Language Learner Autonomy & Classroom Engagement

I am currently conducting a classroom-based action research which explores ways to build classroom engagement by promoting language learner autonomy.  In this action research, I use a language learning strategies informed self-assessment checklist as a formative tool for providing language learning strategies (LLS) to the students in my elementary, EFL classroom.  The aim is that, by raising their awareness LLS, my students can beginning to use these strategies to build autonomy as language learners; i.e. they can learn how to learn languages and begin to take responsibility for their own learning.

Within the larger social context in which my classroom is embedded, there is a culture of teacher-centered classrooms in which students are expected to be successful passive learners.  Successful in that, they are expected to internalize and retain knowledge that is feed to them directly from their teacher (and by association, their academy institutions and primary social environment).  I realized that this culture of teacher-centered classrooms creates a major hurdle for my students in that they are expected to suddenly internalize a language that they are not expected to practice or engage in during our short time together.  How can they possibly overcome this hurdle in the space of 2 short 40 minutes language sessions?  How can they possibly learn English when they have been conditioned not to engage in co-construction and sharing of ideas, or in negotiating for meaning in a classroom?  To them, the meaning is what the teacher says it is whether they like it or not; so it’s no wonder that they do not like learning English in general.  It is just too tedious a process.  So my proposed intervention was to make my class more learner centered and to encourage engagement in the classroom.  To do that, I had to find a way to teach my students how to engage in a meaningful way in a language classroom.

The main philosophies and ideas that are guiding my study are those of pragmatism and social constructivism.  The primary guiding perspective is that of social constructivism.  My study is pragmatic in that it focuses on meaning making and contextualizing language use, form and functions.  So the lessons are not just meant to be explicitly taught but also implicitly as well.  The lessons are not just deductive but also inductive.  So that our classroom is not just a place to encounter English but rather a learning community in which the students can experience pragmatic ways to use the English language.  From a social constructivist perspective, there is the idea that our classroom is embedded in a particular context and that within this context, there are constant interactions between people.  Within this context, we are constantly encountering and co-constructing objects and concepts through external mediation and internal mediation for meaning, and we are constantly creating meaningful language artifacts that apply to our context and those external to us as well.  Within this perspective, the developmental potential of a learner is increased through the provision of scaffolding by a collaborative expert or sympathetic interlocutor; and interaction is multi-directional.

The elicitation or intervention instruments that I am using were adapted from an inventory of language learning strategies and currently targets my students’ meta-cognitive, affective and, social language skills; i.e. to say, it provides them strategies for developing these skills.  Additionally, I developed a reflection journal with the goal of tracking students development over a two-month period.  I also developed an emergent language checklist for monitoring and curating my students’ for task, target language, needs; that is, language they need to use with each other, and with me, to complete a language task or activity that they are performing in or out of class.

The goal is that through this process, they can begin to become aware of their own autonomy as language learners and that the quality of engagement in our classroom can be improved.