Encouraging Learner Autonomy

image source: bigstockphoto.com

One of the best things teachers can do for their students is to help them learn to help themselves.  To promote learner autonomy, we need to build students’ self-confidence and give them strategies for teaching themselves.  Some of the ways we can do this include the following.

  1. Self-reflection
    1. Provide worksheets or questionnaires asking students to consider their past learning, their current skill levels, their weak points and their strengths.
    2. Discuss different learning styles and help students determine how they learn best.
  2. Goal setting (works well in conjunction with self-reflection!)
    1. Encourage students to write down specific goals and specific tactics to achieve these goals, for example, adding 15 new words to a word bank every week, reading three articles in the newspaper every day or writing a short journal entry every night.
    2. Revisit these goals periodically throughout the term to allow students to assess their progress and adjust or add to their goals.
  3. Student-led activities
    1. Give students structured opportunities to create activities for each other. For example, they could write small quizzes or cloze activities, prepare conversation questions, or come up with educational games.
    2. Ask students, in small groups or pairs, to present information to the class. They might summarize articles, take up homework on the board, make posters, or give short presentations reviewing information studied in class.
  4. Self and peer editing
    1. Create checklists for students to follow when editing their own or others’ work (specific and well thought out checklists or worksheets are useful here – given free reign, my experience has been that students will find many mistakes that don’t exist and confuse each other).
    2. Provide the rubrics you use for assessments and encourage students to assess their own work using this, prior to your assessment.
    3. Provide an error-log for students’ use that will help them discover the patterns in their writing, such as their common grammar or structural mistakes
  5. Providing choice
    1. Give students some control over how time is used. For example, “We have a half hour at the end of the class on Friday, would you like to review this or this?”
    2. Allow students to tell you what kind of activities they prefer; for example, the class could decide through a vote whether they would like to practice a concept through a discussion or a written activity, or perhaps space for both ways of learning could be provided in the classroom and each student could choose.
    3. Provide some choice in assessment activities. This could range from a choice in topics to a choice in type of assessment.

All of these methods require thought and organizing on the part of the teacher, and, as with most everything, work best when scaffolded.  Over time and with encouragement, students could learn to be more independent and to take more ownership over the learning process, providing greater opportunity to be successful in the future.

Do you have other tactics for helping students increase their independence? What has been your experience implementing strategies like these in the classroom? Please share with us in the comments!

Hi, readers! My name is Misha Gingerich. I am delighted to be involved in this idea sharing space, and hope that I can provide a useful perspective. In Ontario, I have taught English for Academic Purposes to adults, focusing mainly on grammar and writing skills, and I would gladly be labelled a grammar nerd. I have also lived and worked overseas, in India and Laos. In Laos, I taught English to adults and children while also playing the role of language learner. In addition to teaching, I have spent many years working in community building. Recently, I started a new project with a fellow teacher called Extra English Practice (EEP – www.extraenglishpractice.com). We create online learning materials for students and teachers, including videos, with the goal of helping students learn while having fun.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *