points of view. For feedback record your speech and send that to your teacher

- practise with movies. Watch something, write down the vocabulary that seemed interesting to you, write a short review of the film and ask your teacher to check it. For those who are into cinema, I strongly recommend ororo.tv. That’s my favourite website for watching films, series and podcasts.

- surround yourself with English.Change the language on all your devices. If you are keen on gaming, then play games in English or find an English speaking server for team activities.

- And a tip for couch potatoes - procrastinate in English! If you spend hours watching videos and podcasts on YouTube, just find bloggers who highlight the same topic in English. Now nobody can say that you are wasting your time, right?

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That’s all for now,

Stay amazing <3