You are on page 1of 10

ESP Malaysia, Vol. 12, Dec.

2006, 91-100 © Universiti Teknologi Malaysia

A Self Access Centre in Action


A Self Access Centre in Action: Facilitating Student Achievement of Specific Language Goals

Luke Carson*
Self Access Language Centre, Kanda University of International Studies, 1-4-1 Wakaba Mihama-ku Chiba-shi, Chiba-ken 261-0014 Japan

Richard Allen
English Language Institute, Kanda University of International Studies, 1-4-1 Wakaba Mihama-ku Chiba-shi, Chiba-ken 261-0014 Japan


When discussing teaching and learning, Galileo said “You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him to find it in himself”. This opinion, from the fifteenth century, is central to current efforts being made to advance autonomous learning and learner-centred approaches in second language acquisition (Carson, 2005). What these recent approaches do clearly indicate is a shift from the traditional focus on teaching, to focusing on learning: When a teacher uses a textbook that has been designed to last for (say) a school year, they are likely to plan their courses in terms of “teaching time” rather than “learning time”. That is to say they will be concerned with the time they need to get through the twenty units in the textbook, rather than the time their learners need in order to develop proficiency in this or that area of the target language. (Little, 2000: 5) Such an approach fits into the market model of education where knowledge and skills can be delivered as pre-packaged entites, but fails to take into account variables such as individual differences, multiple intelligences, affective factors–variables that research has shown impact greatly on language learning and its success. This has led the drive towards learner-centred pedagogies. However, despite pedagogical and methodological changes in this direction, most teaching and learning environments must still function within the confines of a curriculum, which may at times be a barrier to individual learners finding their own autonomous learning paths. This “barrier”, as we will later show, does not to exist in a self-access language context, where the learner is free to determine both the content and method of his or her language study. Learner autonomy has been defined by Holec (1981) as the ability to take charge of one’s own learning. This definition has been further developed by Little (quoted in Ridley, 1997: 1): Autonomy is a capacity – for detachment, critical reflection, decision-making and independent action. It presupposes, but also entails, that the learner will develop a particular kind of psychological relation to the process and content of his learning.

*Correspondence: Luke Carson (



16/7/2008, 8:20 AM

92 L. Although the students had previously attended English language courses (revolving around a fixed curriculum with set textbook). institutional and curricular demands may not always allow for such an approach to second language teaching. Learners need to undergo a considerable transformation of their beliefs and their role as learners in order to effectively undertake independent learning effectively. including the “tutors” did not necessarily have time to familiarize themselves with all the materials and facilities available. have assisted the development of the new field of language advising. The desire to provide an authentic language environment. Little. “tutors” were unclear of their role. the teachers who work in a self-access centre need to develop new ways of interacting with learners. 2000. there had been little language improvement and minimal success in gaining employment. The role of the teacher was one of facilitator who helped learners to find materials relevant to their needs. and students were unclear of tutors’ roles. 2000. Little (2000) illustrates this through the example of English language courses provided for refugees who were looking to gain employment or places on vocational training courses in Ireland. 1999). “tutors” may not have received any specific training for this role. The importance of teachers or tutors in a self access context has also been highlighted by Kelly (1996) who notes that simply creating a self access centre will not result in successful. 8:20 AM . supporting their students to become autonomous in their language study. devising tasks based on these needs. As was stated above. However. Gardner and Miller’s (1997) evaluative report of self-access facilities found that most self-access centres employing tutors to support students did so on a part-time basis. 2006: 94) These beliefs. This also echoes theories of learner autonomy. It was most often the case that language teachers or lecturers were co-opted to work in self-access centres for a couple of hours a week. Thanasoulas. Following the research recommendations from the field. (Kelly. where students are necessarily interdependent on teachers and peers as they progress towards higher levels of independence in their learning (Benson and Voller. independent learners. This process of reorientation and personal discovery is directly or indirectly an outcome of learner training. Little. 2000: 16). the English Language Institute (ELI) at KUIS has an “English only” teaching policy. alongside the university’s commitment to encouraging autonomous learning across the student population led to the creation of a purpose built SALC.4. Allen But what does it mean when a learner can take control of their learning? Research into this area (Ridley. This proved problematic for a number of reason. 2004). Perhaps one of the most important considerations when undertaking this development was how to provide effective learning support structures to students in a self-access context. sitting on strong research foundations. and evaluating learning outcomes. These results led Gardner and Miller to recommend that “the SAC manager’s post should be fulltime as should some of the tutors’ posts” (Gardner and Miller. 2. Little and his colleagues decided to take a different approach. The success of this approach was clear in that “85% of the refugees who have followed our 15 week programme are either in full-time employment or following vocational courses that are likely to lead to full-time employment” (Little. 1997. or language counseling. the provision of self-access language learning facilities for independent learning can increase both language proficiency and learner autonomy (Gardner and Miller. Carson & R. 2000) provides clear evidence of the benefits of allowing and encouraging autonomy in language learners. Nolan. KUIS implemented a system of dedicated Language Advisors (LAs) to support and develop student esp_artikel_7. where the teachers and students negotiated the curriculum.p65 92 16/7/2008. 1997: 118). To facilitate this process. 2000.0 THE SELF-ACCESS LANGUAGE CENTRE (SALC) AT KUIS As a university determined to provide the most effective language learning environment for its students.

to assess their own work. when they are available to students in the SALC each day on a casual basis. The First Steps Module (FSM) is provided to Freshman students. and to help them achieve specific learning goals. but are instead responsible for facilitating student autonomy and increasing language proficiency in three main ways: (a) Researching and providing up to date materials. It is the third point here that we will focus on. As such. nor were they aware of the benefits of it. All advisors have “Drop In” schedules in the SALC. initially the advisor will review the goals set by the learner to ensure that they are realistic. When the SALC was created. (Cooker.0 THE LANGUAGE ADVISORY SYSTEM The LAs at KUIS are all based in the SALC and do not have a regular teaching load. with the advisor of their choice. and reflect on their progress. and all build upon each other. (b) Being available to advise students on any areas of their language learning. it was clear that the students at KUIS. The three other modules are more structured. coming from the traditional Japanese high school system were not familiar with independent study. and complete weekly activities around the following topics: Needs Analysis. and then once this is completed. esp_artikel_7. KUIS has a team of six full-time Language Advisors. (c) Delivering independent learning programmes to assist students in becoming more autonomous. however.4. learners are “encouraged to set out a programme of work in order to achieve their goals. Students were by and large unable to choose materials effectively. As of the 2006 academic year.A Self Access Centre in Action 93 learning through the SALC. 3. encouraging students to become more aware and capable of independent study. All three are credit-bearing in the sense that students choosing to undertake the modules receive credit (based on the quality of their work in the modules – not on language proficiency) towards their major English grade for the semester. This provides students who perhaps do not have the intrinsic motivation to take up a voluntary module with an extrinsic motivating factor. plan or evaluate their own learning. Students receive an activity pack. Time Management. During a BASIL session. Learning Styles. and will then assist the learner to find appropriate materials and strategies to meet their needs”. Motivation. The SALC currently delivers four voluntary independent learning programmes: (1) (2) (3) (4) BASIL (Be a Successful Independent Learner) The First Steps Module The Learning how to Learn Module The Sophomore Modules These programmes were created to provide the support and learner training that students need to study independently. it was necessary to provide them with the skills and knowledge to do so.p65 93 16/7/2008. Good Language Learning. and Resources. The BASIL programme is an unstructured programme where students can make appointments with an advisor at their convenience. and is an eight week course based on a reflective diary system. not instruction. and ensuring that there are self-accessible “pathways” for students to avail of these resources. The learning advisor’s role is one of facilitation. 2004: 16)[ Learners can meet with the learning advisor as frequently or infrequently as they choose. It also creates a link between independent study and regular classwork. Learning Strategies. Its purpose is twofold – awareness raising and skill providing. or on how to find or use appropriate materials in the SALC. There is also an appointment system whereby students can schedule 30 minute advising schedules throughout the day. set goals. technologies and language learning opportunities. 8:20 AM .

LAs discovered that a major problem students had was in identifying problem areas and setting achievable goals. LAs at KUIS felt that it was imperative to provide students with a methodology for moving from the general and longterm goal of “I want to improve my English” to a more specific and proximal goal. practice it and review it frequently. students reflect in their diaries about the activities they have completed and receive comments from their learning advisor. which would then improve performance. Figure 1a FTRG practice and learning at KUIS esp_artikel_7. through activities based around Good Language Learning. to discuss the work they are doing. transfer practice. This should be enjoyable and will help you to notice new language. For example read stories. students are introduced to the FTRG model (Focus. Through the independent learning programmes. or use it in the next module. listen to music. The research of Oxford and Shearin (1984) showed that goals and self-efficacy will affect performance.94 L. review and general practice. Through working with students in the SALC. watch movies.4. 8:20 AM . Transfer. In the final week. specific and proximal would help strengthen student efficacy and motivation. For example. students create a Learning Plan for a specific area of English that they wish to study. Learning how to Learn. REVIEW It is really important to remember to review the language from time to time. Review and General) (Refer to Figures 1a and 1b). The standard request from students to LAs is “I want to improve my English but I don’t know how”. you could try using new phrases you have learnt in a conversation. They can use this plan independently. During this module. To learn language well you need to include each of the following four ways of learning. In the First Steps Module. They found that explicit goals that are challenging. GENERAL PRACTICE Put yourself in the language environment. Carson & R. When you plan your learning make sure you have a good balance of focused learning. FOCUSED LEARNING Choose something to focus on and study it TRANSFER PRACTICE Practice the language in a different setting. send emails and chat to friends in English. Noticing new language is a very important first step to understanding and using the language but in order to learn successfully you also need to study the language.p65 94 16/7/2008. students are required to meet with their LA three times. Allen Each week.

vocabulary. it was helpful to make a link to what they have termed “Fundamental Skills” – pronunciation. Toogood and Pemberton were able to provide their students with a specific language area that they needed to improve. They discovered that if a student had a problem with one of the General Skills – Listening. 8:20 AM . who developed the FTG model. or is lacking the vocabulary used in general conversation. Speaking – that in order to solve this problem. So if a student has difficulty with listening. Reading. discussion with an advisor may show. Writing. The FTG model then provided students with a pathway for doing so. for example that the student has difficult understanding connected speech. They defined the model as follows: Focused Practice is what you do to teach yourself something specific in the language is where you make a conscious effort to use what you have learnt during focused practice is what you do when you just expose yourself to the language (Toogood and Pemberton.A Self Access Centre in Action 95 GENERAL PRACTICE Watch movies Listen to music TRANSFER PRACTICE Chat to your friends in English Listening Speaking Read magazines FOCUSED LEARNING REVIEW Pronunciation Grammar Vocabulary REVIEW Watch satellite TV Talk to ELI teachers Reading Listen to the radio Read books Write e-mails in English Writing Read newspapers Make friends with exchange students Figure 1b FTRG model (based on Toogood and Pemberton. By breaking down the problem area for the student in this manner. 2006) Transfer Practice General Practice esp_artikel_7.p65 95 16/7/2008.4. in an attempt to provide learners with a logical and effective way of learning languages. grammar. 2006) This model comes from the work of Toogood and Pemberton (2006).

All students who undertake this module are interviewed upon completion and also write an evaluative report of their study. and connected speech software Talking with a teacher in the Speaking Centre about connected speech. Carson & R. and develop and follow an eight week learning plan to this. general practice and review).4. Actual usage of the FTRG model is encouraged among students who go on to take the Learning how to Learn Module. LAs initially meet with individual students to discuss the plans and to ensure that the learning goals are again challenging. (d) How successful they felt they were. to check my understanding and hear what I don’t know yet. It has been the experience of both advisors and students at KUIS that using the FTRG model allows students to execute more effective study. learners meet with LAs several times during the module. using it and listening to it Watching “Friends” in the SALC. and to see a clear “pathway” towards improvement. and hearing connected speech Recording a conversation with a teacher using connected speech and listening to it later. students submit a reflective diary (see Appendix A) to their LA which details their: (a) Goal for the week. run over an eight week period. Transfer Practice General Practice Review Practice Toogood and Pemberton (2005) noted that having the FTG model as a key structural element in their programmes has enabled them to “treat some of the frustrations learners feel when trying to improve in something they don’t recognize as easy or logical” (p. encouraging the learner to think about their choices and to make decisions and changes by themselves. Again. to be explicit as possible with students about how they can be most effective. Each week.96 L. Allen In our modules at KUIS we have taken this model. not in the form of instruction. They are given examples of language problems and how to approach them using this model. LAs provide weekly written feedback.11). and are then asked to look at a weak language area of their own. but rather questioning and suggesting. Frequent student comments are: esp_artikel_7. and included the concept of Review Practice. transfer practice. An example of a study plan using this model is illustrated in the table below: Table 1 An example of a study plan at SALC General Problem Specific Problem Focused Practice Listening Connected speech Using a connected speech textbook from the SALC. (c) How they used these materials (students are specifically asked to detail focused practice. This FTRG model is introduced to students as a model for good language learning. and approach it in this way. (b) Materials choices and reasons for these choices. specific and proximal. to discuss their work. Also discussed is the relevance and practicality of materials and strategy choice. (e) Their plans for the following week. This activity is provided in the Appendix A. 8:20 AM . In this independent module.p65 96 16/7/2008. students can choose any area of English they wish to study.

who have scheduled periods of materials development each week in lieu of class load. • Thinking about FTRG helped me to have a good balance in my study. interviews and focus groups with students who undertake the independent learning programmes. could do so effectively.p65 97 16/7/2008. Thirdly. methodologies and technologies that are appropriate to their needs. • I was motivated by my improvement.0 SALC APPLICATIONS FOR LANGUAGE FOR SPECIFIC PURPOSES In the Learning how to Learn module. and through questionnaires. In doing so. regular research is done into student usage of SALC facilities and resources. and future careers. Secondly. • Doing this module helped me with my English classes. All teachers can request materials for the SALC. I might not do independent study without it. employing the methodologies.4. LAs try to maintain close contact with teachers across the university. are able to see the needs of the students and develop the services and facilities offered through the SALC accordingly. a self access language centre. the SALC must provide the necessary resources for such fields of study. In the Sophomore modules offered to students through the SALC. to determine what resources are used most frequently plus why and how they are used and the effectiveness of this usage. This is achieved through a number of ways. students are supported and gradually introduced to knowledge. such as Media English. to cater for individual needs and problems. we are able to cater to students on an individual basis. We have shown here how training students to achieve specific language goals allows them to approach independent study in a logical manner. Through the LA system and the independent learning programmes. Firstly. students would be provided with greater opportunities for improvement. and self-accessible. and for increased learner autonomy that will benefit them in their immediate and future learning. and to make changes if I am not improving. esp_artikel_7. as published materials may not always be suitable for this). • It is important to evaluate the effectiveness of my learning. the SALC is not required to provide opportunities for students to study languages for specific purposes that universities with a wider curriculum offer. students often undertake learning on topics such as TOEIC preparation. LAs regularly record student queries and problems. and also what resources may be lacking. students undertake independent learning related to specific courses they are taking. skills and frameworks to facilitate this end. • I can see how to improve. one of the major roles of LAs at KUIS is to research and provide students with materials. In order to allow students to do this effectively. in-house materials development allows us to create resources that fulfill the specific needs of our students (materials that can be used in a self-access scenario. 8:20 AM . 4. • The structure of writing weekly diaries helped me to keep studying. However. As stated earlier in this paper. By having a dedicated LA system in the SALC at Kanda in this manner. as illustrated in this paper. • LA feedback helped me think more about what I was doing. that can provide to them noticeable gains. Students can make similar requests. This is done in tandem with a team of teachers. academic writing and language for business. frameworks and support systems discussed here. As KUIS is an international studies university. or topics of study they would like students to be able to cover in the SALC.A Self Access Centre in Action 97 • I learnt the importance of making an effective learning plan. They slowly move away from their initial stance of “I want to improve my English but I don’t know how”. Finally. that in turn increase motivation. • I really liked being able to choose what to study.

2000. Why Focus on Learning Rather than Teaching. Dam. S. Or. Miller. Dublin: CLCS. Carson. 8:20 AM . Establishing Self-Access: From Theory to Practice. 1997. and ultimately. That being said. as Gardner and Miller point out.html Toogood. Working Papers in Language Education. 2005. 1999. 3-15. institutions considering establishing self-access facilities. Li. W. esp_artikel_7. Allen 5. Finding the Key to Learner Effectiveness and Learner Autonomy.98 L. Autonomy and Foreign Language Learning. Autonomy & Independence in Language Learning.p65 98 16/7/2008. 1: 13-24. In T. L. Pierson (Eds. Miller. 1981. L. 1994. L. Frankfurt: Peter Lang. London: Addison Wesley Longman Ltd. Little. Reinders (Eds. the development of frameworks for evaluating the learner gains resulting from self-access language learning would be invaluable to educators already involved in the field. Thanasoulas. Lamb and H. to the learning of our students. Trinity College Dublin. Pemberton. and J. D. and J. Ridley. Gardner. 2004. 3-15. Dublin: CLCS. and H. J. Evaluation of the Student Experience Project. and L. and J. Cooker. Nolan.). Dublin: CLCS. What is Learner Autonomy and How can it be Fostered? http//:iteslj. Ridley. D. Little. D. Towards Independence in the Management of One’s Own Learning. R. H. Carson & R. Trinity College Dublin. Hong Kong. F. R. and P. REFERENCE Benson. In D. Scaffolding for Self-Access Language Learning and the FTG Model. W. 1997. Trinity College Dublin. In R. Dublin: Authentik. Focus on Learning Rather than Teaching: Why and How. L. D. Taking Control: Autonomy in Language Thanasoulas-Autonomy. 2000. Oxford. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Kelly. perhaps in large part due to the difficulty of attributing learner gain to selfaccess work. Why Focus on Learning Rather than Teaching. In D. Voller. 1999). 3-15. S. D. Dam. and R.). and L. Language Learning Motivation: Expanding the Theoretical Framework. Pemberton. L. Gardner. However. E. In D. J.4. Towards Autonomy in University Classrooms: The Role of Learners’ Goals. 2000. Little. A Study of Tertiary Level Self-Access Facilities in Hong Kong. this is true of most other language learner activities. Timmer (Eds.0 FUTURE DIRECTIONS FOR RESEARCH Self-access language learning does not yet have the same “seal of approval” as classroom teaching (Gardner and Miller. Cork: University College Cork.).). Dam. Little. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. and J.). London: Pergamon. Shearin. P. Why Focus on Learning Rather than Teaching. 1997. 2004. Supporting Independent Learning Issues and Interventions. 78: 12-28. Language Counselling for Learner Autonomy: The Skilled Helper in Self-access Language Learning. L. Learner Autonomy 6: Developing Learners Thinking Skills. Timmer (Eds. 1996. 2006. Timmer (Eds. Holec. The Modern Language Journal. J. The Benefits of Language Learning Autonomy: A New Focus for Teachers and Learners.

What do you think are the reasons for your worries? Write down the name of skill area (GRAMMAR. GENERAL PRACTICE Put yourself in the language environment This should be enjoyable and will help you to notice new language. I don't know vocabulary for daily conversation. I will have a one-toone conversation with an ELI teacher. esp_artikel_7. or the specific thing that you want to learn and how you will learn it. I will watch a movie in SALC once a week with a friend (Listening). 2. My speaking is weak. 1. I will do 3 vocabulary worksheets in the SALC every week. See page 3 for examples of focused learning. TRANSFER PRACTICE Practice the language in a different setting In this space write down how you will practice using the new things that you learned. I will write not only its meaning. Particularly. I think I don't have confidence because I don't know enough vocabulary.p65 99 16/7/2008. but also how to use the vocabulary. SKILL AREA In this space. I will make my own sentences using the new vocabulary (Writing). write down your worries about your English skills (weakness. analyze your worries that you wrote above. I want to improve my speaking skills. 8:20 AM . √ √ I will review the new vocabulary on the train. FOCUSED STUDY Choose something to focus on and study Daily conversation vocabulary In this space write down your goal. VOCABULARY. 3. I am not confident about speaking. I will do the worksheet. I will write down the new vocabulary that I learned.4. I will memorize the new vocabulary. REVIEW Review what you learned regularly so that you don't forget it.A Self Access Centre in Action 99 APPENDIX A A Sample of Study Plan Worksheet using the FTRG Model Worries: In this space. I will bring the list of new vocabulary and ask the teacher if I am using the vocabulary correctly (Speaking). √ √ I will try to use English as much as I can in classes (Speaking). In this space write down how you will review what you learned. or PRONUNCIATION) that you think it will solve your worries. things that you want to improve on). I will use the new vocabulary! I will go to the Practice Centre in SALC.

8:20 AM . Allen APPENDIX B Learning How to Learn Diary Weekly Diary 1 What was your study goal for this week? • Write what you wanted to learn this week. Transfer.100 L. • Why do you plan to study in this way? Feedback from your Learning Advisor Do you have a question or message about this module for your Learning Advisor? (SALC.4. KUIS. General or Review information). What materials did you use? • Give details such as titles of books/films/CD-ROMS.p65 100 16/7/2008. webpage addresses (http://www…) page or unit numbers from books. • Write down what kind of practice you did (Focused. 2006) esp_artikel_7. How did you study? Why? • Write down what you did step by step and give the reasons for what you did. • What progress did you make towards achieving the study goals in your learning plan? • What did you do well? • What could you have done better? • How do you feel about your study? What will you do next? • How much time will you spend on the Learning how to Learn Module next week? • What is your next plan? (include Focused. General or Review). Carson & R. How well did you do? • Explain what you learned from your studies this week. Transfer.