Saturday, 20 June 2009

Are we prepared to have independent students?

There are lots of books, websites and experts talking about encouraging learner independence. It is undoubtedly true that, as teachers, we always want our students to learn (regardless of our teaching approaches), but what is not clearly defined is what we are ready to "sacrifice" to get at that goal.
Are we ready to foster an independent classroom in which students will no longer need to be taken under our wings? Are we ready to promote self-directed learning? Are we ready to admit that some students may no longer need us there all the time?

If we come to the conclusion that we are ready, one way in which we can promote greater learner independence is by helping students to become aware of language as a system so that they can understand many of the learning teachniques available and learn enough grammar to understand simple reference books. In this way, we are helping our students to profit from different learning techniques (to practise vocabulary, phonology and/or grammar) inasmuch as we start little by little showing them how to use those techniques and how to adapt them to match their own learning needs. It is essential for us not to give students the solution to a problem but to give them different tools so that, in the future, when encountered with such a situation, they can use them on their own and for their own purposes. For example, when students ask the meaning of a new word, or its pronunciation, instead of giving it to them, we can show them how to look it up in a dictionary (I personally provide them with different sites, such as the Cambridge Online Dictionary, and, for phonetics, I suggest that they buy/rent/borrow the Cambridge Pronouncing Dictionary (the one with the CD-ROM), in which they can both read and hear the pronunciation and record themselves to self-assess their pronunciation).

And last, but not least, we should do our best so as to convince students that they are capable of greater independence in learning by giving them successful experiences of independent learning. Before providing our students with any technique or tool, we have to be sure that they will be able to use it successfully. For instance, if I decide to suggest that they buy the Cambridge Dictionary I previously mentioned, I need to be sure that they will be able to afford it. If I constantly provide them with tools they cannot get access to, they will definitely reject independent learning because of the feeling of frustration brought about by their impediment to get them.

It is really important for us to be in contact with our students' needs all the time. Helping them find their way out is as important as giving them useful but at the same time accessible tools.

Based on Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom, Chapter III, Tricia Hedge, OXFORD, 2000.


  1. Your article kind of freak me out!!!
    It is difficult for me to assume my responsibilities as a "present" teacher... I am definitely not ready to “not be needed” ;)
    Something I need to work on with my therapist :)

  2. Interesting words, Alez! I particularly appreciate your point that we must take into account students' affordances when planning strategies to foster autonomy among them, or we'd actually be discouraging them from going for autonomy!

    @ Yohi: believe me, one day you'll be glad "not to be needed"... There will come a point in life when you've felt you've given enough and need some autonomy yourself. ;-)


  3. Hi ladies!
    I know Yohi! I thought of you when writing this entry because of what we talked about in class. I remembered that you didn't like it when students thought that they could handle a Unit without you. I do agree with Gladys that there will come a moment in which you will ask for some autonomy!
    It is definitely impossible for us to be all the time there for our students to do everything with (or for) them. It is such a difficult task that our minds and bodies will probably not be able to cope with it!
    Thank you a lot for reading me!
    It is always a pleasure to share our teaching worlds! (: