Autonomous learning

THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK- INTRODUCTION

When I started my first semester at university I heard about classes which apply an approach called autonomous learning, I was expected to find a class in which everybody decides what to learn, how and when. I got surprised when my teacher was telling me all the time what to do, at this point I tough the teacher was not applying this theory. But wasn't she, did I really know the meaning of autonomous learning, and could students carry on with the responsibility of their own learning process. As a result of that, with this research study I would like to let the reader know the definition of autonomy, possible strategies to become autonomous students, and the role of the teacher in this process. In order to identify the contributions this study will provide the most relevant theories by summarizing them. In order to structure the theories regarding to autonomous learners is to refer to Little (1996), Holec (1981), and Chan's (2001) description of autonomous learners. Jonathan Stolk (2007)'s categories that include motivational, cognitive, and social features involved in learning autonomy. Holec's (1981) theory of autonomy in language learning, Nunan's (1997) model of five levels of learning action, Littlewoods (1997)' three stage model regarding language acquisition, learning approach and personal development. Holliday's (2003) notion of social autonomy, and finally the work of Uishioda's (2006) and the importance of self motivation. Each of these contributions follows along with a clarification of autonomous' leaning meaning, practice and strategies. By reviewing relevant theories and research that are summarized below, the first contribution that is going to be taken into account is Chan, Little, Holec and Dickenson' definitions.

BODY

The work of Chan (2001), posits that autonomous learners has to do with developing the ability to check and monitor their quality of interpretation performance. Similarly the idea of Little's (1996) establishing that learner autonomy needs to create a personal relationship for learning, taking at least some initiative that helps the process. In the same way Dickenson (1993) describes autonomous learners as individuals who clearly identify the learning objectives of the class, also they have their own learning objectives, as a result of that they implement appropriate learning strategies and they have the ability to change them when they are not working. Finally Holec (1981) effectively explains that learner autonomy has the ability to take control ones' learning, according to this author learners do not develop this ability simply by being placed in situations where they have no other options. This definition is important for my research study in order to understand what autonomy means, because my experience throw the university showed me most of people was confused with it including myself. The first theory that is going to be taken into account is Jonathan Stolk (2007).

The theory of Jonathan Stolk (2007) is very important and relevant to my research study because he reminds that there exist four categories included in learning autonomy. Those categories are motivational, cognitive and social. The first category proposes that factors related with self directed learning reflect students self efficacy, perception of control, task interest, perceived task valuable and affective responses to the learning environment. What I have noticed about the motivational field is that most of students lack of this because they do not understand why learning is necessary. This statement makes me remember some students I was observing at Argelia's school. Every day in English classes they have always a task to complete about writing process, and when I asked them homework it was not complete. Some of the reasons they gave me was that they did not know why it was necessary; also they have no idea about how to do it. That leads me to think that if we as teachers want autonomous students it is necessary for them to know how to achieve the task we are asking them, we should give them steps and different strategies. It is important, because they will feel they can follow a process to complete the task. Additionally it is important to show them what this is for, because students have difficulties to remember things they do not believe are not important; they need to see the usefulness of the topics. The second category is cognitive; it refers to the ability the student has to recognize his own needs, moreover the student is able to develop strategies for planning, monitoring, and adapting learning process. At this point when students are learning to recognize the elements of the periodic table for example they can use the thinking maps (bubble map, three diagram, double bubble map etc) which are designed for the different learning styles. In this way they can organize the chemical elements and their properties in these maps. As a matter of fact students will be able to monitor their own learning process s in order to know how well learning is achieved. They can do it by using self assessment (the process of judging one's own performance for the purpose of self improvement), for instance self viewing on a video tape, open ended self reports, reflections, portfolios or journals. Self assessment is one important key element for autonomy because it depends just on the student's interest. Finally the last category is social; it makes reference to the environment factors that affects students learning, some of those are; peer interaction, physical space and resources, beliefs, and motivation. When I was doing my observations as I mention before, many things caught my attention. For instance peer interaction because most of the time students needed to be approved for their classmates, every so often it affects in autonomy. It brings to my mind a student who tried to do an extra activity for learning the meaning of some words, as a result of that her classmates were laughing at her because according to them she was a nerd. In this case she was trying to learn different things outside the class, but her classmates “killed” the need of learning. It is important to show students the importance at the beginning to encourage them in order to keep the feeling of autonomy; additionally it is important to prepare challenging tasks.

Similarly as the previous author, Nunan (1997) establishes a five level's model of learning action which include; learner action, awareness, involvement, intervention, creation and transcendence. According to this author these levels include dimension if content and process. For instance when the student is learning counts and non counts in English, the first thing they will do is to identify the goal and content of the material; for example “language and content objectives”. The second step is to identify the strategy the teacher is using; the third step is to identify his own learning style such as visual, kinesthetic etc, with the purpose of keeping the information as easy as possible. Finally students should make links between the content of the classroom learning and the world beyond; in this case the student should practice count and noun count elements with the environment around him. For instance books, salt, sugar, elements that are in his nowadays' world. Additionally there exist other topics which require more thinking, such as abortion, in this case they can become a researches and support their topics by doing interviews, investigation and by making their own conclusions. It is very important to consider those features because I have noticed that most of the students I have observed missed the final step which is “transcendence”. This is the beginning of the autonomy because pupils start thinking by themselves; they are creating their own opinions about life's topics, and developing their own criteria. What I have seen is that students just stay with the content they learn in class, and when teachers ask them to go beyond, they do it until the line the teacher is asking. I t happens because they are looking for a grade and if they do more than what the teacher is expecting nothing is going to change for them, that is what they think. At this point there is not consciousness about the importance of building own knowledge out of class.

Another author that states levels of autonomy is Littlewood (1997); the three levels are context of language acquisition, learning approach and broader context. The first aspect about context of language acquisition autonomy, involved ‘an ability to operate independently with the language and use it to communicate personal meanings in real, unpredictable situations' (autonomy as a communicator). In the context of learning approach, it involves learners' ‘ability to take responsibility for their own learning and to apply active, personally relevant strategies' (‘autonomy as a learner'). And in a broader context, it involved ‘a higher-level goal of greater generalized autonomy as individuals' (‘autonomy as a person'). To illustrate this theory we can take as example the case of the student who is learning a second language. For instance the student is learning to communicate with others; first of all there exist a need to communicate in English, in this case the student is letting the others to know about his life. This situation is the autonomy as communicator, because he is transmitting personal messages with no improvisation. It means the student can use the language as he wants, to communicate, to express, to argue etc. In the second stages it deals with the responsibility of the learner to use personal strategies after exploring all of them to know what really works to learn. Finally the last stage is about the autonomy as a person it means that the student who is learning English is going to decide the direction he wants to follow, for instance the student has explore all the resources and he decided to learn British English rather than American. This theory shows the way autonomy is organize taking as a point low levels to get the high levels. Autonomy is a process that starts with the teacher guiding all the time, then it needs the student to decide what works for him, and finally he is able to decide what to do , but without excluding the teacher, at this level the students need help but not as the beginning of the process.

In the topic of autonomy there exist many debates referring to terms, stages etc, and there exist another discuss about freedom vs. autonomy. Little (1996) work reminds educators that freedom in learning is not the same thing as autonomy and this freedom will always be consider constrained. He additionally regard that some degree of freedom in learning is required if learners are to develop autonomy. This theory is essential for my research study because it illustrates the situation I was living when I started my first semester, about freedom or autonomy. I remember we had to create a personal dictionary for the class, at the beginning it was not mandatory, but when nobody did it, the teacher decided it had to be mandatory. I was thinking about this, in that moment I thought it was not an autonomous class, because for me autonomous means do what you want to do. What surprises me was that I was at university and I had that thought. Later when I made my observations at Argelia's school I realized they had a problem when doing homework. They needed the teacher to threaten them in order to complete the task, if the teacher suggested something that would be useful for them, but no for grading they would not do it. So at the end I realized there was not autonomy in most of the people and freedom for students means “do not do anything”. This experience makes me think that when we are students we confused autonomy with freedom. In this case it would be necessary to teach our students that autonomy needs freedom but in certain degree. For instance when somebody is learning to cook the teacher gives the specific steps to carry on the activity, additionally he judges how good or bad the person did. You are not able to mix some ingredients because the taste will not be nice, you may follow the instructions of the teacher. On the other hand you can add new things such as decorations, some ingredients allowed, you can do something more than what is expected because you want to, but you have to follow the basic steps. On the contrary every student had something different without knowing why.

Some of the answers of the behavior of the cases we have seen through this paper are answer in some way with Holliday's (2003) notion of social autonomy which is based on the assumption that autonomy resides in the social world's students, which they have from their lives outside the classroom. Furthermore Schmenk (2005) has argued that the promotion of autonomy as a universal good in language education depends the question “what should autonomy involve in specific social, cultural, or institutional learning contexts?” and “which characteristics thus facilitates its homogenization”. Schmenk argues that the concept of autonomy has value, nevertheless, provided that language educators ‘admit that autonomy is not a universal and neutral concept. This theory is also great for my research study because when I was at school I remember there was a boy of the coast and there was and there is the assumption that people from the coast is lazy and that they never do anything. This boy was a good student when he was working in group, he used to his part very well, but when he had to work alone he seems to be lazy. One day the teacher gave him feedback and she discover that in his family they used to do everything together such as cooking, watching TV and sometimes homework, he did not like individual task; but It was a cultural pattern rather than laziness. This example leads me to think that sometimes we as teachers assume that autonomy is a general pattern and it means the same in every single culture. Autonomy possess some features that are general for cultures but some of them can vary, so we teachers need to lead with that to understand and make the student to understand the way they should carry on individual or group task in order to not dismiss autonomy.

There is something we cannot take away in the process of autonomy and it deals with the teacher's role which is transcendental for the students. Little (1995) strong supported this statement by considering the idea that learner autonomy is develop through pedagogical in which teachers exercise their own autonomy. Additionally he states that teachers cannot be expected to promote the growth of autonomy in their learners if they do not themselves know what it is to be an autonomous learner. Teachers should always keep in mind their professional skills autonomously. Similarly Gimeno (2000) teacher autonomy should be linked to responsibility and commitment to an educational project that is accepted by all the educational community. At the same time Jaime Usma (2003) posits that a teacher should always have a professional competence, moral obligation and commitment with the community. The first aspect copes with the way behave in front of the students in specific situations, the second aspect about moral obligation deals with the way the teacher express his ideas, feelings taking into account students and letting them to express themselves at the same time. Finally commitment with the community is about making right decisions to affect students in a positive way. What I have noticed in my classes in my classes as student is that some people responds to the critics of the teacher in a positive or negative way depending on the attitude's teacher. Teachers who lack of this features have many difficulties in class, for instance the teacher has a girl in class which is a rebel and he does not let her to express her ideas she will react with furious, additionally she will sabotages his class. Another problem can occur if the teacher makes wrong decisions in class, for example the same girl is impolite with the teacher in class, so he decides to be impolite too or hit her. Finally let supposed that as a result of all this problems the girl is negative affected towards the school's life, the subject, the teacher and her knowledge. The role of the teacher as a guide or facilitator is very important in the student's learning process. This is a huge responsibility because it implies to affect other's life depending on your maturity as individual; it is not an easy job to handle students when each one of them is part of a different world, and what makes it more difficult is the fact that you can change the perception of this world in a positive or negative way.

CONCLUSION

The ideas contributed about autonomous learning by the theorists identify above demonstrate us how difficult is to make a concept that for most of the people seems to be abstract in something you can make tangible. On the other hand it confirms the importance of showing our students and ourselves that autonomy goes beyond the classroom because taking autonomy as the basic for life guarantee critical thinker students. That is why it is very important for me to go back to the theories that talk about autonomy and then relate them to the main target with the aim of see the applicability of autonomy in class for students and teachers in a way.. In this process we cannot forget the teacher's role well described by Jaime Usma (2003), this author remind educators that education need autonomous teachers to become autonomous students. With these theories my purpose is to design strategies for teachers in order to get better results and make students to think

LITERATURE REVIEW

Chan, V. (2001), Self-assessment as an Autonomous Learning Tool in an Interpretation Classroom Education [Abstract]. Journal of Further and Higher Education 25-3, pp. 285-300.

Dickenson, L. (1995), Self-assessment as an Autonomous Learning Tool in an Interpretation Classroom Education [Abstract]. A Literature Review, Systems 23-2, pp. 165-174.

Holec, H. (1981). Autonomy in language teaching and learning. United Kingdom: Hong Kong Institute of Education.

Holliday, A. (2003). Autonomy in language teaching and learning. United Kingdom: Hong Kong Institute of Education.

Little, D. (1995). Autonomy in language teaching and learning. United Kingdom: Hong Kong Institute of Education

Little, D. (1996), Self-assessment as an Autonomous Learning Tool in an Interpretation Classroom Education [Abstract]. Journal of Further and Higher Education 25-3, pp. 285-300.

Little, D. (1996). Autonomy in language teaching and learning. United Kingdom: Hong Kong Institute of Education.

Littlewood, W. (1997). Autonomy in language teaching and learning. United Kingdom: Hong Kong Institute of Education.

Nunan, D. (1997). Autonomy in language teaching and learning. United Kingdom: Hong Kong Institute of Education.

Stolk, J. (2007). Work in Progress – Building autonomous students:

Modeling curricular approaches for lifelong learning, Milwaukee. Retrieved 12, october, 2009. http://fie-conference.org/fie2007/papers/1624.pdf

Ushioda, E. (1996). Autonomy in language teaching and learning. United Kingdom: Hong Kong Institute of Education

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