FOSTERING LEARNER AUTONOMY THROUGH PEER

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Transcript of FOSTERING LEARNER AUTONOMY THROUGH PEER

FOSTERING LEARNER AUTONOMY THROUGH PEER CORRECTION
IN WRITING AS A PROCESS
Paulus Kuswandono English Education Study Program
Sanata Dharma University
Abstract Learning autonomy has been buzzing around for at
least the last ten years, the idea ofwhich is to empower the learner to control their own learning. From some discussion with English teachers, one of the obvious learners' weaknesses in language learning is the lack of the students' learning autonomy. This paper accordingly discusses a way of fostering this autonomy through writing. during which process the students are given opportunities to provide feedback for their peer's writirzg composition. In so doing, the students can monitor thelr own development, and hence, enhance their autonomy.
Keywords: learner autonomJ', writing as a process, peer correction
1. Introduction From some discussions raised in the staff meetings in the
English Education Study Program, Sanata Dharma University, it was discussed that problems in English learning are not simply because of the students' lack of exposure and their low comprehension, but may be largely caused by the students' low learning autonomy. This problem is in fact one of the greatest which the English lecturers have been trying to solve recently. If this topic is chosen to discuss in this paper, it does not utterly mean that this is a brand new idea in language learning. Rather, it attempts to re-emphasize the significance
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of learners' autonomy in language learning. Before we proceed further, however, what is learning autonomy and what does it entail?
The term 'autonomy' actually is closely connected to what we have often exhaustively discussed in "Competency-Based Curriculum' (CBC). This refers to "the individual learners' acceptance of responsibility for their own learning" (Holec. 1981: Little. 1991). Little and Dam (1998) also support that learner autonomy IS conscious intention which implies that students cannot accept responsibility for their own learning if they do not have some ideas of what, why, and how we are trying to learn. Thus, the students must have some initiatives to direct the learning process. This alone may not be adequate. The students must also monitor the progress and evaluate whether the set-out learning objectives can be achieved. The pedagogical rationale to foster the development of learner autonomy rests on the claim that in the formal educational context, reflectivity and self-awareness produce better learning. In CBC context, learner autonomy is also explained as "humanistic language teaching", "collaborative learning", experiential learning", and "the learning­ centered classroom". This implies a holistic view of the learner as an individual. As yet, what is more interesting most in discussing this topic is that, learner autonomy itself is a life skill which is transferable to other skills. Associated with Communicative Approach which emphasizes the heuristic function of the language (learning to discover), learner autonomy can facilitate the students to be self­ fulfilled and self-motivated. This eventually results in the students' taking greater responsibility for their own learning. Thus, autonomy here does not at all refer to the students' ego. Rather, autonomy in this context can be best achieved through exercising what so-called interdependence (constructivist, collaborative learning).
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generate the learners' productive skill. From this production we can see many aspects of the students' learning such as their mastery of the micro linguistic skills (vocabulary, grammar, punctuation mastery, etc), and macro linguistic skill (paragraph organization, coherence, etc). Peer correction is a manifestation of learner autonomy in that it exercises the students' initiatives, interdependence, self-evaluation, and self-regulated learning.
The idea that autonomy always refers to individualized self­ directed learning may not be entirely correct because autonomy can also mean interdependence learning.
Personal decisions are necessarily made with respect to social and moral norms, traditions, expectations. Autonomy thus includes the notion of interdependence that is being responsible for one's own conduct in the social context: being able to cooperate with others and solve conflicts in constructive ways. (Kohonen, 1992: 19 as cited by Benson, 2001: 14)
With the above respect, autonomy may be exercised through collaborative learning, such as through the useful strategy of peer correction to improve the students' writing. Through this activity the students exercise their critical comments independently toward their peers' composition and responsibly seek the ways in which their peers can revise their composition. Writing class then will be more perceived as a developing social community where the success of one's writing constitutes the communal responsibility and achievement.
This paper discusses some important points of writing as a process, traditional practices of feedback provision. and how peer correction can be implemented in class to enhance their self-directed learning. In the last part, this paper provides some lists to guide peer responses to help the students manifest their learning autonomy.
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2.1. Writing as a Process English teachers become concerned with the writing teaching
issues when they find that the output quality of the students' writing is not satisfactory in terms of ideas and the organisation of thoughts. Based on the writer's observation, it was apparent from their written texts that the student writers did not explore their ideas suffiCIently; neither did they organise their thoughts for coherence to ease the readers' comprehension. Moreover, some teachers seemed to grade the students' compositions based largely on the appropriateness and correctness of the syntax and lexicon being used (product-oriented) rather than on the content and organisation of the composition. Such practice surely can provide misleading messages for the students. They might believe that what is important is not what they say but hoyt' they say it. In fact, writing is not as simple as putting words grammatically into a sentence, but most importantly requires putting a large number of ideas and organisation of thoughts in a logical order so that it can be easily followed by the readers. This may not be a simple job to do. Common writers usually need a long process before they can really produce a writmg piece. Teachers need to understand this process during which they must attend to the difficulties the students may encounter.
As we are going to discuss how peer correction plays a role in writing as a process, we need to agree with what 'process' here entails. Peregoy and Boyle (1993:65) clarify that during the writing process, L2 writers should experience the following stages:
1. Prewriting: generating ideas through brainstorming and oral discussion,
2. Drafting: letting ideas flow without too much concern for the forms of the language,
3. Revising: re-reading their papers, and, with feedback from the teacher or peers, making some possible changes so that the ideas are expressed effectively,
4. Editing: correcting punctuation, spelling, and grammar which should come at a late stage, and
5. Publishing: putting out the writers' work in wall magazines, newspapers, etc.
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In greater detail, the first stage provides insights for the writers regarding what they are going to write through collaboratively exchanging ideas. This can be achieved by utilising a mind-mapping technique which is a powerful tool for brainstorming. Next, the feedback, either from self, peers, teachers, or the mixture of these, forms the basis of multiple drafts. This stage is perhaps the most crucial, as at this point the writers need to reflect and decide whether the feedback is appropriate or not to be incorporated in the subsequent drafts. They also need to consider whether the ideas make sense and are clearly presented. Hence, the activity of writing means looking at their previous ideas repeatedly. Pearl (as quoted by Zamel, 1987:269) has shown that "writers go back in order to move forward, that is the reason why writing is a process of discovery". The term 'discovery' here means that the process of writing brings the writers to unpredicted destinations or unexpected outcomes. Finally, the writers come to the last stage, namely publishing. when they hope that their writing product may be appreciated by more people beyond the classroom. It is important to note, however, that the explanation on the process approach to writing above is not meant to generalise that every writer should experience each stage of this process. Writers may have different modes of writing from each other or for different pieces, and may require only one or two drafts to accomplish the writing process.
2.2. A Need to Reconsider Traditional Feedback Provision In the writing class, it may often be the case that after written
feedback is given by the teachers, neither the teachers nor the students undertake continuous follow-up based on the students' work. Therefore, as soon as the students begin the next assignment, they may overlook the feedback that was provided by the teachers. Nevertheless, feedback in the final draft may be ineffective because the task is over. From the writer's observation as one of the writing teachers, few students have wanted to reflect on what they had done by considering and then incorporating the feedback for the next assignment, and many others may have not even bothered to re-read their own papers. This fact was surely a waste of time and energy on
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the part of the teachers, considering that they had devoted substantial time correcting and evaluating students' work. In contrast, this preoccupation of "dutifully" giving the grade may to some extent have resulted in the students' perception that writing was a finished product which did not allow the students to even reformulate the way they expressed ideas. In spite of the rigorous feedback provided, they may find it pointless to rewrite or revise because this may not affect their grade anyway.
If that was the case, the problem may not have solely resided in the students' failure to revise and rewrite mUltiple drafts, but more importantly on the teachers' ineffectiveness or lack of strategies for generating responses to the students' writing. To be more specific, teachers who believe in the importance of grammatical and lexical accuracy more strongly than the other aspects of writing may be . overshadowed' by these aspects. As a result, they may generate unbalanced evaluation. For example, teachers who are grammar­ oriented may grade low for a composition which contains some sentence level errors, thus involuntarily undervaluing clever ideas or logical paragraph development. This evaluation seems to be unfair to students, as they are still in the process of learning to write and their errors should have been treated as a natural phenomenon of learning.
2.3. Peers' correction in Writing as a Process Most researchers, as stated by Benson (2001: 110), agree that
autonomy cannot be "taught" and "learned". It is an attribute of the learners' rather than due to a particular learning situation. We might say then that autonomy is one of the goals of education in which the students have a greater capacity to take control of their own learning, more specifically life-long learning. It is, therefore, absolutely necessary for teachers to provide ample opportunities to exercise autonomy in classroom setting. However, Benson and other authors on autonomy of the learners do not specify what kind of strategies in class can achieve this autonomy. They state that any kind of strategy or practice which can encourage the learners to take greater control of their own learning may be considered as promoting learners' autonomy. Within this framework, the writer proposes one strategy by
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which the learners can develop their autonomy, namely peer correction. This practice can hypothetically improve the students' composition for two reasons:
1. The students reflect and monitor their own writing progress by looking at and critically commenting on their peers' composition. This process involves checking their own understanding of what makes a good composition by comparing their own writing with that of their peers.
2. The students are challenged to provide genuine feedback which is not only critical and constructive. but also text­ specific. This process provides opportunities to enhance their learning autonomy.
As yet some might still be a bit sceptical about the results of peer correction to improve the students' composition. Therefore, it is necessary for us also to revie\\' some research studIes involving this technique. Spear's (1988: 131) and Muncie's (2000:50) research findings reveal that peer correction is useful. In hIS research study of 29 students at a Japanese university, Muncie (2000) demonstrates that 90% of his participants incorporated the changes to the drafts as suggested by peers. From that percentage, 65% of participants reported that they did not employ all the peer's recommendations, which would denote that the students were discriminating in their use of the feedback to be included in their subsequent drafts.
To understand further why peer correction may assist and improve the students' written composition, Tickle, Delk and Staub (1995:86) attempt to outline some of the benefits of peer review from research literature on peer editing, listing them as follows:
1 . Students have access to a wider audience 2. Students' critical skills are developed 3. Students learn new writing techniques and styles 4. Students develop a more positive attitude toward writing
through socially supportive peers 5. Peer feedback is at the leamer's development so it is more
relevant than teacher's feedback
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From the above summary of peer review benefits, it is clear that working together in a co-operative manner can improve not only the quality of ideas incorporated in writing, but can also increase the writers' confidence. Moreover, peers can also serve as immediate readers (Ora'a, 1995:161).
In order to avoid the problem of the writers' preoccupation with the lower order concerns in peer correction as the most common problem in peer review. there is surely a need to train the writers as to how they can best respond to their peers' writing (Peregoy and Boyle, 1993:71). This can be accomplished either by providing them with a checklist (MuncIe. 2000:50). or just by simply telling them not to bother with the grammatical mistakes but the relevance of ideas and paragraph development. Or, as Peregoy and Boyle (1993 :71) suggest, this can be achieved by looking at sample papers on an overhead projector and giving peer responders a model of responding or letting the students make their own responses.
Despite the usefulness of peer review, however. it encounters some obstacles in practice. The most notable one is that students often make faulty correctIOns. However, Swam and Lapkm (1995) as quoted by Villamil and De Guerrero (1998:507) maintam that faulty correction can be an indicatIOn of language growth as they argue:
Incorrect solution in students' output could be indicative of important language learning processes. False repairing, overcorrecting. or leavmg errors uncorrected are typical behaviours of students whose linguistic systems are in a state of development.
The writer thinks this notion can serve as a valid premise to conduct peer review regardless of the problem mentioned. Moreover, Villamil and De Guerrero (1998:508) also add that the maximum potential of an intermediate ESL student is still not comparable with the writing ability of an expert. Therefore, it would be unrealistic to demand that the students' revised drafts must contain no errors.
Next, the reason for the students' responses should be made clear for the writers. The purpose of this activity is not to pass
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judgement on the writing product, but to help the writers understand the responses from an audience. Likewise, the language of the feedback should aim at encouraging revision. Unclear or too general feedback or even the 'rubber·stamped' style of feedback. borrowing Sommers' (1999: Ill) terms. would only cause the writers to be frustrated rather than enlightened. This is not only to avoid the piece of writing being treated as the finished product, but more importantly also to promote opportunities for individual teacher-student conferences about the writing. This would facilitate writing that is clearly addressed to the audience since the teacher would monitor the writer's progress and identify the effectiveness of his/her response.
In addition, Villamil and De Guerrero also argue that peer revision is not a substitute for teacher feedback. More importantly. the writer thinks. neither does it constitute the teacher's freedom from the task of providing feedback. What should be ascertained from this is perhaps the notion from .Muncie (2000:50) that the feedback quality from peers may not be equal to that of feedback from the teacher. Hence, peer correction should be seen as the students learning writing collaboratively, not helping the teachers to reduce their work load. It is only through the evolving process of peer correction that the teacher can assist them to see and fix their immediate problems.
2.4. Checklists to help the Implementation of Peer Response In order to facilitate the realization of the students' learning
autonomy, the students are provided with a list which is used as the guidelines to respond to their peers' writing.
2.4.1. Peer Responding checklist for a Paragraph This guideline is most suitable for writers at the beginning
level as it focuses only on one paragraph: 1. This writing assignment should be only one paragraph long.
How many paragraphs has the author WrItten: 2. Can you find a topic sentence? Yes _ No _ I don't know
3. Please underline what you 'think is the topic sentence.
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4. Please read the paragraph carefully and underline everything you do not understand.
5. What do you like the best about this paragraph? 6. What questions, comments, and/or suggestions do you
have for the author? (Berg. 1999:24)
2.4.2. Peer Responding Checklist for a Composition For intermediate or advanced writers. however. the following
questions may help the students responding the other students' composition:
What is the greatest strength of this composition? 2. What is its greatest weakness? 3. What is the central idea of this composition? 4. Which are the ideas which need more elaboration? 5. Where should more details or examples be added? Why? 6. What are some of the questions that the writer has not
answered? 7. At whlch point does this composition fail to hold the reader's
interest? Why? 8. Which organization might be confusing? 9. \Vhich part of the writing is unc1ear or vague? (Seow,
2002:318)
It is quite c1ear from the above checklists that the purpose of peer-response activity is not to find the language errors at the sentential level. Rather, it is to improve the global content as well as the organization of the paragraphs. This is the reason why wntmg process requires more time compared to that of traditional writing which focuses on the product.
3. Conclusion If English can now and then be used in a peer correction
activity, establishing effective and meaningful communication is a prerequisite, thus exercising their spoken English, as well as their affective quotient. Above all, peer correction constitutes cooperative! collaborative learning which is a vehic1e to more holistic education
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rather than just narrowly checking errors from others' writing and giving comments on the ideas. It is ultimately expected that this sort of autonomous learning can enhance the students' life skills.
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Benson, Phil. 2001. Teaching and researching autonomy in language learning. Essex: Pearson Education Limited.
Berg, Cathrine E.1999. Preparing esl students for peer response. TESOL Journal, 8 (2) 1999.
Darn. L. 1995. Learner autonom,v 3: From theory tn classroom practice. Dublin: Authentik.
Holec. H. 1981. Autonomy and Foreign Language Learning. Oxford: Pergamon
Little. D. 1991. Learner autonomy 1: Definitions, issues and problems. Dublin: Authentik.
Little, D.: Dam. Leni. Document URL: http://www.jalt­ publications.orgltltlfiles/98/novl littledam.htrnl Last modified: September 4. 1998.
Muncie. James. "Using Written Teacher Feedback in EFL Composition Classes". ELT Journal. 5411 January 2000.…