Monday, October 29, 2007

About this blog

This blog has had over 1300 hits since the 8th October! A big thank you to all the contributors. It isn’t too late if you would like to write a summary or some reflections of your presentation, the conference or of a session you attended. If you are interested in contributing, please e-mail me (

If you are attending a learner-autonomy related event in the future and would like to volunteer to keep a blog in order to share your experience with others, do get in touch. The IATEFL Learner Autonomy SIG can help you host your blog and link it to our website:

Monday, October 22, 2007

The cost of borrowing: Autonomy and its intellectual debts

Alex critically examines the intellectual borrowings in two papers on autonomy (Cultural alternatives and autonomy / Alastair Pennycook in Benson and Voller 1997 book and a book chapter written by Naoko Aoki). In essence, he argued that we should be cautious in borrowing terms and theories from other academic disciplines so that our arguments will not be undermined by our indiscrete borrowings. In general, I think that our field does need to examine critically what we have borrowed from other fields. So Alex's paper serves a timely reminder. I also admire his courage in presenting his critique on two famous researchers' writings in this conference. and I am also sure that the researchers under his critical scrutiny have different views. I wonder such critique will be much more meaningfully presented in a colloqium or a form of debate, where the authors under scrutiny may respond and argue with the presenter. Such collegial discussions will certainly benefit the audience.

Autonomy and Affect in Distance Language Learning

This is a very impressionistic summary of Stella Hurd's presentation. In her presentation, she talks about affective factors, including motivation and anxiety in distant language learners' language learning process. Maybe I am quite ignorant of the whole research area, but somehow I often feel that distance language learning has evolved into a sub-area of inquiry distinct from other sub-areas of inquiry in autonomy research, i.e. self-access center. I found that Stella's research has important pedagogical and research implications. In particular, when she talked about distance learners using cognitive and metacognitive strategies to reduce their anxiety and enhance their learning motivation, I started questioning the traditional catergorization of learning strategies with the researcher. In the traditional theorization of learning strategy, affective strategies are used by learners to deal with affective factors in the learning process. Such findings also inform our advice to our language learners, who want to deal with their motivation and anxiety problems in the learning process. Maybe, advising them on the use of affective strategies may not be sufficient.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Klaus Schweinhorst's keynote

I feel very fortunate to have attended Klaus Schwienhorst’s presentation, “Coming to terms: Learner autonomy, the learner, and (computer-assisted) language learning environments.” I am still struck by how Klaus turned a typical sterile lecture hall with tiers of bolted down seats into a comfortable open and rich learning environment. He set the tone of his presentation literally with the music of Miles Davis.

So at 9am there you are coffee and presentation print in hand, the most "presentation" you are hoping for is a pleasing PowerPoint background design choice, and instead you greeted in surround-sound by intricate delectable riffs of jazz. Wow. Welcome to the opportunity to reflect on how being autonomous in language learning is a lot like being a jazz musician; the greats know how to be interdependent, experiment, develop voice, be playful, subtle, reflective, and always interactive. I worked at this university for three years, and had never felt the atmosphere of this room, used for end of term exams, so changed.

Klaus asked several provocative questions in his presentation regarding CALL. For instance: Is the computer really a unique technology? If we say we need computer-assisted learning, what was the “unassisted language learning”? Many “assisted-learning” perspectives have existed in the past, what leads us to believe CALL won’t indeed be replaced soon by MALL (Mobile-Assisted Language Learning)? Does it matter?

Indeed the focus of Klaus’s questioning was on how CALL affordances could further, or work in tandem, but certainly not replace, the roles of the learner and teacher in learner autonomy. By going through how CALL projects can go wrong and right he showed how technology is used best when it is thoughtfully applied. CALL can afford a learning environment that has a variety of communication partners, authentic material, options for reflection, options for experimentation, and options for combining reflection, interaction, and experimentation. However, these affordances will be wasted if teachers do not carefully set up how technology will be used. From his ongoing work using in MOO Tandem projects (online language exchanges between L1 and L2 speakers) he described how he and a colleague reversed a situation where students were confused who their partners were or using mostly their L1 in language exchanges, to a robust learning environment where students started class knowing who their partners were and could use a tracker within the software to see how much of their L1 compared to their L2 they were using, and how complicated their sentences were. Klaus and his co-teacher at the time had not expected students to use the tracker software in the way that they had, explicating how CALL can be a tool that presents ways for both the teacher and learner to discover new ways to manage learning. An engagement with CALL though not always easy, can lead to unexpected innovation. Like Miles Davis, who regularly practiced with different and new musicians to keep his art fresh, learners and teachers can benefit greatly from integrating experimentation into their daily learning.

Indeed audience members corroborated Klaus’ research by telling of instances when CALL had disappointed them, but how they accepted the challenge to look more closely at how they were applying CALL to their pedagogy.

Klaus said in his presentation that learner autonomy may be most effective when combining reflection, interaction, and experimentation seamlessly. I do not know if other audience members had seen a presentation before like Klaus’, where the presenter so elegantly talked about lessons learned, asked questions, beyond being rhetorical, that were provocative, interacted well with the audience, and in the presentation materials themselves (music, PowerPoint, software screen shots, and a handout that was not a replica of the presentation) showed variety and innovation. I had not. Klaus’s presentation left me extremely hopeful for the future of CALL and teacher/learner autonomy. Certainly we are lucky to have him as our colleague.

Thank you to the conference conveners who wisely invited Klaus. I am looking forward to his upcoming book, Learner Autonomy and CALL Environments as well as reading more about the software he mentioned in his presentation and other projects. Thank you again!

-Christine Rosalia
New York University
Kanda University Peer Online Writing Centre

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Learners’ voices

Our (Debbie Corder's, Dave Murray's and Sergio Valdivia's) presentation was the result of a year of continuous electronic communications, using email, chat and wiki resources -actually, we met at the Conference for the first time. We ended up putting together what I sketch in the following introduction to our presentation. If interested in getting more details about it, please let us know (post a comment).

The Independent Learning Association
2007 Japan Conference

“Learners’ voices: critical reflection in portfolios from three
cultural/linguistic settings”

Sergio Valdivia, Debbie Corder, David Murray


AUTO-L, our Research Network discussion list, has given many of us the opportunity to communicate beyond our discussions and bring together individual projects such as this presentation. Our individual interests have found echo among other teachers so we will present to you, our common and different experiences from three different cultural and linguistic settings: New Zealand, Japan and Mexico.

Autonomy promotion

From the time, we all learned about 'autonomy' -and probably before, without being conscious of it, we all became promoters of it. We have probably changed our ways of teaching, visited self-access facilities more often or grew some interest in learning more about autonomy and attended conferences such as this.

In this quest, we have also been attentive to what our role as autonomy promoters is. Why? Because we feel we are (partly) responsible for making(?), facilitating(?) or just letting(?) students become 'more' autonomous -I personally believe, we are autonomous learners, at some point, from birth. This concern has made us move in different directions. Sometimes, coinciding with others, other times taking an opposite direction. But at the end of the day, do we feel we are doing a good job? Probably, 'yes' ... probably, 'no'.

What do we normally do in order to foster autonomy? One of the things we have learned from our readings, is to raise consciousness in students of the learning process, they go through. In a Constructivistic view of learning, being conscious of our learning process is an integral part of it. Also, we have learned from Cognitive psychology that a 'proper' thinking process does enhance our learning, too.


So, now, the buzz word is Reflection -invite your students to reflect upon their learning. Take advantage of metacognition, introspection and retrospection. Not only good planning is necessary but an evaluation of what has worked and what hasn't. Cognitive psychology has given us a green light to intervene (invade?) private mental processes with the aim of 'enhancing' them by making them explicit and public. Contructivist psychology has also given us another green light in becoming observers of the process, learners go through and in being witnesses of how every learner finds his/her own ways and how this experience (struggle?) will eventually transform into something meaningful and significant for them.

So our focus is on Reflection. But what should we understand by reflecting upon our learning? In a constructivist learning relationship, teachers require students to take responsibility for making their own meaning, rather than accepting prefabricated meanings of information or instruction. It is therefore seen as substantially different from a relationship where teachers as experts transfer knowledge to students. Attributes of constructivism are said to include student initiative, higher-level thinking, social discourse between students and teachers, and the use of raw data, primary sources, interactive materials to encourage multiples perspectives on an issue (Brookes & Brooks, 1993).

Also, learners are expected to work towards autonomy and self-regulated learning, and to achieve greater understanding of the processes of learning itself. They (learners) become the observers of their own behaviour and through reflection gauge their own progress, judge the extent to which their knowledge is effective action and gain the insight necessary to improve their own learning (Brown & Palincsar, 1989). Teachers are expected to develop knowledge of the different learning styles of their students, thus enabling them to personalize learning. Socio-constructivism is where students work together, supporting each other and learning from each other.

Kohonen also mentions that in sociocultural, socio-constructivist and experiential learning theories, the learner is seen as a person consisting of a self with a social identity and as a member of and participant in a society and a culture. He/she has access to knowledge, power and resources and has an identity and a variety of contextual social roles. And Philip Riley discusses the notion of individual identity in terms of a distinction between self and person. Self refers to individual, personal identity: what makes "me" as me, as opposed to all other individuals. Person, on the other hand, is a question of social identity: what makes this individual like other individuals in terms of shared characteristics, memberships and rights. But, the importance of this identity has become apparent in the use of the e-portfolio, Debbie will talk about this later.


A topic to discuss is still how to get students to reflect effectively. Some teachers and language advisors have used portfolios, questionnaires, check lists, interviews, group discussions, sound and video recordings, etc. All these have proved some usefulness in different settings but still, we are in a constant search for better tools. In our case, we all three have used portfolios of some sort which have proved effective. We believe in these tools as something that will raise consciousness when reflections turns back to a private practice.

So after all those guidelines of the importance of reflection in learning, we have to take some role (intervention?) in what seems to be our contribution to autonomy promotion. Our main rationale behind our acting is based on finding better ways of learning and by better, we mean more efficient in the classroom or in a self-access facility. We strongly believe that learning a foreign language needs this intervention - for better or for worse.

In making public what seems to be a private practice, we have taken simple-complex, guided-open, paper-electronic efforts to make learners' reflections not only public but analyzable, observable and discussable (metacognition). This metacognitive approach has proved valid in various senses as we will show you in the following three case studies of the use of learning portfolios in New Zealand, Japan and Mexico.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Virtual English Language Adviser (VELA) How it can be used

Sarah Toogood, HKUST Language Centre

I have often read about the VELA project, but it was really lovely to finally meet Sarah Toogood and hear about it firsthand. The purpose of Sarah’s presentation at this conference was to show the audience the current state of VELA.

VELA is a kind of database which helps students to build a learning plan by linking strategies with materials through “pathways”. It was originally developed as tool for advisers, but it was soon realized that it could also be used by the students. The students do not have to use VELA alone, they are encouraged to use it with their teachers, other learners and with advisers at the “Drop-in Centre” in the SAC. Students work through 6 steps:

Step 1: Identify a skill and interest area from the menu
Step 2: State the problem
Step 3: Clarify the cause of the problem
Step 4: VELA suggests ways to practise language and students discover what works for them. Users take a quiz at this point to make sure they understand about the three practice types (focused, transfer and general)
Step 5a: Strategies and materials – Focused practice (teach yourself something)
Step 5b: Strategies and materials – Transfer practice (make a conscious effort to use what you have learned)
Step 5c: Strategies and materials – General practice (expose yourself to the language)
Step 6: Personalise your plan. VELA gives users a copy of the choices in the form of a plan including materials choices, time allocation, progress checks and objectives. Learners review and modify the plan and show it to a friend, teacher or adviser.

Sarah uses metaphors to help students to understand the process, for example step 2 is likened to visiting the doctor – you have to share your symptoms or problems. The materials suggested in step 5 are like a recipe. Sarah used the example of making an omelet. Once you know how to make a basic omelet, you can adapt your recipe and become more creative.

Students and teachers at HKUST have been very positive about using VELA. One student commented “It [VELA] provides me with the chance to set a goal of learning and think about what I want to learn.” Another commented “I could choose any of the language focus in this project. It made the project more interesting to me… I tried some new methods to construct my learning plan.”

Sarah encouraged us to try VELA and to let her know how we get on.

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NEW Download the latest version of adviser guidelines for creating a VELA plan here (PDF).

Poster sessions

David McLoughlin and Gary Pathare discuss Sarah Osboe and Dave Bollen's poster

Delegates reading Tomoko Fujimura, Robert Hirschel and Sarah Osboe's poster

Andy Barfield, Henri Holec, Sarah Toogood and others have discussions about Ellen Head's posters

Monday, October 15, 2007

Exploring the links between motivation, autonomy, and experience in foreign language learning.

Yoshiyuki Nakata (Ph. D.)
Hyogo University of Teacher Education

In his talk, Dr. Nakata outlined a pedagogical approach to self-regulated language learning. At the beginning of the presentation, he looked at the connection between motivation and autonomy. Does autonomy lead to motivation? Or is motivation a precondition for autonomy? Or is there a two-way relationship between autonomy and motivation? The key point is what kind of motivation we are interested in.

Dr. Nakata suggested that teachers could encourage autonomy by helping to develop students’ motivation to learn. By this, he meant cognitive intrinsic motivation (finding it worthwhile to learn what an activity is supposed to teach) rather than just affective intrinsic motivation (finding an activity fun). If it is only affective, intrinsic motivation might not be enough to lead to autonomous behaviour.

Dr. Nakata then brought in the concept of self-regulation. When becoming self-regulated learners, students move from reactive autonomy (where they undertake activities on their own initiative) to proactive autonomy (where they actually take control of their learning, set goals, and evaluate their progress in reaching those goals). In Dr. Nakata’s view, when we think of motivation we should consider self-regulation, both in its affective (emotion and desire) and cognitive (setting goals, reflecting and meta-cognition) aspects. In the context of the Japanese education system, many learners don’t have opportunities for cognitive self-regulation.

Presenting a developmental model of intrinsic motivation from a self-regulatory perspective, Dr. Nakata distinguished between a surface level and a core level of intrinsic motivation. Learners can possess a surface level of intrinsic motivation but still not achieve language proficiency. Furthermore, such learners can lose motivation when confronted with novel learning situation such as a new teacher or teaching method. Learners have to internalize the intrinsic value of language learning in order to become self-regulated (autonomous) learners.

According to Dr. Nakata, what is needed is a pedagogical approach for self-regulated language learning. This approach should be sensitive to context and should aim to build a trusting relationship between teacher and learner. There are three stages in this proposed approach: a preparation stage, a developmental stage and a self-regulated stage.

One important aspect of the preparation stage is that learners do not have total freedom of choice but are provided with teacher-selected freedom of choice. At this stage, there is more focus on affective rather than cognitive self-regulation. There is a lot of emphasis on creating a good classroom atmosphere, establishing a trusting relationship between teacher and students, and building learner confidence.

At the developmental stage, the focus is more on cognitive self-regulation. The teacher helps learners to set their own goals, be more reflective, and become more independent. Much less support is given to students at the self-regulated stage. The important thing here is to provide students with a wide variety of challenging and creative tasks.

In conclusion, Dr. Nakata said that there are many pedagogical approaches to learner autonomy that are suitable in particular educational contexts. Teachers have to take the educational context into account and seek ways to promote autonomy. In this way, learner autonomy can become a reality.

Language Advising: Between Imposition, Laissez-faire and Negotiation

Professor Marie-José Gremmo
Département de Sciences de l’Éducation, Université Nancy II, France

Marie-José Gremmo posed the question that all language advisors have to face. How do we help our learners without imposing or ignoring? In order to have meaningful meetings advisors and learners negotiate, but how does this negotiation occur? Marie-José’s recent research has focused on this question by analysing the discourse.

Her data consisted of recordings of learner/advisor meetings, interviews with learners and advisors, and recordings of ‘cross-confrontations’ between the four advisors who took part. The aim was to find out what is at stake in the negotiation and to illuminate the nature of the ‘helping’ relationship.

Marie-José introduced the concept of advising 'postures' which she explained as coherent sets of linguistic behaviours and actions, and that these postures can become tools for advising. Such postures may be seen as full advising or they may relate more to teaching. Others may refer more to companionship, as in cases where the advisor offers personal examples and experiences. Advising is seen as a contextualised activity which requires progressive adjustment between advisor and learner. The process consists of alternation between work/study and advising sessions thus ‘giving time to time’. Advising should have this structured time dimension and continuity in the relationship between learner and advisor. The advisor also needs reflexive time for her own activity, including self-observation.

She described the relationship in language advising as
- non-decisional
- not founded on power
- having its focus on the learning process
- reactive, negotiated and adaptive
- non-programmed
- centred around a specific coherent conceptual framework of language didactics

Marie-José illustrated her talk with examples from her data. In one case, the advisor felt that the learner controlled the situation and stuck to her own criteria, describing it as a laissez-faire situation. The learner also described the relationship as that of pupil/teacher or expert/non-expert. This appeared initially to be disappointing but nevertheless Marie-José found evidence of negotiation in the discourse and the learner did change her learning activities in spite of maintaining her own conceptual criteria.

There are three polarities in a triangle of advising:
- the ‘sensitive’ advisor: interacting and perturbimg

- the ‘helping’ advisor: informing and preventing
- the ‘thwarting’ advisor: laissez-faire and solving

Marie-José concluded that advisors need the validation of a community of practice. Advising is a professional genre with a common ideology and a competence that can be acquired through professional training.

Marie-José Gremmo has considerable experience in the practice and theory of advising. She referred in her talk to a ‘second-generation’ advisor, of which she herself is a good example. Another experienced advisor, Marina Mozzon-McPherson, also spoke at this conference of the need for broad-based research and the development of international professional training. I too think this is an excellent aim. The role of language advisor is complex and new for many teachers. However, we already have a wealth of experience and research and our efforts and results should be combined in joint projects.

Instructional Intervention and Learner Autonomy

Professor Koichi Nishiguchi
Osaka University

Koichi discussed how autonomy in language performance develops and raised one of the most crucial issues within the sociocultural study of second language development, namely, its lack of a sound theoretical psycholinguistic basis.

Koichi examined theoretically the expected role of the teachers in engaging learners in different communicative practices. For instance, he remarked on Bakhtin’s (1981) assumption, which in accord with Vygotsky’s (1987) theory of psychological development, that human mental development is rooted in the social interaction with other people. He also noted that Bakhtin’s conceptualization is directly related to Holoquist and Emerson’s (1981: 434) conceptualization of ‘voice’ that is simply ‘speaking personality, speaking consciousness’ (ibid.). From Koichi’s point of view, to nurture this kind of voice with second language words as the material within the learner with respect to particular activity domains is of importance in terms of second language development.

As these voices will be nurtured via internalization of specific speech acts that were experienced in the context of particular interactive practice, Koichi remarked that learners need sufficient opportunities to engage in interactive practices in particular domains of activity and require experiences in which they produce their own speech acts in a specific concrete situation that engenders utterances.

According to Koichi, learners need to “undergo these experiences with an active and optimal support and optimal support and assistance by more capable communicators including the teacher. It is these experiences that form an important site of second language development, i.e., an important site in which each learner grows to be a more autonomous and capable language speaker.”

During the Q&A, a question was raised asking how teachers would be able to observe the interactions. Koichi suggested that a good way to start would be videotaping the class and then watch the video with the students and discuss with them. A practice as such was also described by one of the keynote speakers, Dr. Klaus Schwienhorst, whose presentation on ‘Coming to terms: Learner autonomy, the learner and (computer-assisted) language learning environments’ suggested letting students evaluate their own learning through watching their learning video as a means to help them reflect on their learning.

I was inspired by this talk and temped to try out this approach. However, a couple of questions struck me while I ruminated over how it could be deployed in my class. Would this approach succeed with a larger class / group of students? To what extent would students willingly talk about their learning with their classmates or their teacher? Even though I have these questions in mind, I do look forward to exploring this approach further and searching for the answer(s).


Bakhtin, M. M. (1981) The Dialogic Imaginations: Four Essays by M. M. Bakhtin, Holquist, M. (ed.), (1981), translated by Emerson, C. and Holquist, M. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Holoquist, M. and Emerson, C. (1981) Glossary for The Dialogic Imaginations: Four Essays by M. M. Bakhtin, Holquist, M. (ed.), (1981), translated by Emerson, C. and Holquist, M. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1987) Thinking and Speech. In Rieber, R. W. and Carton, A. S. (eds.) (1986) The Collected Works of L. S. Vygotsky. Volume 1. New York: Plenum.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Autonomy in language learning: a pedagogical revisiting of a pedagogical approach

Professor Henri Holec
CRAPEL, University of Nancy II, France

Henri Holec began by apologising for the repetition of the word ‘pedagogical’ in his title, expaining that his intention in his talk was to focus on the teacher’s viewpoint. He started by clarifying some of the concepts in the field which are often used ambiguously.

Firstly, he noted that when teachers describe a learner as autonomous, they may be referring to an ability/capacity or to the particular way he learns. Holec sticks to the distinction that:

‘autonomy’ refers to a learner’s ability to self-control his learning and an autonomous learner is one who knows how to control his learning, whereas

‘self-directed learning’ refers to the type of learning and a self-directed learner is a learner who learns in a self-directed way.

He went on to point out that there is a similar ambiguity in the meaning attributed to ‘learn’ and ‘learning’. It is often used to include two ideas: that of gaining knowledge or skill and the way this is achieved (by study, practice, being taught). Holec prefers to use the term ‘acquire’ and ‘acquisition’ for the covert, unconscious cognitive process by which one internalises knowledge, while ‘learn and ‘learning’ refers to the overt and conscious behaviour used to acquire knowledge. Learning can also be instructed on non-instructed.

Holec claimed that there are two sets of principles - ‘states’ - which govern the various learning environments often referred to as implementations of ‘autonomy’.

State 1 can be described as instructed learning with a degree of learner participation. The focus is on the development of the self-direction of learning and their autonomy becomes a form of side-effect acquisition. The learners are gradually allowed to take part in the decision-taking process and the end-result is independent but not fully self-directed learners.

State 2 is a much more fundamental shift in perspective than State 1. Language learning here is non-instructed learning which is entirely placed under the control of the learner. Thus the focus is on the decision-taking and not on the ways/activities. The learner decides of his own free will, although not on free options of his own. There are no free options because the needs and objectives always affect the required skills. The focus is on the development of learner autonomy (the ability to self-direct) and the aim is to produce autonomous learners by providing learning conditions which integrate language learning and learning-to-learn environments.

State 2 may come after State 1 or it may be in place from the start. State 1 is more common because it is less demanding and often satisfies institutional demands for more independent language learning.

Holec then went on to describe the particular features and requirements of a State 2 implementation. Primarily, learners need varying degrees of help in order to acquire learning ability. Learning ability Holec defined as involving both knowledge and know-how. Knowledge refers to the internalised representations of language and language learning culture which help the learner when making learning decisions and acting upon them. This knowledge is operationalised into the know-how, ie, the definition of learning objectives, the selection of resources, the setting up of scenarios and the evaluation and management of learning

State 2 also requires specialised teacher training. Holec described a new breed of teacher who has three roles: the role of learner-educator, training learners to be aware of their learning etc; the role of materials provider, using materials that are adaptable but not pre-adapted: the role of manager of change. The teacher has to manage innovation processes at the initiation stage, the implementation stage and the integration stage, in order for the change to remain permanent.

Henri Holec’s talk undoubtedly set many of the teachers at the conference thinking about their own contexts and where their own implementation of ‘autonomy’ stands in relation to the two states he described. As he pointed out, there are many examples around the world of ‘autonomous’ learning – but how often do we stop to think deeply about the concepts and principles that we believe are guiding us?

Learning beyond the classroom: theorising the field

Phil Benson, Hong Kong Institute of Education

Benson made an interesting and entertaining presentation (wearing a very good shirt!).

For the journal Language Teaching Benson wrote a state-of-the-art article published in spring 2007. In this article he had divided autonomy into autonomy in the classroom and autonomy beyond the classroom. In this presentation he was looking at autonomy beyond the classroom. In his state-of-the-art article this area included: self-access, CALL, distance learning, tandem learning, out of class learning, and self instruction. He chose these areas because they were areas which had literature to be reviewed. He didn't have a section on naturalistic learning, because he was not aware of any published research on this in the period covered by his article (post the year 2000). He explained that he is returning to learning beyond the classroom in this presentation for two reasons. Firstly, because he was dissatisfied with this part of his review. He said that he thinks learning beyond the classroom is much bigger and more diverse than his review section suggested. And secondly, he felt he had merely given a list of areas and not really said much about them, particularly about learning beyond the classroom in a holistic sense.
As a starting point, he suggested that we look at out-of-class learning in the same way as we look at in-class learning (though he said that he will disagree with this later in the presentation).
He divided his talk into three sections:
  • the difficulty of conceptualising learning beyond the classroom in its own terms (that is, without using the word "classroom")
  • the difficulty of conceptualising learning beyond the classroom independently of particular settings and modes of practice, for example a self-access centre
  • the relationship between the classroom and the world beyond the classroom

  • Benson then looked at some quotations about classroom research and extracted the following useful ideas:
  • the focus of classroom research seems to be on what happens in the classroom.
  • a theory of beyond the classroom learning would cover a whole range of different topics.
  • the classroom is the setting for classroom research.

  • He raised three problems with this, which mean that, basically, classroom research as presently theorised, does not leave much room for us!.
    The first problem is to do with the definition of the classroom. He pointed out that Van Lier’s definition of the L2 classroom would also include situations such as an advising session, which Benson would rather consider as learning beyond the classroom.

    The second problem is involved with the goals of classroom research. Benson showed a quote from David Nunan, which says that classroom research can focus on developmental aspects of learner language, learning strategies, and learning styles. Benson asked why this should belong to classroom research. He also said that it is not only Nunan, but it is common for authors to focus on language learning, but actually they are considering it as classroom research. He pointed out that, understood in this way, the scope of the field actually goes well beyond the focus on the classroom itself. There is the danger of confusion between learning strategies in the global sense and learning strategies in a classroom setting, and that this can happen, for example, when a learning strategies questionnaire is handed out and completed in the classroom, and there is not the corresponding type of strategies research which is carried out beyond the classroom.
    The third problem is really a combination of the first to, that is the idea of “capturing” learning for the classroom and distinguishing it from learning beyond the classroom.

    Benson feels that beyond-the-classroom learning is always defined in terms of not being something else, and he sees this as privileging the formal classroom context and as suggesting that learning takes place predominantly in the classroom. He showed a slide with contrasting pairs of terms which illustrates what he means:

    School learning versus out-of-school learning
    Classroom learning versus out-of-class learning
    Instructed learning versus non-instructed learning
    Formal learning versus informal learning

    He feels that studies of classroom learning are often looking at all learning and not distinguishing themselves adequately from out-of-class learning; they are, he feels, trying to “muscle in” on out-of-class learning.

    He now looked at settings and modes of practice. Settings, he feels, should involve not only place but also time. A mode of practice, in contrast, is what actually happens in the setting i.e. the kinds of routine activities that go on in that setting which, it is important to realise, take place at particular times and have histories as well. For example, a self-access centre is a setting, and the mode of practice is what takes place in that setting. A teacher could take students to the self-access centre and give them activities to do or a programme to follow, or very differently, students could just wander in and be doing different things and so there are different modes of practice possible in the same setting. For this reason Benson is very sceptical about such notions as “self-access learning” because this could cover many different modes of practice. It will be necessary, he says, to look at out-of-class learning not only in terms of the setting but also in terms of modes of practice.
    The distinction between out-of-class and in-class learning is a very fuzzy one as, for most types of learning (for example, CALL, tandem learning, study abroad, blended learning), it is impossible to categorise them as either exclusively out-of-school or exclusively in-school. Similarly, most types of learning can be both out-of-class or in-class, formal or informal, non-instructed or instructed. They do not fall neatly into one category or the other – it depends on the specific circumstances. The most marked case he finds is naturalistic learning, which he thinks answers “yes” to all the contrasted pairs of categories and never “no”. This indicates that these are not real contrasts.

    Benson’s third issue brings in the area of out-of-school literacy. He notes that there has been very little research which challenges the focus on the classroom as being the main area of foreign language learning. The history of research in autonomy began in the 1960s and the whole point of it was looking at different ways of learning beyond the conventional classroom. In the 1990s there began to be a focus on autonomy in the classroom, which was fine and inclusive. But, now this has moved on to become a kind of mantra, i.e. that learner autonomy depends on teacher autonomy, which Benson utterly disagrees with because it would mean that in order to become autonomous as a learner you would have to have a teacher.

    He takes as an example of this literacy. Literacy practices are changing, for example, due to globalisation and new technology. Literacy is becoming a much more complex construct – there are many types of literacy which don't involve reading or writing, different types of media literacy, for example. These new types are developing primarily outside school, and if you look at learners ethnographically or biographically you find that they are actually much more literate than was thought. Is this true of second language learning, he asks. We don't really know, because we don't have a new literacies field in second language learning. Benson uses some research by Martin Lamb to look at this. Lamb did some research in Sumatra with 11 and 12-year-old children. He found that most of their English language learning was out-of-school, and in fact their teachers said they were not learning very much in school.
    Benson had three comments on this research:
    First, for the individual learner, the setting is actually very complex and not a particular setting, such as the classroom, the home, and so on. From their perspective there is one highly complex setting.
    Second, the configurations of the settings seemed to be very highly localised both in terms of place and in terms of time. Also, everything is changing quickly, so older and younger learners have very different experiences which are localised in terms of time and place.
    Third, the experience of learning is co-constructed by the learner, the teacher in school, the teachers in the private schools, parents at home, and so on, and this all becomes interwoven together.

    Benson concludes that the kind of research we should be doing does not look at categorising, and contrasting in-class and out-of-class learning. We need to look at the everyday world of the student, because within the everyday world of the student there are multiple settings, multiple contexts, and multiple modes of practice all mixed in together.


    Lamb, M. (2004). "It depends on the students themselves": Independent language learning at an Indonesian state school. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 17 (3). pp. 229-245. Page 239.

    Nunan, D. (1990). Second language classroom research, ERIC Digest, ERIC Document Reproduction Service.

    Van Lier, L. (1988). The Classroom and the Language Learner. Ethnography and Second-Language Classroom Research. Harlow: Longman.Page 47.

    Friday, October 12, 2007

    Freinet and the Internet: A new look at computer-mediated language leaning

    Professor Kojiro Asao, Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto

    Professor Asao began his talk with a software demonstration. He told us that this particular package “Don’t ever study English” is typical of its type and is widely available in computer shops. The program enables users to listen to dialogues, record their voices, and practice doing dictations. The speech recognition technology should be sensitive enough to award points for the user’s spoken input, but as we found out, saying almost anything results in a good score. It is a self-contained package in which the user interacts with a computer. There is also a dictionary function, and users are provided with additional cultural information.

    We leave the computer program and Professor Asao turns our attention to another historic innovation: the television. Interestingly, when we examine what the first programs screened were, we find that in Japan is was a traditional Kabuki play, and in the USA it was a live boxing match. Although the medium was innovative, the subjects are not new. The television repackaged traditional entertainment.

    Another innovation we look at is the railroad and the impact this had on people in the UK. Tomas Cook began selling package tours by train, people began to commute to work, and cities grew rapidly now that they weren’t dependent on rivers and canals.

    We fast forward to the present and look at new technology. Much of what we see is new technology copying and reproducing what traditional medium has always provided. We already have notebooks, dictionaries, books and tape recorders which do an adequate job – why do we need computer software to help us to learn languages? Professor Asao pointed out that many pieces of language learning software lack both a pedagogical philosophy and a language learning theory.

    We compare the first day of TV and computer software for language learning and hear a quote from Marshall McLuhan (1964) “The medium is the message.” I confess, I am not familiar with the work of Marshall McLuhan, so this didn’t mean much to me at the time. I have since read more and I found this helpful extract from the same volume: “Many people would be disposed to say that it was not the machine, but what one did with the machine, that was its meaning or message. In terms of the ways in which the machine altered our relations to one another and to ourselves.”

    Professor Asao's views on language learning software do not mean that he does not see value in technology for learning. Instead he sees it as being more meaningful if it connects people with people rather than simply one person with a machine. He described a project undertaken by Susan Gaer. Susan Gaer set up a “virtual school” visit project which enabled students to visit different schools via their webpages. Students designed the school tours and communicated with students in other schools via e-mail. This project reminded Professor Asao of the work of Célestin Freinet who became a teacher in France after he was wounded in WWI. He was dissatisfied with teaching out of context material in his classes and wanted to make learning more meaningful for his students. Freinet obtained a printing press and took it into his classroom. Students were fascinated. They each wrote an essay and read their essays to the class. Students gave feedback and comments on each other’s work and chose the best essay (by now a collaborative effort) to be printed. The next step was to produce a class journal. Soon it was a school newspaper and one that was sent to other schools. Frienet was doing what Gaer did years later with the Internet: using an innovative media to connect people with other people and form a learning community.

    When I first read Professor Asao’s abstract, I admit I was unsure whether the work of an educator operating in the 1920s would have much relevance to the question of appropriate use of computers today. After listening to his talk, I see Professor Asao’s point. Much of what people associate with computer-assisted language learning is simply repackaging of traditional media. The focus of CALL needs to be on facilitating person to person communication.

    During question time, I asked our invited speaker whether he saw any role at all for computer software (such as the program he had shown) us in language learning. He sad “no, none whatsoever”.

    What do you think? Do you think language learning software has a role at all in the promotion of learner autonomy? If you’d like to leave a comment, I would be interested in continuing this discussion.


    Gaer, S. (1998). Less teaching and more learning. Focus on Basics, 2(D). Available at

    McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding media: The extensions of man. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    Thursday, October 11, 2007

    EFL teacher’ perceptions of student resistance and learner autonomy

    Keiko Sakui, Kobe Shohin Women’s university
    Neil Cowie, Okayama University

    Neil began the session by talking about using narratives for research purposes. Often during interviews researchers do not get the full story and there are advantages for choosing narratives as a data collection tool. When investigating teachers’ perceptions, narratives are often a starting point for deep reflection. In fact they can effectively be used as a form of teacher development either directly or vicariously.

    Neil shared three definitions of the term “resistance” in the context of student behavior. McVeigh (2002) claims that it doesn’t mean directly challenging the teacher, but “scorning the system”. Escandon (2004) describes seven patterns of resistance including sleeping in class, being late or absent and pretending that you don’t know the answer to a question. The Sakui & Cowie definition is simply “when students don’t do what teachers want them to do.”

    Keiko came in at that point to give a narrative of a teaching situation that she experienced while teaching English to a class of non-English majors at a women’s university in Japan. The students demonstrated a number of examples of resistance such as sitting at the back of the class, acting bored before the class had even begun, fixing their make-up and talking. At first, Keiko felt negative emotions such as shock, fear and depression and she described how she tried to stay positive and “perky”. Understandably she dreaded going into class each time. Keiko tried different strategies in order to get through to the students and to gain their trust. She adapted her teaching and learned more about her students’ interests and attitudes to English. They had a very low level of English and claimed that they hated English, in particular grammar. One of the first things Keiko did was to assign them each with a notebook. This is a seemingly simple action, but it helped to make their progress visual and tangible and gave them a guided framework in which to begin to record what they had learned. She also focused on the area of vocabulary and did not teach grammar at all. Keiko continued to encourage them and began to focus on raising their self-confidence above teaching English. She revisited the literature in relevant areas such as learned helplessness in order to understand what her students might be going through. The students gradually opened up to Keiko and she learned a lot from them. In fact, this class became her favorite class.

    Neil took over once again to relate the tale back to the literature. He talked about the stages that Keiko went through as a teacher. Initially she felt shock, fear and depression. This was followed by discovery, enlightenment through reading the literature and eventually satisfaction. She remained “perky” throughout which is an example of a functional response to a hostile situation. She also shared what she was going through with other teachers. Students took responsibility for their own learning in small ways initially through the notebook. There was some discussion by the audience about whether such a guided, teacher-initiated exercise could promote learner autonomy. The learners perceived themselves as failures so they needed very structured lessons initially in order to give themselves a sense of progress and success. Keiko used the metaphor of a ladder. The highly structured classes gave the students a foundation on which to build, enabling them to climb the ladder towards autonomy. As a result, the resistance diminished.

    By reading relevant research, Keiko learned more and realized that she was not alone. She understood the situation from a wider sociological perspective. Students have their own motivations and lives outside the classroom. It is important for a teacher to see the whole person.

    To read more about Keiko’s experience with this group of learners, see her article in the JALT Learner Development SIG publication Learning Learning (reference and link below).


    Escandon, A. (2004). Education/Learning Resistance in the Foreign-Language Classroom: A case study. AIS St Helens Centre for Research in International Education, Research Paper Series, Working Paper No. 5. (Download PDF)

    McVeigh, B. J. (2002). Japanese higher education as myth. Armonk, NY: East Gate.

    Sakui, K. (2006). Student resistance: Is it a reflection of students’ lack of motivation? Learning Learning, 13(2), pp17-23. (

    Sakui, K. & Cowie, N. (2008). “Learning English is tedious”: Narratives of student resistance in Japanese EFL classrooms. In P. Kalaja, V. Menzes & A.M. Barcelos (Eds). Narratives of EFL Teaching and learning. Baisingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Wednesday, October 10, 2007

    How Blogging can Promote Learner Autonomy

    Dr. Jo Mynard – Koryo International College, Nagoya, Japan

    Jo Mynard’s presentation was entitled “How Blogging can Promote Learner Autonomy". In her talk, she reported findings from an ongoing research project with different groups of Japanese female college students.

    Jo began by reviewing the reported benefits of blogging for language learners. A blog shares features with handwritten diaries or journals but also has aspects that set it apart. Blogs provide learners with an authentic outlet for practising their language as well as giving them valuable experience of writing for an audience. Blogging is a collaborative pursuit in that a blog invites responses from readers.

    Little research has been done into the question of whether blogs have the potential to develop learners’ autonomy; however, Jo suggested that if we consider some key facets of autonomous behaviour such as decision making, taking control or making connections, then it would seem that that potential might exist.

    Jo’s primary focus in her research is the capacity for critical reflection. So, as well as seeing if blogging is a useful activity for language learning, her research aimed to examine student blogs for evidence of reflection.

    Three groups of students have been involved in the research over the past three years. All students were first year college students. Two groups kept their blogs while on study abroad programmes (in the UK in 2005 and 2006). The third group kept blogs in Japan.

    Jo stressed that that the aim of the research was not to compare groups but to gather initial impressions on the usefulness of blogs as tools for reflection and language learning. Data was collected by questionnaires, interviews, researcher observations and analysis of blog content and, sometimes, language.

    The findings revealed that students (in all groups) were generally positive about blogging, feeling that it had helped them to develop their language skills. In particular, students were keen on the social nature of blogging. There was evidence of students personalizing language that they had previously studied in class.

    There was also evidence of reflection. Citing Klaus Schweinhorst’s example of Glenn Gould recording and playing back his playing, Jo said that some students had re-read and edited their own blog postings. Furthermore, analysis of content revealed that a third of blog postings had a reflective element. Students reflected on their language ability, on activities they had done in class or on the differences between British and Japanese culture.

    As the studies were preliminary, a lot of issues were raised. For example, for the group in Japan blogs were required and graded, while for the other groups blogs were optional. This issue led to an interesting discussion about whether it is fair to ask students to do reflective blogs and then grade them for it. Another issue raised was the question of how much guidance a teacher should give. While some students were able to choose topics to write about, others might have benefited from being give topics, especially those students who did not study abroad.

    Jo also offered recommendations for those thinking of using blogs. Firstly, students should be encouraged to read and respond to each other’s blogs. Students reported that that they were motivated to write more because they knew people were reading their blogs. Secondly, allowing students to personalize their blogs allows them to feel that they have ownership of them. And finally, it would be useful to highlight for students some strategies for achieving more accurate writing. At times, students’ enthusiasm to post outstripped their desire to check their writing for accuracy.

    Message from Jim Lantolf

    Dear Colleagues,

    I was very much looking forward to participating in the conference. Unfortunately, because of personal reasons it was necessary for me to withdraw. My daughter will give birth to our first grandchildren on Friday October 5, a life-altering event that I simply cannot miss. I am disappointed at not being able to join you all in what will certainly be a stimulating and profitable event.

    With best wishes – Jim Lantolf

    Tuesday, October 9, 2007

    Learner autonomy and CALL: An activity theoretical perspective

    Presenter: Dr. Françoise Blin, Dublin City University, Ireland

    Françoise was attracted to Activity Theory initially because she felt that the field of learner autonomy was becoming stagnant. Would we ever go beyond simply talking about “learners taking more responsibility”? Françoise was interested in learning how you could measure learner autonomy and how you could know whether learners are becoming more autonomous. In addition, she wasn’t satisfied with the current theories of computer-assisted language learning. What IS the role of the computer? Is it really just a tool?

    Activity theory has its origins in sociocultural theory and it basically refers to looking at “actions towards an outcome mediated by tools”. Tools in this case can be technology tools or language. Françoise referred to both as cognitive tools. She draws on the work of Engeström (1987) to bring in community and the object of the activity which is useful for taking a snapshot of learning at a particular time.

    Françoise talked a lot about tensions, contradictions and conflicts within activities. From a learner autonomy perspective, this is the relationship between independence and interdependence and between the individual and the social.

    Françoise made the distinction between a technology tool and a virtual learning environment (VLE). She argued that a VLE is not a tool, but a context, and a useful context for capturing interaction and data across timescales. She described a project whereby a group of 38 Irish learners of French were required to participate in a project where they created a website in teams making use of a VLE. Artifacts, such as diaries, notes and reports were studied and applied to a grid in order to identify evidence of learner autonomy. Each artifact was coded according to one of 4 categories: action, content, manifestation and contradiction.

    What Françoise found was that the more autonomous students used the object (the website they were creating and the VLE) as a tool to do something else and were more adventurous. The less autonomous individuals used mote traditional, familiar tools. There were some problems with this project in that the teacher and the students had different perceptions as to the aim of the exercise. This was taken into account in subsequent projects.


    Activity theory is a difficult area to get your head around initially, and Françoise is the only person I know who is applying it in this unique way, but it does seem to be useful. The “snapshot” in time idea is a very clever one. It is also very insightful to study how students are using tools available to them in order to evaluate how autonomous they are. It doesn’t have to be a VLE. Studying how a student might be using a textbook, or materials in a self-access center would also give a good indication of how autonomous a student is.


    Engestrom, Y. (1987). Learning by expanding: An activity-theoretical approach to
    developmental research. Helsinki: Orieta-Konsultit.

    Looking forward, not back: a visionary choice?

    Learner autonomy for plurilingual Japan
    Naoko Aoki, Osaka University

    In making a call for a plurilingual Japan, Naoko Aoki explained that she would be looking at some of the problems that linguistic minorities in Japan have to contend with, as well as exploring how learner autonomy might help make her vision become reality. She would not, however, be taking a historical perspective on the post-(Second World) war development of Japanese as a second language education, and autonomy’s place in it. Naoko did not feel she could be an impartial observer of this. Instead, she would focus on the future in sharing her visionary understanding of a plurilingual Japan.

    Naoko began by highlighting how the ‘non-Japanese’ population of Japan has more than doubled in the last 20 years to just over two million, or 1.63% of the total. In many ways, she claimed, Japan is already a multilingual society, if we take ethnic media in urban areas and different multilingual services offered by local governments. Yet, although the Japanese government has initiated the targeted immigration of workers with particular sets of skills (for example, nurse and care workers from the Philippines for the aging population, and IT engineers from India), it is still difficult to get an accurate sense of the overall figures for “foreign” linguistic minorities within Japan.

    Adult and younger JSL learners from these linguistic minorities face many problems. JSL teachers are often volunteers who may not be properly qualified (and may be employed on a part-time basis). Children from immigrant families and communities may have limited access to, and successful experience of, the Japanese education system, but not just because of language. The children from different linguistic minorities do not automatically have the right to upper secondary and higher education, so their formal education may be effectively terminated on finishing junior high school. Educational discrimination, in other words, leads to social and economic exclusion, and, despite different communities being marginalized, it is rare for this to be publicly acknowledged in Japanese society.

    Rather than look in greater detail at the socio-economic context of linguistic minority groups in Japan (such as Brazilian Japanese, for example), Naoko moved next to articulating her vision of a plurilingual Japan. By plurilingualism, she meant an individual’s “competence in more than one language.” The concept is closely associated with the Council of Europe’s efforts to protect and promote human rights, democratic citizenship and linguistic diversity in Europe (Beacco and Byram 2003); a central premise of plurilingualism is one of partial competence in several languages rather than complete native-like mastery in one or two. [The Common European Framework of Reference descriptors (Basic, Independent, Proficient) indicate how the varying proficiency of plurilinguals can be described across particular skills for the different languages they know.] Naoko argued that plurilinguals can freely choose from a “repertoire of communicative resources” according to their communicative needs and own freely made decisions.

    Such individuals could in turn be seen as highly flexible and adaptable citizens for a better Japanese society in the future. In this ideal view, each person would speak more than one language; they would further recognize all the different languages and cultures within Japanese society, identify with where they live and grow up, and have enhanced opportunities for social mobility. And learner autonomy could help this all come true, Naoko continued. Here, she drew out a number of connections between appropriate education for plurilingualism and learner autonomy: the development of democratic citizenship, connections to lifelong learning, the capacity to make decisions, the creation of different identities…and so on. Naoko finished by appealing for “ALL language teachers” to believe in the plurilingual ideal and to contribute to helping it being realized.

    Several questions followed from the audience, with the speaker concluding that we need to be optimistic, otherwise things won’t change. We can all make small changes, no matter how minor they are.

    Beacco, J-C & Byram, M. (2003). Guide for the Development of Language Education Policies in Europe. From Linguistic Diversity to Plurilingual Education, Strasbourg: Council of Europe. (Last accessed October 8 2007)

    Monday, October 8, 2007

    The i's have it: from curriculum to self-access centre

    Ben Fenton-Smith and Lucy Cooker, Kanda University of International Studies

    Ben and Lucy definitely know how to fill a room! I imagine that most people were there for the same reasons as me - to learn 2 things:

    What are the i’s?
    How does KUIS do it?

    By “it” I mean have a program full of motivated learners competent in English.

    Ben took us back in time 20 years to when Kanda University was created. At the time it was called an “experiment”. The fact that it was a new university meant that it was free from the traditions and constraints of an established institutions.

    In come the 3 i’s: individualization, interaction and interdependence.

    Individualization is the hope that each learner will become a planner of his or her own learning. This assumes that there are mechanisms in place to accommodate different paths and rates of learning and also that there are good materials from which the student can choose.

    Interaction assumes that the motivation for acquiring language is essentially social (i.e. to communicate). By providing opportunities for interaction, they provide opportunities for acquisition.

    Interdependence is the movement away from teach-centeredness, instead students rely on each other to complete tasks and projects. Students understand that learning is an ongoing process and working together creates increased motivation.

    Ben gave an overview of some of the changes in the way educators were viewing learning in the 1980s and 1990s and told us that self-access at KUIS was discussed in 1995.

    Lucy took over at this point and gave us a quick history of the SALC (Self-Access Learning Centre). The first SALC looked quite different from the state of the art centre that exists today, but the principles were sound (the new centre opened a few years later). It mirrors the philosophy adopted for the language program and it too is designed to enhance communication. In fact, the location and architecture of the SALC is carefully designed so that it is clear that learning is not confined to the classroom. There are classrooms within the SALC with glass walls so the space seems to merge. The SALC is the heart of the English Language Institute and students want to be where the action is. It seems like they can’t keep away. Faculty offices are also located in the SALC and the faculty play a very active role in everything from creating materials, to working in the writing centre, to teaching SALC modules to hanging out on sofas ready to engage in “free conversation” with students who happen to drop in for a chat. This is quite different from other self-access centers I have visited where the teacher’s roles are clearly defined as either teaching English in a classroom, OR working in the self-access centre. I have even heard teachers talking about sending struggling students to the SAC without really knowing what happens to them when they get there! At KUIS, everyone understands that the English language program and the SALC operate hand in hand. It’s really wonderful to see a self-access centre that has got it right.

    To read more about the SALC, read Lucy Cooker’s article in the latest edition of Independence (41) – the IATEFL learner Autonomy SIG publication that comes out three times a year. It is free to LASIG members (join IATEFL and choose LASIG for free).

    There is a quick summary of Lucy’s article on the LASIG website

    Tour of the SALC

    Ben Fenton-Smith, Assistant Director of the ELI at KUIS gave us a quick tour of the Self-Access Learning Centre (SALC).

    Ben showing us some SALC materials

    Me trying out one of the comfy DVD viewing booths

    Izumi Kanzaka from Soka University wowed by the huge collection of graded readers (and the inviting reading area overlooking the garden).

    Professor Tomoko Yashima. Kansai University. Autonomy and willingness to communicate: The development of an English using ideal self

    Professor Yashima’s previous work included a focus on Japanese adolescents studying in the US. She has identified a number of ways in which these young people tried different strategies to communicate with L1 speakers revealing their ‘willingness to communicate’ (WTC) as a key reason for facilitating learning.

    Professor Yashima then put forward the idea of ‘international posture’ (IP) as a component of WTC. She defined this as a tendency to see oneself as connected to the international community, having concerns about international affairs, and an interest in interacting with people other than Japanese.

    The talk then moved to describe two empirical studies of Japanese high school students in which she attempts to create a model of learner WTC and IP and interaction with motivation, proficiency and confidence.

    Study One
    Professor Yashima described a Model United Nations (MUN) project undertaken in the third year at a Japanese senior high school. Students took part in the MUN with several other schools playing roles as different countries’ representatives. The MUN had a number of features including formulized rules, pairing of students, floor talking rules and so on. In this way an ‘imagined community’ becomes visible and concrete.

    Two cohorts of 152 students answered two questionnaires on motivation, IP and WTC and took the TOEFL ITP twice. The results showed that over two and half years TOEFL scores increased significantly, students communicated more frequently, and that IP increased but not significantly. An analysis of student comments showed that English had become a part of many students’ lives and that they had developed a positive attitude towards communicating in English. However, many still found it very difficult to use English.

    Study Two
    A second study in February 2007 administered questionnaires to 191 students across all three years of the school. The items were about motivation, IP, WTC, frequency of communication, ideal self and ‘self determination’. Results showed that students with higher levels of IP and WTC tend to have self determined types of regulation and tend to visualize English using ideal selves more clearly.

    It seems that the MUN is a way in which students can practically use English. It is a particular community of practice of teachers and learners with concrete tasks and ways of doing things. Learners’ self concept as L2 users becomes more concrete and language learning takes place through interaction with others. In turn learners become more autonomous with a clear sense of purpose in learning and using English.

    It seems that MUN - the model United Nations - is quite a rare event in Japanese high schools; but many of the learners at the school in Professor Yashima's studies really benefited from taking part in such a course.

    I wonder what other kinds of courses and events can give that real-world feel to English communication within Japan so that learners can gain some sense of using English with others in a meaningful way and have a positive image of their idealized self for the future.

    Promoting learner autonomy in Taiwanese primary school learners of English

    Dr. Shu-Hua (Vivien) Kao, Chihlee Institute of Technology, Taiwan

    The first parallel session I attended was my friend Vivien (Shu Hua) Kao’s. Vivien has a lot of experience teaching young learners in Taiwan and wanted to base her teaching on promoting learner autonomy, drawing on theory to improve the practice. The problem was, she couldn’t find many studies which examined ways to promote learner autonomy in young learners in an east Asian context. The solution? Build your own model! This is the project she undertook as her doctoral research at the University of Nottingham. In 2004 she conducted an action research project in Taiwan with learners aged 9-10 adopting an action – reflection – evaluation – modification intervention approach with the students while teaching them learning strategies. She distributed questionnaires and conducted interviews with the students, the teachers and the parents at crucial stages of the project.

    Vivien showed us student interview extracts before, during and after strategy training which showed evidence of students knowing how to use strategies more effectively than before the project began. She did encounter some problems however. The students were so young and unused to talking about learning that interviews were difficult for them. Viv also mentioned that within Confucianism, people don’t want to appear to be showing off. These are two challenges for a researcher, but she seemed to be able to draw out the evidence nevertheless.

    The findings from this piece of research led Vivien back to the theory in order to build her model. The model has the following underpinnings:

    • The interactive nature of the learner and the external factors (Vygotsky 1978; Benson 1996; Sinclair 2000)
    • The developmental nature of the learning process (Piaget 1969; Vygotsky 1978; Kolb 1984)
    • The determining elements of levels of learner autonomy: willingness and capacity (Holec 1981; Little 1996; Sinclair 2000)
    • The unstable and varied levels of learner autonomy (Sinclair 2000)

    The model had 4 interacting, cyclical phases (based on Kolb):
    • noticing
    • experiencing and experimenting,
    • inward reflective thinking,
    • outward reflective thinking

    A Model of Learner Autonomy
    (Kao, 2000)

    (Click to enlarge)

    Vivien concluded by saying that even in a teacher-centred and curriculum-bound teaching context like the one she operated in, “promoting learner autonomy in children is not only an achievable aim, but also a practical solution to challenges faced by English teachers”. In addition to better equipping children for lifelong learning, the four-phase framework is useful for researchers, teachers, and materials developers and can be adapted according to the teaching context.

    It was clear that Vivien learned and grew as a researcher as a result of conducting the research as she was a reflective practitioner throughout the project. She obviously enjoyed working with the group of learners, who she called “lovely angels” and said that they inspired her. “I was empowered as a teacher and I gained more power be gaining a closer relationship with the students”.

    Hugh Nicoll introduces fellow IATEFL Learner Autonomy SIG Committee member Dr. Shu-Hua (Vivien) Kao.

    Questions / comments

    Has anyone else had experienced of promoting learner autonomy in young learners in Asia? have you done any research in the area? Please share!
    I personally think the model could easily be applied to my Japanese college students too.

    Sara Cotterall introduces Henri Holec

    Thursday, October 4, 2007

    Welcome to the ILA blog!

    Thank you for finding this blog. Please check it shortly after the conference this weekend to read summaries and reflections on some of the presentations.

    Feel free to post your own comments and join academic debates.