Using Learner Autonomy Approach in Large and Low Resource ELT Classroom
*Bishnu Kumar Khadka
Teaching is not simply an activity that someone becomes the teacher, stands in front of the students in the classroom, reads out the text and explains it in this or that way. It is neither the processes of drilling the contents nor the activity of preaching them. Teaching, in its modern and real sense, is facilitating the learners in learning it (Khadka, 2007, p. 48). Teaching is guiding and facilitating learning, enabling the learners to learn, setting the condition for learning (Brown, 1994). According to Sthapit (2000), the objective of teaching a thing is to help the learners in learning it. Teaching, therefore, should be geared to facilitating learning on the part of the learners”. Scrivener (2005, p.17) critically views that “teaching doesn’t equal learning, i.e. teaching does not necessarily lead to learning….Learning, of anything anywhere demands energy and attention from the learner”. In recent years, under the influence of humanistic and communicative theories, great emphasis has been placed on ‘learner-centered’ teaching, i.e. teaching which makes the learners’ need and experience central to the educational process.
In Nepal, the teaching and learning of English varies from teaching it in a highly sophisticated and well-equipped private school setting to a very poor, crowded and under resourced government-aided school situation (Ghimire, 2014). Large and under resource classes are common issues in most of the Nepalese classrooms. Even today most of the classes are overcrowded and the teachers solely depended on the prescribed textbooks. In some of the remote parts of Nepal, even the textbooks are not readily in time. In such situations, teachers are forced to wait for the textbooks for teaching and they don’t try to use other resources which are available among and around them. Teachers take textbook as the only resource and having textbook is a luxury sometimes.
Learner Autonomy Approach in Large and Low Resource ELT Classroom
An autonomous learner is the one who has undertaken the responsibility for his/her own learning. The concept of learner autonomy emphasizes the involvement of the learner in accepting a greater share of responsibility for his own learning. Language teaching professionals sometimes worry that autonomy for students threatens the job and role of the teacher. However, this is not the reality. The teacher remains the authoritative expert in the language and in language teaching, certainly until the student becomes autonomous; and even beyond that point, the teacher remains an authority in the language, and a consultant to the autonomous learner in language learning. Following Little (1991) some accounts of learner autonomy start by defining what it is not; Esch (1998, p. 37), for example, states that “it is not self-instruction/learning without a teacher;…it does not mean that intervention or initiative on the part of a teacher is banned; … it is not something teachers do to learners; i.e. a new methodology; … it is not a single easily identifiable behaviour; …it is not a steady state achieved by learners once and for all”.
There are number of activities that can lead to the learners to be autonomous. Some of the most useful ones are letting the learners involve in self learning activities (group work, pair work and individual work, project work, group discussion), giving examples of what paper, audio- and audio-visual resources can be of helpful for self-study and how they can be exploited, individual presentations, group presentations, newspapers: hard copy editions and online editions, general and specialist dictionaries, journals and periodicals, TV documentaries (e.g. BBC ‘Horizon’), radio programs , language websites (e.g. the British Council sponsored ones like ‘Learning English’ or ‘Teaching English’), internet & email, email discussion groups, slide share (www.slideshare.com), video conferencing, wikis and blogs, Virtual Learning Environments, PowerPoint, Online assessment, Digital course materials, Pdf files & Adobe Reader (Pdf file creator), CD & DVD technology (cf cassette & video), distance and open learning environments, scanners & digital cameras & digital video cameras, flash drives & zip drives etc. Brajcich (2000) suggests the following twelve ways to promote learner autonomy:
- Encourage students to be interdependent and to work collectively.
- Ask students to keep a diary of their learning experiences.
- Explain teacher/student roles from the outset.
- Progress gradually from interdependence to independence.
- Give the students projects to do outside the classroom.
- Give the students non-lesson classroom duties to perform (taking roll, writing instructions, notices, etc. on the board for the teacher).
- Have the students design lessons or materials to be used in class.
- Instruct students on how to use the school’s resource centers: the school library, the language lab etc.
- Emphasize the importance of peer-editing, corrections, and follow-up questioning in the classroom.
- Encourage the students to use only English in class. Part of the role of the language teacher is to create an environment where students feel they should communicate in the target language and feel comfortable doing so.
- Stress fluency rather than accuracy.
- Allow the students to use reference books, including dictionaries in class.
Most of the Nepalese schools lack library having sufficient resources and ICT based resources. On the other hand both teachers and learners lack motivation to access and use these resources for their teaching and learning activities. If the teachers are motivated enough to mobilize their students in collecting and utilizing the resources, they can do well in their teaching learning process in low resource classroom. In most of the non native ELT context, people worry about the use of authentic materials, however, most of these authentic materials are not designed for the classroom and needed to be adapted to make them suitable. If we let our learners to generate materials themselves using the things available around them, it can be far better and meaningful.
Designing Activities and Materials in Large and Low Resource ELT Class
The teacher can design many activities and use low cost and no cost materials to teach English. There are many readymade materials such as textbooks, worksheets from the internet or materials designed by other colleagues that can serve as a starting point. Readymade materials do not always respond to or meet our student’s needs or fit our context. Therefore, we should always evaluate them prior to using them as such or adapting them to use to our own teaching/learning context.
There are a lot of teaching learning materials around us which can be brought into class. We can let our learners generate the materials which involve the learners in teaching learning process. When we make our learners be responsible in learning process, we can let them involve in designing the activities and materials by motivating them to be responsible for their own learning, or building up their own learning knowledge. The learners feel proud and motivated to have learnt by being actively participated in designing materials and teaching learning activities themselves.
Most teachers agree that teaching a small group of students is easier, more enjoyable, and less time consuming than teaching a large group. Unfortunately, due to financial reasons, space, or lack of teachers, many schools offer large classes. There are many difficulties for both teacher and learners in a large class. According to Harmer (2008, p 177), “In big classes, it is difficult for the teacher to make contact with the students at the back and it is difficult for the students to ask for and receive individual attention. It may seem impossible to organize dynamic and creative teaching and learning session. Frequently, big classes mean that it is not easy to have students walking around or changing pairs etc.”. However, there are many positive aspects too. Many heads obviously possess many ideas and have high probability of being mobilized to collect, generate and use the teaching learning materials in low resource classroom. The teacher can involve them not only in designing the activities and materials but also in learning process by letting them self access materials and local resources.
It is possible to teach English without any textbooks and other authentic materials too. Teachers can use various types of materials for teaching English language. For example, while teaching language functions, we don’t need textbooks; rather we can teach greeting, welcoming, congratulating, wishing, suggesting etc. in context and involve them to practice the language use in real communication. While teaching language functions like requesting, offering the service, describing the things etc. we can make our students play different roles in a hotel and ask them to perform the activities like how to offer something or how to request for something etc. Similarly, while teaching language skills as well, we can teach them with the locally available resources and design the activities accordingly. For this, it is necessary to have creative and active teachers who are skillful and highly motivated to do so. The locally available newspapers, magazines, posters, realias, as well as the contextual use of language can be useful for teaching English language.
Learners are the persons who need to perform the activities or achieve the desired goals. Teacher shows the way but learners have to follow the path to reach the destination. Therefore, it is necessary for the teachers to make the learners reach the destination by teaching them to walk on the way. If our aim of teaching English is to enable our learners to communicate using it, our teaching learning activities should be geared towards that direction. Letting the learners opportunity to participate in designing activities and materials can be a helpful technique in a large and low resource classes. It will be useful for both the teachers and learners to further their teaching learning activities. Large classes are not the burden for the teachers; they can be boon for if the teacher is skillful and creative enough to mobilize the students. We should let the learners be divided into different groups and pairs and help them collect the materials and design the activities themselves. We should let them present their activities themselves and observe how where they are heading. As teachers, we should observe and guide them properly. We should not make our learners just to be passive receiver of the disseminated input; rather we should let our learners create the opportunity to come up with the knowledge and process the knowledge themselves and wait for the output. So, learners’ autonomy approach can be very useful in large and low resource classrooms.
Brown, H.D. (1994). Principle of language learning and teaching. London: Prentice Hall.
Esch, E. (1998). Promoting learner autonomy: Criteria for the selection of appropriate methods. In R.Pemberton, E. S. L. Li, W. W. F. Or & H. D. Pierson (Eds.), .Taking control: Autonomy in language learning (pp. 35-48). Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
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Harmer, J. (2008). How to teach English. London: Pearson Longman.
Khadka, B.K. (2007). Teaching Listening: Activities and Materials. Young voices in ELT 6: 48-53 T. U. Kathmandu
Little, D. (1991). Learner autonomy: Definitions, issues and problems. Dublin: Authentik.
Scrivener, J. (2005). Learning teaching. Macmillan Education: U.K.
Sthapit, S.K. (2000a). Teaching Language for Communication. Journal of NELTA 5.1:1-17.
(*Bishnu Kumar Khadka is a Lecturer at Mid Western Unviersity, Surkhet and Chairperson of NELTA Surkhet Branch. He can be reached at – firstname.lastname@example.org)