June 8, 2009 by Willy Cardoso
Learner Autonomy – A guide to developing learner autonomy
by Ágota Scharle and Anita Szabó
I must confess that I wasn’t expecting much from a book that has almost one hundred activities in it and that, I guess, didn’t sell much (at least in Brazil), since I paid only R$10 for it at Cambridge Day. Luckily, I put this one in the bulk just for the hell of it, and well, eventually it turned out to be my favorite book on the subject.
For a teacher that has little understanding of Learner Autonomy, the book’s introduction delivers comprehensive, yet non-exhausting, insights into the rationale behind this tardy trend in language education. Although the term was first coined in 1981 by Henri Holec – “Autonomy is the ability to take charge of one’s own learning”– there aren’t many accesible activity books for teachers that don’t want to go over the whole theory and then design their own tasks to foster this practice. This is one of the reasons I recommend this book, not because you and I might be inexcusably lazy at times at the expense of enhanced learning, but because this little book is teacher-friendly and our students will certainly benefit a lot from its ideas.
The activities presented are straight to the point, and the plans outlined are very easy to follow. Mostly, they will make students think of their own learning, like, best learning style, motivation, self-monitoring and responsibilities towards the whole process. These activities have embedded skill and a language focus to give it an extra purpose, maybe because neither teachers nor students are used to exercising learning in place of language. For instance, in the activity ‘Out in the World’ students will recall an occasion when they used the language in a real life situation. The aim is to increase self-confidence and to identify difficulties, they will do this through a written fluency practice, using past tenses and reported speech. As the example shows, there’s nothing groundbreaking about it, but teachers will later admit its usefulness, simply for the fact that they hadn’t thought about it before and were neglecting this important step – teaching learning.
The material proposes three phases for the development process, Raising awareness, Changing attitudes, and Transferring roles. The activities are all organised under these headings and are designed to blend into the regular curriculum, which makes a big difference.