Monday, October 8, 2007

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.


Heather Maria said...

School teachers in the UAE might take inspiration from this - where can we get more info?


Shu-Hua (Vivien) Kao said...

Hello Heather,

As well as this model, I also designed a framework that allowed me to design learner training activities. Information on the framework and how it may be used in the classroom can be found in the previous editions of the IATEFL LA SIG Newsletter (references below).

(1) Kao, S. H. (2006) Towards a Framework for Promoting Learner Autonomy. Newsletter of the IATEFL Learner Autonomy SIG, Issue 39, pp 15-17.

(2) Kao, S. H. (2006) Promoting Learner Autonomy in Primary School Students in the Teaching Context in Taiwan. Newsletter of the IATEFL Learner Autonomy SIG, Issue 37, pp 23-24.

Hope this helps. If you need any further information, please feel free to contact me.


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