As an ESL teacher with over a decade of progressive teaching experience, no notion in English language pedagogy was as mind–blowing to me as the idea of learner autonomy. The way that learning and learners are seen as autonomous has always resonated highly with me; I always thought if anyone masters independent learning, they can learn almost anything with joy and efficiency. Recently, however, I’ve been thinking differently about this. Not because I am now a skeptic of this approach, but because I have been wondering if all learners want to be independent learners! Based on my recent encounters and experience at work, I now think maybe there are some learners who learn best without being independent. In this blog post, I’d like to share my own experience with this type of learner.
As a teacher, I encourage autonomy in my classroom, meaning I provide stress-free learning environments for all learning styles and allow learners to discover how they’d like to master what they’re learning. I don’t generally promote the idea that there’s only one way to accomplish a certain task. For example, for writing a problem-solution essay, I don’t ask all students to follow a certain procedure and consider it as the most accurate or the only one. Instead, I walk them through the essential steps of how a well-written, coherent, and organized essay is expected to be written. Then I let them devise their own essay format freely and creatively based on the research they do, their inspirational ideas, and experience.
This method has appealed to many learners who claim that they’re learning at their own pace and in their own personal way once the lesson makes sense to them. Learning, for these students, happens in an innovative, seamless, and fun way. On the other hand, in the same learning environment, I have seen some learners feeling totally intimidated, reluctant, and at times unable to take the initiative and discover what works best them.
Here I need to make clear that as a teacher I make sure that I provide guidance, advice, and instruction before leaving students on their own with their tasks and I am mindful of the complex and complicated parts of any lesson. My point is that I wouldn’t prescribe or force one way of learning as the only way. I want students to discover learning on their own. Having said that, some learners are still reluctant to take on the challenge of being proactive and embark upon the journey of independent learning. They simply told me that this way scares them, and they can’t figure out their own way.
My first approach to fixing this problem was to explain how to overcome this fear and to help them to see the benefits of becoming autonomous learners. They resisted, however, saying they don’t want to do it independently and they want a knowledgeable instructor to tell them exactly how to do what they’re supposed to do!
For some time, I resisted this idea and felt the duty of raising their awareness on this important matter which is helpful not only in the classroom but also in their future life. However, after seeing their firm resistance, I noticed that because of my approach, learning is now completely blocked, and these learners aren’t likely to take anything whatsoever from the lessons.
So, I reflected
I reflected on this idea of whether autonomous and independent learning should be promoted for all learners since there are some learners who may not be ready. They still want to stay in their comfort zone of being lectured and taught without applying a greater measure of critical thinking skills.
To be honest, I haven’t yet arrived at a satisfying answer for this. As much as I am a firm believer in learner autonomy, maybe it isn’t a good idea to try to force all learners towards independent and autonomous learning!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on teaching critical thinking and creativity?