June 14, 2009

Is Independence something we really want to foster???

Before we answer this question, we need to deeply think about ways teachers can promote learner independence and its implications in the classroom organization and course curricula. Dickinson (1992: 2-3) suggested several ways of going about it, from which the following are the ones I’d agree with:

Helping learners to develop learning technique (learning strategies) so that they can exercise their independence

I strongly believe that helping students develop learning strategies should be a key element for a teacher to bear in mind when planning the course program as well as a cross-curriculum item to discuss with teachers from other subjects. Taking these strategies into consideration will shape our way of teaching and our way of organizing the classroom. For instance, if we consider that interaction is one of the strategies to foster, organizing pair work should be a key concept in our class planning.
When choosing the course book and the resources for the class, we need to consider also the degree of independence we want our students to get, i.e. we might encounter students who are exposed to these meta-linguistic concepts for the first time, requiring a more active role from our part in their training of learning techniques. It is important to include our objectives are independence trainers in our global objectives for the course.

Convincing learners that they are capable of greater independence in learning, probably most effectively by giving them successful experiences of independent learning

It is high time to be honest and assume that half of our job is the one of a “top-seller” from the business world, we need to “sell” our views to our students, or as Tricia Hedge says “convince our learners of...” In this particular case, we need to convince them of their own potential and that requires an extra effort on our part since our students are mainly teens or adult who may easily get frustrated. Success oriented experiences are a must in our classes if we professes the independent learning.
The question is if our classes are ready for that. Traditional teacher-centered education would consider self-access training as a way of “disorganizing” classrooms and curriculums; fostering independence can be even threatening for them. So, are we prepared to face the challenge that braking with that traditional viewpoint means? It will demand more time for planning and for organizing different activities; but for sure, it will be a rewarding task!!! :) :)

Based on Tricia Hedge, Teaching and Learning in Language Classroom, Oxford, 2000 (Chapter 3)


  1. Nice thoughts, Yohi! I definitely agree with you that planning how far we want to go is as important as setting "the right" goals... and it's also worth remembering that the cost of teaching autonomy to students who aren't used to it can be high!

    I know you've read Alez's post on this topic too. Though both of you emphasise the question of the teacher "being ready" I'd say we must get started now, no matter whether we teachers feel ready or not!

    Take care,

    PS: why do you call "interaction" a strategy?

  2. Hey!
    I've just finished commenting on my own post on this topic. I find the idea of getting started great! I think that spending endless hours wondering if we are ready or not we are actually wasting essential time. Why don't we simply do it? The most efficient way of learning if our students are ready or not is, I guess, starting to empower them so as to help them realise that there is a lot more to learning English than meets the eye ;)
    Once autonomy becomes a possibility, it is our students' task to decide what they are going to do with it. In the meantime, it will be our task to show them the advantages and all the doors that such a new attitude can generate in their lives.
    ♫I want to break free♫

  3. Thanks people for your comments!!!
    "wise minds think alike"(Is that how it goes?)

    GLADYS - I consider interaction a strategy because it's something we CHOOSE to foster in our classrooms. Whether we like it or not, there still are some teacher who choose lectures over interaction...

    Hope this clarifies my thoughts...

  4. Oh, now I get your point, Yoha. I was thinking of communication strategies and learning strategies... then I couldn't follow your choice of terms!

    Thanks for making it clear.