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scale. This presentation will be about the following questions concerning learner autonomy: a) what is learner autonomy? b) why is it necessary in EFL settings? c) what dispositions does an autonomous learner display? d) what should be done to promote learner autonomy in EFL settings? e) what is the importance of learner autonomy in terms of Common European Framework (CEFR)?
Introduction Within the changing landscape, new conceptions of what it means to be an educated person, the deconstruction of the traditional language learning classroom, and teachers’ growing concerns about their own roles in the teaching and learning process have been particularly important (Benson and Toogood, 2001). Specially, the rise of ideologies of globalization, the information age and the knowledge-based economy are leading educational authorities to become much more “receptive to autonomy-related ideas than they once were” (Benson, 2001). Early pedagogical experiments related to autonomy were inspired by humanistic expectations aroused by the political turmoil and “counter-cultures” of late 1960s Europe (Gremmo and Riley, 1995, cited in Benson, 2006), which led to the development of selfdirected learning and independent learning. As Allwright (1988: 35) puts it, the idea of learner autonomy was for a long time “associated with a radical restructuring of language pedagogy” that involved “the rejection of the traditional classroom and the introduction of wholly new ways of working”. It is no doubt that the pendulum in language teaching has swung dramatically from an emphasis on language teaching methodology to a focus on the learner (Oxford, 1998). With the proliferation of selfaccess centers in the 1990s and more recent developments related to computer-based modes of teaching and learning, and learner-based approaches, Allwright’s (1988) “radical restructuring of language pedagogy” has become a reality that many language teachers must come to terms (Benson, 2006). The deconstruction of traditional language classrooms and courses all over the world has underlined the growing interest in autonomy in recent years. What’s more, with the innovations that centre on the learners, learner autonomy, inevitably, has become an exhilarating concept in the field of foreign language learning over the last three decades. Likewise, more recently, learner autonomy has met with renewed interest as the educational sector is witnessing an enormous and rapid development in terms of new technologies, and the past few years have seen the importance of learner autonomy, particularly in higher education (Gremmo, 1997: 111). In this respect, I try to explain learner autonomy from several different dimensions in this study.
What is Learner Autonomy? Like many other terms, the concept of learner autonomy is so difficult to define properly. According to Benson (2006), this difficulty simply stems from two basic assumptions that “there are degrees of autonomy” (Nunan, 1997: 172) and that “the behavior of autonomous learners can take numerous different forms, depending on their age, how far they have progressed with their learning, what they perceive their immediate learning needs to be, and so on” (Little, 1991: 4), which causes the educators to make several various definitions ranging from the simplest to the most difficult one. Thus, the pertinent literature hosts a considerable number of perceptions and definitions of learner autonomy. Some of the most well-known definitions in the current literature are as follows: 'Autonomy is an adaptive ability, allowing learners to develop supportive structures within themselves rather than to have them erected around them (Trim, 1976, cited in Esch, 1996). 'Autonomy is the ability to take charge of one's own learning' (Holec, 1981). 'Autonomy is a capacity – for detachment, critical reflection, decision-making, and independent action (Little, 1990). 'Autonomy is a situation in which the learner is totally responsible for all the decisions concerned with his/her learning and the implementation of those decisions' (Dickinson, 1993). ‘Autonomy is a readiness to take charge of one’s own learning in the service of one’s needs and purposes’ (Dam, 1995) 'Autonomy is recognition of the rights of learners within educational systems' (Benson, 2001). As is easily observed in the definitions, “ability” has been very often replaced by “capacity” or “take charge of” has been replaced by “take control of” of one’s own learning (Benson, 2006). Holec’s (1981) definition of learner autonomy has proved remarkably robust and remains the most widely cited definition in the field. Nonetheless, his definition explains what autonomous learners are able to do rather than how they are able to do it. Apart from the definition by Dickinson (1993), the core is based on the “an attribute of learners, rather than learning situations.” In his definition, autonomy is regarded as the situation in which the learners feel responsible for all the decisions, but all other definitions tend to take the term as a capacity or ability rather than a situation. As one can easily discern, there have been many attempts to define the term properly over the last twenty five years. The point here is that some strongly advocate the idea that if learners are placed in situations where they have more
options to make choices regarding their own learning process, there is no doubt that they will display certain autonomous characteristics whereas others are of the opinion that this freedom in learning may not necessarily lead the learners to develop their own autonomy unless they are disposed to show autonomous tendencies. After all, Little (2007) makes a statement that learner autonomy now seemed to be a matter of learners doing things not necessarily on their own but for themselves. While looking through all definitions right here, one can assume that all these definitions here do provide us with useful reference points, yet it does not necessarily mean that the concept of learner autonomy has fully been understood. Oxford (2003) believes that the theoretical framework of learner autonomy in language learning is still far from coherent. However, subsequent to all these attempts to define learner autonomy, there seems to be a consensus on at least some crucial issues (Huang, 2005: 205).
psychological, socio-cultural and political-critical (Benson, 1997; Oxford, 2003), and is a multidimensional capacity, which can “take different forms for different individuals, and even for the same individual in different contexts or at different times” (Benson, 2001:47). • Autonomy is a learners’ and teachers’ right (Benson, 2000). • There are degrees of autonomy (Nunan, 1996; Sinclair, 2000). • The development of autonomy implies collaboration and interdependence, rather than learners working in isolation (Little 1996; Littlewood, 1999). • The concept of autonomy can accommodate different interpretations and is universally appropriate (Benson, 2001; Little, 1999; Sinclair, 2000). Why is learner autonomy important in EFL settings? In a democratic society, the primary purpose of education should be to prepare students to “take an active part in both social and political life by having them gain the skills and attitudes need for democratic and social participation” (Dewey, 1916). As Dewey rightly argues, it holds the importance of taking an active part in individual’s own education process. As a consequence of this importance, growth of interest in autonomy as an educational goal can be identified in changes that occurred in the twentieth century in social, psychology, philosophy, and political sciences. The philosophical reason is the belief that learners have the right to
make choices with regard to their learning; the need to prepare learners for a rapidly changing future, in which independence in learning will be vital for effective functioning in society (Knowles, 1975, cited in Finch, 2001); the pedagogical reason is that adults have been shown to learn more effectively when they are consulted about dimensions such as the pace, sequence, mode of instruction and content of what they are studying (Caef, 1988; cited in Finch, 2001); the practical reason is that learners who are involved in making choices and decisions about aspects of the programme are also likely to feel more secure in their learning (Joiner, 1985, cited in Finch, 2001). As we can draw a conclusion from the pointed out reasons above, learner autonomy has been important in terms of several dimensions in general education. In the field of second/foreign language education there has been a shift in focus from the teacher to the learner, from exclusive focus on how to improve teaching to an inclusive concern for how individual learners go through their learning (Gremmo, 1995). As our language teaching has practiced a shift to a more communicative approach, it has become more learner-centered (Yang, 1998). Benson (2006) discusses the necessity of learner autonomy in terms of the innovations that have become remarkably important over the last twent five years.. In the light of these circumstances, the last 25 years have seen an increasing amount of attention to learner autonomy, self-directed learning, self-access systems and individualized/independent learning in second language learning literature, which makes the inevitable that learner autonomy should be perceived as important in EFL settings. Who is an autonomous learner? Although there are lots of different attempts to describe the characteristics of autonomous learners in the relevant literature, the profile of autonomous language learner depicted by Breen and Mann (1997) meets the expected standards by providing the features below: Autonomous learners • see their relationship to what is to be learned, to how they will learn and to the resources available as one in which they are in charge of in control. • are in authentic relationship to the language they are learning and have a genuine desire to learn that particular language. • have a robust sense of self that is unlikely to be undermined by any actual or assumed negative assessments of themselves or their work.
• are able to step back from what they are doing and reflect upon it in order to make decisions about what they next need to do and experience. • are alert to change and able to change in an adaptable, resourceful and opportunistic way. • have a capacity to learn that is independent of the educational processes in which they are engaged and to make use of the environment they find themselves in strategically. • are able to negotiate between the strategic meeting of their own needs and responding to the needs and desires of other group members. It has been widely accepted that autonomous learners are generally good language learners. It becomes apparent to infer that the characteristics of the autonomous learners (Rubin and Thompson 1982, cited in Brown, 1994) are very similar to those of good language learners, which inevitably leads the educators and foreign language teachers to take into account the implementation of autonomy in foreign language classrooms as their aim is to help learners achieve the target language in a more efficient and concrete sense. However, naming someone an autonomous learner may not be valid at all times. Even though one displays some autonomous dispositions at a certain subject, s/he may not be as autonomous as at another subject. The premise behind “capacity” is that even autonomous learners are not autonomous all of the time. These fluctuations may occur due to affective factors such as mood; psychological factors such as tiredness or hunger; motivational variables such as their attitude towards the subject matter, and environmental factors such as noise, temperature or time of day (Sinclair, 2000). How can teachers promote learner autonomy in classrooms? Over the past two decades, a sparkling interest in the study of autonomous learning processes has been evident. This interest proposes that the promotion of learner autonomy be an important explicit goal of the language programme within the courses. Learner autonomy is promoted through the provision of circumstances and contexts for language learners which will make it more likely that they take charge- at least temporarily- of the whole or part of their language learning programme, and which are more likely to help rather than prevent learners from exercising their autonomy (Cotteral, 1995: 197). It is not that difficult to bump into several ways and views to enhance learner autonomy in EFL literature. Among them, Brajcich (2000) suggests various practical ways to promote learner autonomy:
1. Encourage students to be interdependent and to work collectively. The less students depend on their teacher, the more autonomy is being developed. 2. Ask students to keep a diary of their learning experiences. Through practice, students may become more aware of their learning preferences and start to think of new ways of becoming more independent learners. 3. Explain teacher/student roles from the outset. Asking students to give their opinions on the issue of roles could be beneficial. 4. Progress gradually from interdependence to independence. Give the students time to adjust to new learning strategies and do not expect too much too soon. 5. Give the students projects to do outside the classroom. Such projects may increase motivation. 6. Give the students non-lesson classroom duties to perform (taking roll, writing instructions, notices, etc. on the board for the teacher) 7. Have the students design lessons or materials to be used in class. 8. Instruct students on how to use the school's resource centers: the school library, the language lab, and the language lounge. 9. Emphasize the importance of peer-editing, corrections, and follow-up questioning in the classroom. 10. Encourage the students to use only English in class. Tell the students that this is a great chance for them to use only English, and few opportunities like this exist for them. Part of the role of the language teacher is to create an environment where students feel they should communicate in the target language and feel comfortable doing so. 11. Stress fluency rather than accuracy. 12. However, do allow the students to use reference books, including dictionaries (preferably English-English with Japanese annotations), in class. These ways in which a teacher can incorporate learner training into a regular classroom can easily be used in any classroom in order to have the learners develop their own autonomy. Yet, there seems to be a common misunderstanding about the promotion of learner autonomy. Developing autonomous learning abilities is not about letting students work alone, it is about assisting students to develop skills which will help them to become good learners; to take
responsibility for learning and to be able to apply these skills to any new learning situation (Mynard and Sorflaten, 2003: 3). Cotteral (1995) believes that learner autonomy does not arise spontaneously from within the learner but develops out of the learner’s dialogue with the world to which he or she belongs. Therefore, we, as teachers and educators, ought to be patient enough if we aim to help our learners become autonomous learners as it does not happen over night, as Cotteral said above. Conversely, autonomy is a process that enables learners to be responsible for their own learning through strategies and techniques applied in the learning process in time. What is the importance of learner autonomy in terms of Common European Framework (CEFR)? Up to 2000, there were a lot of European Language Portfolio Projects carried out in 16 organizations and European countries including Austria, Switzerland, Czech Rep., Germany NRW, France CAEN, France CIEP, Finland, UK CILT, Hungary, Italy UMBRIA, Ireland, Holland, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, Slovenia, Turkey, CERCLES, EAQUALS and the European Language Council (Demirel, 2005). What these projects were common with learner autonomy was that all these projects aimed to promote autonomy through the development of self-directed learning. All these projects illustrate a communicative, action-based, learnercentered view of language learning, similar to that in other Council of Europe projects on needs analysis and learner autonomy and self-assessment (Heyworth, 2006). Simply, the Council of Europe intends that the ELP should serve complementary pedagogical and reporting functions. On the one hand, it is designed to make the language learning process more transparent to learners and to foster the development of learner autonomy; on the other hand, it cumulatively provides concrete evidence of the owner’s L2 proficiency and intercultural experience (Little, 2007). Little (2002) provides the readers with the evidence that ELP promotes learner autonomy by mentioning the pilot projects held between 19982003, informal experience reports prepared by those who have been involved in those projects. It seems probable that in the next few years much of the research relevant to learner autonomy will be prompted by the desire to explore the impact of the ELP on learners, teachers and educational systems (Little, 2002).
Conclusion Above I have shown that learner autonomy is an inevitable approach (understanding) to take if we want our learners to be the man ‘‘product of his society’’, to the man ‘‘producer of his society’’ (Holec, 1981). While I tried to persuade the readers to have a very positive attitude towards learner autonomy, I broadened the discussion to consider what learner autonomy is by giving several definitions that have contributed to the notion of the term. Then, I touched upon the necessity of autonomy for pedagogy with the changing landscape of foreign language learning/teaching. I attempted to show that the characteristics of autonomous learners overlap (with) those of successful learners, which no doubt indicates the significance of learner autonomy. As a consequence of this necessity, I showed certain practical ways in which each and every language teacher can make use of in their own classrooms. And lastly, I tried to make a connection between learner autonomy and Common European Framework via the pilot projects carried out around Europe. Recently, Turkish Ministry of National Education has had the scholars prepared English language syllabus based on the principles of CEFR, which is all about self-assessment and leaner autonomy and more. At this point, it is no doubt that learner autonomy is based on the constructivism, which indicates that the learner has to construct his/her own knowledge. In the light of this current situation, the teachers who have not been accustomed to constructivist approach or learner autonomy should be given in-service training to live up to the expectations of the new syllabus. Likewise, a need has emerged for the student teachers who will have to teach English in a constructivist manner, as a response to this need, some courses that highlight the importance of learner autonomy, self-assessment or more are to be provided with the student teachers so that they wouldn’t face any difficulty at this issue.
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