Learner Autonomy through ICT in an English Language Curriculum

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Learner Autonomy is basically independence in language learning, which includes willingness for (language) learning on one’s own. Autonomy is defined as:

…the freedom and ability to manage one’s own affairs, which entails the right to make decisions as well. Responsibility may also be understood as being in charge of something, but with the implication that one has to deal with the consequences of one’s own actions. Autonomy and responsibility both require active involvement, and they are apparently very much interrelated. (Scharle & Szabo, 4)

The underlying assumption is that autonomous learners are more likely to succeed than are learners who are passively reliant on their teachers or textbooks to set the destinations and routes in language learning. Hence it is important for language teachers to ‘know’ the learner before attempting to teach them. Learners like to get information in different ways and these different ways are called perceptual styles. A person who receives new information in his/her favorite style will learn better, understand better and remember better. Knowing about perceptual styles will help us understand when we a study/teach and when we organize meetings or give presentations. There are four perceptual styles:

  1. visual (seeing)
  2. auditory (hearing)
  3. kinesthetic (moving, doing)
  4. tactile (touching or holding)

Visual learners like to learn new information by seeing it. A visual learner prefers to see information in the form of language – words, sentences or text of any kind or in the form of pictures, charts, graphic organizers like mind maps or clusters and diagrams. Auditory learners like to learn new information by hearing it. Short lectures, discussions and asking learners to repeat information aloud will help auditory learners remember new things. Kinesthetic learners prefer to learn new things by moving or doing. They will like to present role-plays, move or walk while reading. They will also like to write things on a blackboard or other large surfaces like a poster. Tactile learners like to learn new information by touching or holding things. We can teach learners who are tactile by giving them objects: instructions written on cards, pieces of text or steps in a process on pieces of paper that must be put in order.

Teachers should investigate students’ learning needs and experiences with some input about their background and plan instruction that will be appropriate and should create a classroom context that is comfortable and less stressful. They should also provide learners with opportunities to integrate new information with their experiences and practical needs. Problem-solving, decision-making, case studies and other higher level thinking tasks are appropriate for this purpose. Use of the computers, language labs, audio-visual equipment and the internet can make learning more fun and purposeful. There are a variety of language software programs and web resources for second language learning. Learners can have hands-on experience in an ICT-enabled classroom as there is scope for self-learning which is absent in a traditional set up. The World Wide Web is a vast database of current authentic materials that present information in multimedia form and react instantly to a user’s input. It is also a major drawback of the Web as it is easy to plagiarize online content. The teacher’s role as facilitator can help the learner locate the right resources and provide guidance to learners to use them.

Web resources can be used for a variety of activities to foster language learning.

  • Reading and literacy development: creating own newspaper, stories with audio component
  • Writing and Grammar: Grammar, punctuation, interactive grammar exercises, quiz, games, vocabulary worksheets
  • Listening and Speaking: American rhetoric, BBC world English, Voice of America English, Cyber listening lab, repetition lab
  • Online interactive Games: dictionary games, Hangman.

The Encyclopedia Britannica Reference Library is available in an online format and in CDs. It has an audio and video component with tasks to check comprehension. The Oxford Talking Dictionary, Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Power Vocabulary and a host of other interactive modules are available on the internet.

Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences has paved the way for a learning-centered curriculum as opposed to a learner-centered curriculum propagated by the Communicative Language Teaching paradigm. Designing modules that enables learners learn in their perceptual styles with the optimum use of their intelligences would make learning more purposeful and meaningful. This would not be possible without the use of technology and the Internet. The primary problem of doing research on the Web is not merely identifying the myriad sites available, but being able to evaluate them and discover what each does and how well it does it. New information technologies will transform notions of literacy, making online navigation and online research two critical skills for learners of English. The new reading skills required of the students include:

  • Efficiently locating information
  • Rapidly evaluating the source, its credibility, and timeliness of the information located.
  • Rapidly making navigational decisions about whether to read the current page of information, pursue links internal to the page, or revert to further searching.

Indian educational system has been producing man power with sound subject knowledge devoid of soft skills or communication skills including computer literacy. Introduction of computers and technology in language learning will empower learners to hone their soft skills and render themselves employable. It has to be remembered that language learning ‘does not happen only in classrooms’. Hence learners need to be taught effective language learning strategies and also to experiment with strategies on their own. This not only helps learners build their ability to engage in autonomous learning successfully but helps build comfort with the idea of learning on one’s own. The class can be used as a launching pad for autonomy by giving learners assignments which require students to make a significant number of choices for themselves about methods, materials, and even goals. Having learners report their autonomous learning experiences will reinforce its importance.

There is another set of learning styles which has to do with the personality types of learners, and in this area some learning style contrasts that have been suggested include distinctions between:

  • Extroverted versus introverted learners
  • Thinking versus feeling learners
  • Closure-oriented and judging learners versus open and perceiving learners.

These contrasting style distinctions can be bridged if there is a technology-interface which creates a less stressful learning environment for the learners. Teachers can use a reasonably broad and rich variety of teaching techniques using a language lab so that a learner is more likely to experience a method that is relatively good match for his or her style. Learning through computers can be less intimidating as it is not strict like a human teacher in marking answers in ‘red’ or correcting errors ‘on the spot’. On the other hand it encourages learners to attempt again and this serves as an intrinsic motivation for the learners. Finally, there are three aspects involved in leaning through technology for learners:

  • A feeling of power (I am capable of doing things)
  • A feeling of being someone special (I am special)
  • A feeling of connectedness (I belong o a group).

Teachers need to focus on a number of measures that are necessary to ensure that the equipment is used properly. They need to make sure that the students realize that this is a facility which needs to be used, appreciated and not to be abused. Teachers need to also monitor that students are accessing only the relevant sites and are not logging into unwanted sites that may detract their attention and hamper their learning.

Schools and colleges having a language lab facility can try installing i-LOTUS: Linguaphone software (Foundation and Advanced levels) along with SRS (Speech Recognition Software. These softwares enable learners monitor their own progress and work at their own pace. They also give them a lot of self-confidence to become a part of the ‘can-do’ crowd with regard to their communication skills. Schools and colleges without a language lab but having internet facility can use the following sites.

Examples:

1.     (http://www.pathfinder.com/time/time100/index.html) The Time site divides the people of the 20th century into five categories: leaders and revolutionaries (politics), artists and entertainers (the Arts), builders and Titans (business), scientists and thinkers (science) and heroes and icons (society). Students may be asked to access the site and look at the names of people in the five categories. They can choose people who they are interested in and speak on them. This kind of an activity is called Opinion Gap activity. One can see that there is an integration of skills in this task as learners use more than one skill at a time. The focus of the activity can also be past tenses, used to, descriptions when used with advanced learners at the college level. (Adapted from Dudeney, 50)

2.     (http://uk.tickle.com/test/traveller/start.html) (http://www.responsibletravel.com/TripSearch/Ecotourism/ActivityCategory100020.htm)

There is a quiz on ‘What Kind of a Traveler Are You?’ Students can do this and choose a destination from Responsible Travel. The site has photos (visuals), activities, itineraries and a section on how the holiday makes a difference. Students can make a presentation on their favorite spot with visuals and other details. Language skills involved can include reading, writing, speaking, past and future tenses, vocabulary. (Adapted from Dudeney , 61)

3.     (http;//www.aafla.org/6oic/primer_frmst.htm) Students interested in sports can be involved in the task and asked to research about events like Olympic Games and talk about the improvements they would like to make to develop any particular game from the knowledge gained from the site. They can also research on historical details about the Olympics and then present it to the class. (Adapted from Dudeney, 78 – 79)

Teachers can design their own tasks based on the various sites given below and can also use readily available in some of the sites. Some guidelines on what to look for in each site is given. But it would be better for teachers to access the sites themselves and get to know the range of possibilities the sites offer for a resourceful teacher.

Websites that Support English Language Learning and Teacher Development

Below is a selection of the many websites available for English language learners and English language teachers.

Reading and Literacy

•       http://www.bartleby.com

Offers thousands of free online texts (poetry, fiction, etc.). For similar kinds of resources, also see The Online Books Page: http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/ and Project Guttenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page

•       CNN Student News

http://edition.cnn.com/studentnews/

Multimedia news resources

•       Create Your Own Newspaper (CRAYON)

http://www.crayon.net/

A toll for managing news sources on the internet and making a newspaper. No fee.

•       Moonlit Road

Home

Spooky stories with an audio component so students can listen while they read.

Writing and Grammar

•       Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling from Purdue’s Online Writing Lab (OWL)

http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/679/01/

Reference materials and practice activities. This OWL also contains many helpful writing guides and exercises, including business-related writing (CVs, memos, etc)

•       http://www.marks-english-school.com/games.html

Interactive grammar exercises.

•       Grammar Bytes, Interactive Grammar Review

http://www.chompchomp.com/menu.htm

Index of grammar terms, interactive exercises, handouts, and a section on grammar rules.

•       ESL Galaxy

http://www.esl-galaxy.com/

Contains handouts, lesson plans, links to other ESL sites.

•       ESL Tower

http://www.esltower.com/guide.html

Online grammar quizzes, grammar and vocabulary worksheets, pronunciation guides

Listening and Speaking

•       American Rhetoric

http://www.americanrhetoric.com/

offers speeches and voice recordings from authors, leaders, comedians and hundreds of notable figures (MP3 format). Some material has an accompanying video.

•       Voice of America Special English

http://www.voanews.com/specialenglish/

News reports in language adapted for English Language Learners. Includes a glossary and podcasts for English Learners. Broadcasts can be downloaded and played while offline, and transcripts of broadcasts are also available.

•       BBC World English, Learning English

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/index.shtml

Music, audio and interactivity to help students learn English. Language study modules are based on news events from the radio.

•       Listening Skill Practice

http://esl.about.com/od/englishlistening/English_Listening_Skills_and_ActivitiesEffective_Listening_Practice.htm

This resource provides listening quizzes, interviews, specific English learning listening resources as well as where to go to listen, listen, listen!

•       Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab

Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab

A good selection of listening exercises for easy to advanced levels.

•       Repeat After Us

http://repeatafterus.com/

Copyright-free classics with audio clips, including poems, fables, essays, soliloquies, historical speeches, memorable audio quotes, nursery rhymes, and children’s stories from around the world.

•       Shaggy Dog Stories

http://www.antimoon.com/other/shaggydog.htm

Humorous stories with actors who speak clearly and slowly. Recordings can be downloaded, saved and played while offline. The recordings are the property of the English Teaching Forum magazine, a publication of the United States Department of State.

Online Interactive Games

•       Your Dictionary Online Games

http://www.yourdictionary.com/esl/Free-Online-ESL-Games.html

Links to online English games.

•       Online Hangman

http://www.manythings.org/hmf/

Online, interactive hangman vocabulary game.

Teacher Development: Online ELT Journals

Some of these may require you to subscribe.

•       http://eltj.oxfordjournals.org/

•       http://iteslj.org/

•       http://www.languageinindia.com/

•       http://eca.state.gov/forum/

Teacher Development: Professional Organizations with a Large Web Presence (you will need to subscribe to access their archives)

•       TESOL: http://www.tesol.org

•       IATEFL: http://www.iatefl.org/

•       ELTAI: http://www.eltai.org/activities.htm

Miscellaneous

•       Dave’s ESL Café

http://www.eslcafe.com/

Everything from lesson plans, teacher forums, job postings…if it has to do with ELT, it’ll be here!

Works Cited

  1. Dudeney, Gavin. The Internet and the Language Classroom: A practical guide for Teachers. Cambridge: CUP, 2007.
  2. Lindsay, W. and S. McLaren. “The Web: An aid to student research or a source of frustration?” Journal of Educational Media, 25. 2 (2000): 115-128.
  3. Scharle, Agota and Anita Szabi. “Responsibility and Autonomy.” Learner Autonomy. Series Editor, Scott Thornbury. Cambridge: CUP, 2008.3.10.
  4. Warschauer, M. “The Changing Global Economy and the Future of English Teaching.” TESOL Quarterly, 34. 3 (2000): 511-535.

 

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