Introducing self directed learning to college students
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Introducing Self-directed Learning to College Students . Yokohama JALT Sunday, December 11th, 2005. caution. This is not an academic paper This is a story The story of my personal development as a teacher

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Introducing self directed learning to college students l.jpg

Introducing Self-directed Learning to College Students

Yokohama JALTSunday, December 11th, 2005

Caution l.jpg

  • This is not an academic paper

  • This is a story

  • The story of my personal development as a teacher

  • I hope it may prompt you to think, and to share your story, with me, with other teachers, with your students

Overview l.jpg

  • Defining some terms

    • Autonomy

    • Learning

    • Teaching

  • History

  • Problems and difficulties

  • Q & A, comments, etc

First steps l.jpg
First steps

  • Whole class learning

    • Drill (Michigan method)

    • Some music/songs

  • SAPL (self-access pair learning)

    • Students work in pairs at their own pace

  • LL class

    • Wasted resources

    • Menu

First steps 2 l.jpg
First steps (2)

  • 4-corners

    • Not everyone in the class wants to speak

    • Those that DO, feel inhibited

    • So…

    • Video, audio (songs), writing, conversation

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Intensive Reading

  • 2 classes (sophomores) combined

  • Teachers brought materials to the classroom

  • 1st semester: orientation

  • 2nd semester: self-directed study

  • Negotiated grades

  • Portfolio (records and self-assessments)

  • Quotas

  • Study plans

  • Guest speakers

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Study Skills

  • Materials “fair”

  • Portfolios

    • Concept

    • In reality

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Problems and difficulties

  • Students slow to self-direct

  • Lack of engagement

  • Few students try different things

  • Inability to create their own study plan

  • Lack of self-reflection (not understanding the rationale for this?)

  • Students not doing enough work

  • Students not showing up

  • Not identifying “at-risk” students until too late.

  • Lack of a sense of group, of class community

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3-tiered system

  • 1 possible reason for the aforementioned problems is students’ lack of experience with self-directed learning. The very concept is alien. So…

  • Introduce the idea earlier

    • Basic English and Talking About Japan (1st-year classes)

  • Extend it further

    • 3rd-year seminar (Dunham)

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Future steps

  • One-to-one interviews

    • To give individual attention

    • To get to know students better (learner profiles)

    • To better identify students’ interests, strengths and weaknesses

    • To assign/suggest individually tailored activities

Conclusion l.jpg

  • Sheffner’s original hypothesis was that giving students choices might raise motivation

    • Some students enjoy and benefit from the choices; others remain confused and unmotivated.

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Conclusion (2)

  • Next step: increase the variety and quality of materials available for self-directed learning, to reflect students’ own interests and predilections.

    • Again, this worked with some students, but others remained unmotivated and rudderless

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Conclusion (3)

  • Next step: increase the guidance and instructions in strategies, in “ways and means”,

    • how to use the materials in different ways for learning English

    • The different purposes (and skills) that might be targeted

    • Different learning techniques and approaches

    • Thinking about their purposes

  • Step 3 likewise seemed to have only limited success

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Conclusion (4)

  • Step 4: borrowing from Smith (2003), teachers spent more time walking around the class, asking students about what they were doing

    • Why did you choose this material?

    • How are you using it? Why?

    • What is your purpose here?

    • What do you think of this material?

Conclusion 5 l.jpg
Conclusion (5)

  • Again, step 4 had no clear success

  • However, the increased time spent talking to students individually or in small groups DID seem to have positive effects on an affective level, particularly with low-motivated students

  • It also gave the instructors a better idea of what students were actually doing in the class.

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Conclusion (6)

  • It seems that, in my search for a way to motivate students, I have peeled back a layer of an onion each time, and each layer has revealed a further layer beyond: motivation has not been greatly affected by any of the steps yet taken:

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Conclusion (7)

  • offering choice,

  • offering greater choice, “sexy” materials (cartoons, videos, DVDs, songs, etc),

  • Inviting guest speakers to motivate students

  • explicit instruction in learning strategies,

  • Frequent questioning of students as to their choices and goals

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Conclusion (8)

  • None of these steps, it seems to me, has really triggered students’ ability to self-direct: the majority are still dependent on someone to tell them what to do. They cannot:

    • Define their own goals

    • Select their own materials based on their goals

    • Decide on how to use their materials based on their goals

    • Measure their progress

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Conclusion (9)

  • They mostly have not grabbed the freedom that has been offered.

  • Why not?

  • Gatto suggests that young people are in desperate need of finding meaning in their lives, and that school is not geared to provide that.

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Conclusion (10)

  • The next steps taken will therefore be:

    • One-to-one interviews with all the students, starting at the beginning of the year.

    • A compilation made of students’ interests and needs

    • Individualized assignments and/or suggestions will be made

    • These assignments will take into account students’ requirements for personal growth as well as their English language-learning requirements

    • Mini-lectures will be given on specific topics in order to broaden students’ horizons and stimulate interest

    • Guest speakers will be continue to be invited. Speakers will be chosen for their potential as mentors to students.

Quotes l.jpg

  • “Autonomy is the ability to self-direct one’s own learning.” (Henri Holec)

  • “How do you control the students?” (an observer of one of our Study Skills classes)

  • “Discovering meaning for yourself as well as discovering satisfying purpose for yourself is a big part of what education is.” (Dumbing Us Down, by Gatto, JT)

  • “For one hundred and fifty years institutional education has seen fit to offer as its main purpose the preparation for economic success.” (Dumbing Us Down, by Gatto, JT)

  • “We’ve got to give kids independent time right away because that is the key to self-knowledge.” (Dumbing Us Down, by Gatto, JT)

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Quotes (2)

  • “Self-knowledge is the only basis of true knowledge.” (Dumbing Us Down, by Gatto, JT)

  • “Only after a long apprenticeship in rich and profound contact with the world, the home, the neighborhood, does the thin gas of abstraction mean much to most people.” (A Different Kind of Teacher, Gatto, JT)

Bibliography l.jpg

  • Cotterall, S. & Crabbe, D. (eds.) (1999), “Learner Autonomy in Language Learning: Defining the Field and Effecting Change”. Frankfurt am Main, Germany: Peter Lang GmbH.

  • Benson, P, (2001) “Teaching and Researching Autonomy in Language Learning”. Harlow, UK: Longman

  • Benson, P & Toogood, S. (eds)(2002), “Autonomy: Challenges to Research and Practice”. Dublin, Ireland: Authentik

  • Benson, P. & Voller, P. (eds) (1997), “Autonomy & Independence in Language Learning”. Harlow, UK: Longman.

  • Dickinson, L, (1987, 1991), “Self-instruction in Language Learning”. Cambridge, UK: CUP

  • Ellis, G. & Sinclair, B. (1989), “Learning to Learn English”, Cambridge, UK: CUP

  • Gardner, D & Miller, L (eds) (1999), “Establishing Self-Access”. Cambridge, UK: CUP

  • Gatto, JT (2000), “The Underground History of American Education”. , NY, NY: The Odysseus Group. Also at

  • Gore, J, (2002) “Learner Autonomy in the ESL/EFL Classroom: an Applied Project in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Teaching English as a Second Language”, Arizona State University. Retrieved from 29th September, 2004.

  • Hawkins, E. (1984) “Awareness of Language: An Introduction”. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

  • Holliday, A. (1994) “Appropriate Methodology and Social Context”. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

  • Holec, H. (1981), “Autonomy and Foreign Language Learning”. Oxford, UK: Pergamon Press.

  • Holec, H. (1993), “Autonomy and self-directed learning: present fields of application”. Strasbourg, France: Council of Europe Press.

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Bibliograph (2)

  • Little, D. (1997), “Autonomy and self-access in second language learning: Some fundamental issues in theory and practice”. In Muller-Verweyen, M. (ed.) New development in foreign language learning: self-management – autonomy. Standpunkte zur Sprach- und Kulturvermittlung 7: 33-44. Munich: Goethe Institute.

  • Norton, B & Toohey, K (eds) (2004), “Critical Pedagogies & Language Learning”. Cambridge, UK: CUP

  • Pemberton, Li, Or, & Pierson (1996), “Taking Control”. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press

  • Smith, R. & Palfreyman, D. (2003), “Learner Autonomy Across Cultures: Language Education Perspectives”. UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Smith, R. & Aoki, N. (1999), “Learner Autonomy in cultural context: the case of Japan”. In Cotterall, S. & Crabbe, D. (eds.) Learner Autonomy in Language Learning:: Defining the Field and Effecting Change; Frankfurt am Main, Germany: Peter Lang GmbH; pp.19-28.