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Developing Learner Autonomy in an EFL context

Developing Learner Autonomy in an EFL contextBy Ozma Siddiqui

What is Learner autonomy?Learner autonomy is the learners capacity to take charge of and control his learning whether in an institutionalized context, or completely independent of a teacher or institution.

(Holec, 1981:3)

For situations in which learners study entirely on their ownFor a set of skills which can be learned and applied in self-directed learningFor an inborn capacity which is suppressed by institutional educationFor the exercise of learners responsibility for their own learningFor the right of learners to determine the direction of their own learning

The term autonomy has come to be used in at least five ways:

Why is learner autonomy important today?When students begin to understand their own learning processes and can exert some control over these processes, they tend to take more responsibility for their own learning.

This self-knowledge and skill in regulating one's own learning is a characteristic of successful learners, including successful language learners.

How can learner autonomy be fostered?

The shift of responsibility of the language learning process from teachers to learners is supported increasingly by a curriculum which promotes a learner-centered kind of learning.

Learners, consequently have to assume greater responsibility and take charge of their own learning (Holec, 1981:3 cited in Benson & Voller, 1997:1)

Rationale for teaching learning strategies for effective autonomyStudents who think and work strategically are more motivated to learn and have a higher sense of self-efficacy or confidence in their own learning ability

Students need to be aware of the strategies which lead to their success

Metacognitive awareness

Awareness of ones thinking processes is generally referred to as metacognition or metacognitive awareness. (Pressley & Afflerbach, 1995; Rivers, 2001)

This self-knowledge leads to reflection, to planning how to proceed with a learning task, to monitoring one's own performance on an ongoing basis, and to self-evaluation upon task completion.

Students with greater metacognitive awareness understand the similarity between the current learning task and previous ones

know the strategies required for successful learning,

and anticipate success as a result of knowing "how to learn.


What are some characteristics of autonomous learners?Autonomous learnersHave insights into their learning styles and strategiesTake an active approach to the learning task at handAre willing to take risks, i.e. willing to communicate in the target languageDevelop target language into a separate reference system. (Omaggio, 1978, cited in Wenden, 1998: 41-42)


A studyOne study that investigated differences between more and less effective language learners focused on listening comprehension. (O'Malley, Chamot, and Kpper, 1989)

Significant differences in strategy use were found between effective and less effective listeners in three major areas.Effective listeners (1) monitored their comprehension by continually asking themselves if what they were hearing made sense; (2) related new information to their prior knowledge by recalling relevant personal experiences or things they had studied; and (3) made inferences about unknown words or information.


Implications The study indicates that task difficulty and level of language proficiency have a major effect on the strategies that students use.

For example, some strategies used by beginning level effective language learners are used less often by the same learners when they reach intermediate level classes, probably because they have had to develop new strategies to meet the requirements of more challenging language tasks.

Can students be taught strategies to improve learning autonomy ?Yes.

Researchers and teachers have been successful in improving student performance through learning strategies instruction in areas such as reading comprehension, writing and problem-solving (see, for example, El-Dinary, Brown, and Van Meter, 1995; Gagn, Yekovitch, and Yekovitch, 1993; Harris and Graham, 1992; Wood, Woloshyn, andWilloughby, 1995).

General models for language learning strategies instruction for all levels of instruction have been developed for teachers of foreign languages and English as a second or foreign language. (Chamot et al, 1999; Cohen, 1998; Oxford, 1990).

For an overview of lists of language learningstrategies, see Hsiao and Oxford, 2002).Contd.....

Some Learning Strategies to promote autonomyPlan their time for doing a certain task (writing, reading, speaking, listening)Organize the task into small tasksWork on tasks in pairs and groupsUse graphic organizers to plan assignments especially writing tasksUse the internet as an important resourceUse the LMS for independent learning as well as the tasks in the New Headway Workbook accompanied by the CD-ROM

Some teaching strategiesStudents can be helped to reflect on their learning in two ways:

By modeling (the teacher reflects on her own learning experience and shares it with the students)

By making them aware of the strategies they use to complete language tasks, for example by walking them through an activity such as studying for a test and then asking them questions designed to identify the processes they used to complete the assignment

SSBI* Model(Cohen, 1998)CALLA** Model (Chamot, 2005)Grenfell & Harris(1999)Teacher as diagnostician:Helps students identify currentstrategies and learning styles.Preparation: Teacher identifiesstudents current learningstrategies for familiar tasks.Awareness raising: Students completea task, and then identify the strategiesthey used.Teacher as languagelearner: Shares own learningexperiences and thinkingprocesses.Presentation: Teacher models,names, explains new strategy;asks students if and how theyhave used it.Modeling: Teacher models, discussesvalue of new strategy, makes checklistof strategies for later use.Teacher as learner trainer:Trains students how to uselearning strategies.Practice: Students practicenew strategy; in subsequentstrategy practice, teacher fadesreminders to encourage independentstrategy use.General practice: Students practicenew strategies with different tasks.Teacher as coordinator:Supervises students studyplans and monitors difficulties.Self-evaluation: Studentsevaluate their own strategy useimmediately after practice.Action planning: Students set goalsand choose strategies to attain thosegoals.Teacher as coach: Providesongoing guidance on studentsprogress.Expansion: Students transferstrategies to new tasks, combinestrategies into clusters,develop repertoire of preferredstrategies.Focused practice: Students carry outaction plan using selected strategies;teacher fades prompts so that studentsuse strategies automatically.Assessment: Teacher assessesstudents use of strategies andimpact on performance.Evaluation: Teacher and studentsevaluate success of action plan; setnew goals; cycle begins again.

Models for Language Learning Strategy Instruction

Goal SettingStudents must be helped to set their goals to achieve the learning outcomes of a course

They should set both short-term goals and long-term goals

Self-EvaluationTied to goal setting is the self-assessment of progress

Students can use rubrics and scales representing varying levels of achievement in order to represent their progress graphically.

The current CUP course books have a small section at the end of each unit for students self-evaluation

Important It is important to realize that by introducing the concept of learner autonomy the teacher has not relinquished her authority but committed herself to providing learners with the opportunity to experiment, make hypotheses and improvise in their attempt to master the TL.

Learner autonomy is best achieved when the teacher acts as facilitator of learning; a counsellor and as a resource. (Voller, 1997 cited in Benson and Voller 1997: 99-106)

We also need to realize that learner autonomy takes a long time to develop and simply removing the barriers to a persons ability to think and behave in a certain way may not allow her to break away from old habits or old ways of learning

References Chamot, A.U. et al, (1999); Cohen, (1998); Oxford, (1990): How children in language immersion programs use learning strategies. Cohen, A.D. (1998): Strategies in learning and using a second language. London: Longman.El-Dinary, Brown & Van Meter, (1995): A Rationale for teaching Learning StrategiesHarris, V. (2003). Adapting classroom-based strategy instruction to a distance learning context. TESL-EJ,7(2). Retrieved from a1.htmlHolec, H. (1981:3) cited in Benson & Voller: Autonomy in Foreign Language Learning. Oxford: OUP.Omaggio, A. (1978) cited in Wenden, 1998: 41-42: 'Successful language learners: What do we know about them?', ERIC / CLL News Bulletin, May, 2-3.O'Malley, J.M., Chamot, A.U., & Kpper, L. (1989). Listening comprehension strategies in second languageacquisition. Applied Linguistics, 10(4), 418-437.Oxford, R.L. (1990). Language learning strategies: What every teacher should know. New York: NewburyHouse.Presseley & Afflerbach, (1995); Rivers, (2001): Pressley, M., & Afflerbach, P. (1995). Verbal protocols of reading: Thenature of constructively responsive reading. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Weaver, S.J., & Cohen, A.D. (1997). Strategies-based instruction: A teacher-training manual. Minneapolis,MN: Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition, University of Minnesota.Wenden, A.