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The concepts of learner autonomy which Holec first coined in 1981 as the ability to take charge of ones own direct learning has been brought into attention and has become popular in the field of language teaching and learning for over twenty years. (Little, 1991). Camilleri Grima (2007) claimed that the learner autonomy improves the quality of language learning, allows individuals to gain the vital skills for learning throughout their life and indorse democratic ideology in society and that it allows learners to make best use of learning opportunities in and out of the classroom.
In traditional classroom, however, students were given fewer opportunities to engage in their learning, because the teacher always plays a role as a knowledge transmitter to students. Moreover, there is little interaction among teachers and students. The teacher usually spends a great deal of time speaking and explaining in the class; while students are required to sit passively and listen to the teacher attentively (Wang, 2007). Similarly, Ravacol (as cited Van Lier, 1996) states that the teachers in traditional classroom believe that their main duty and teaching activities are to transfer their knowledge to students, so they restrict the interaction in the classrooms to happen only in examinations or quizzes where students just have to answer the specific questions given by them.
However, research provides evidence that traditional, teacher-centered instruction is less effective than student-centered instruction that makes use of active-learning pedagogies (Wink, 2000). Therefore, there has been campaigns around the world to move away from instruction in which students are passive recipients of knowledge to models of teaching and learning in which students actively engage in discovering and constructing new knowledge, participate in cooperative tasks with their teachers, classmates, and the community; and benefit from other strategies and techniques which help students develop the autonomous learning. (Nith, Wright, Hor, Bredenburg & Singh, 2010)
Yet, this traditional teacher-centred approach to teaching and learning has been very common in Cambodian classrooms. Bit (1991) finds that the teachers are respected as leaders whose roles are something similar to parental roles. Their proper roles of leaders are to explain and clarify what are expected of people. The leaders never draw out suggestions or involvement by the followers in searching for alternatives. Chandler (1998) writes
"the teachers' relation to their students, like so many relationships in Cambodian society, are hierarchical or imbalance. The teachers are typically considered as the parents who bestow, transmit, and command. Whereas, the student are usually treated as the child who receive, accept, and obey. There is no change in the transmission process, except perhaps the ignorance of the student." (p. 88)
In effort for educational reforms, in 2001 Ministry of Education Youth and Sports (MoEYS) set up the Education Strategic Plan (ESP), detailing the operational plan and outlining how the NGOs and the government should cooperate to obtain the ESP's stated aims. In December 2005, MoEYS launched its 2006-2010 plans which included the promotion of the quality of education through improving curriculum, educational materials, teaching and learning methodology, and the structure of the formal education system. Furthermore, current education reform efforts are driven by Cambodia's policy and commitment to establishing "Child Friendly Schools (CFS)," and out of its six dimensions, the second one dealing with effective learning has its objective as follow:
" to develop teacher proficiencies so that teachers have theoretical and practical knowledge with a specific focus on learning/teaching activities and materials which promote active, creative and child-centered approaches to learning in a joyful classroom environment. To nurture teacher attitudes, behavior and moral values, which will lead to learning together in a harmonious way." (MoEYS, 2007, pp. 5-6)
In an interview, an official from USAID/Cambodia involved in national education reform efforts explained CFS pedagogy is a major strategy adopted to improve quality of learning. To date, 67% of target schools are reporting decreased dropout rate and about the same for repetition rate. Transition rate from grade 6 to grade 7 is about 83% among target students. Children at the target schools seem to be happy learners who enjoy going to school. Teachers are generally active and involved. Interestingly, only about 34% of teachers evaluated at the end of last school year, rated as satisfactory against project-generated criteria for CFS competency. (Nith, Wright, Hor, Bredenburg & Singh, 2010)
It is worth noticing that active-learning strategies have been identified as one of the most important factors in autonomous language learning (Cotterall, 1999). Yet, little is actually known about what learner autonomy means to language teachers. This is a significant gap given the influence that teachers' beliefs have on how they teach, and, of particular interest here, on whether and how they seek to promote learner autonomy.
This study will address this gap by examining what 'learner autonomy' means to language teachers.
in a Department of English of a known university in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia.
This study is to explore teachers' perceptions on what is 'learner autonomy' and how much those teachers understand the principles of the concepts, and the study will also compare what the teachers know of the concept with the extent they want to promote these practices in their professional interactions with students. Moreover, the research will attempt to understands the challenges that the English teachers have faced in their efforts to cultivate learner autonomy.
Significance of the research
There are inevitably links between what the teachers know, think, and believe and the positive realization of the concepts into practice. There has been established a number of insights about the nature of teachers' beliefs and their role in language teaching and teacher learning which are now widely accepted. (Phipps & Borg, 2009). There are two particular points of significance in the study. First, teachers' beliefs can powerfully shape both what teachers do and, consequently, the learning opportunities learners receive. Therefore the extent to and manner in which learner autonomy is promoted in language learning classrooms will be influenced by teachers' beliefs about what autonomy actually is, its desirability and feasibility.
Second, teacher education is more likely to have an impact on teachers' practices when it is based on an understanding of the beliefs teachers hold (Borg, 2011). Understanding teachers' beliefs about autonomy is thus an essential element in the design of professional development activities aimed at promoting learner autonomy. In addition to this, the findings about language teacher' challenges in helping students to become autonomous in their study will help teachers, head teachers, heads of departments, school administrators, educators, and policy makers to provide more support to the effort of promoting learner autonomy.
This study will address the following questions:
1. What are English language teachers' beliefs about the importance and place of learner autonomy in English language learning in the Department of English in University X.
2 To what extent do ELTs understand the concepts and practices of learner autonomy?
3. What extent do they want to promote learner autonomy in their teaching?
As Gremmo (1995) observes the last 25 years have seen an increasing amount of attention to learner autonomy, self-directed learning, self-access systems and individualized independent learning in second language learning literature (e.g Holec 1980; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Little, 1991; Nunan, 1997; Wenger, 1999; Lantolf, 2000; Lantolf & Thorne, 2006; Toohey, 2007; Dang, 2010; ).
What is learner autonomy?
In attempting to define learner autonomy I will discuss some of the existing definitions of the term. Holec gives learner autonomy a rather far-reaching definition: 'the ability to take charge of one's own learning', which he then specifies as 'to have, and to hold, the responsibility for all the decisions concerning all aspects of this learning,' (1981: 3). But what does this mean? Trebbi argues (1996: 290) that 'taking charge of one's own learning' is a tautology as no learning takes place unless the learner is in charge; it is a prerequisite of learning. As textbook writers and teachers, we can provide good materials and create good conditions for learning, but learning itself is impossible without the learner actually taking charge. What is different between the traditional classroom situation and situations where autonomy is applied is that the learner in the latter is given the opportunity to take charge of the learning activities.
It is clear from Holec's definition that we are concerned with learning and not leaching. Learning is an individual process: learners are all different, their backgrounds and experiences vary and they will consequently encounter new knowledge, presented to them either by the textbook or the teacher, in different ways.
Underlying the concept of autonomy is constructivist psychological theory. According to this, we attempt in an on-going process to make sense of the world around us based on our previous experience and pre-knowledge. "A person's processes are psychologically channelized by the ways in which he anticipates events' (Kelly 1953: 46). Further Kelly states that we anticipate events by 'construing their replications' (1953: 50), which in simpler terms means that we interpret them so that they assume meaning. In themselves they carry no meaning: meaning is applied by the individual who interprets. We differ from each other in the way we construct events and we have different approaches to our anticipation of the same events (1953:55). Consequently learning processes are individual, based on the learner's pre-knowledge and can only be monitored by the learner himself. In classroom terms this means that each learner will encounter the foreign language and the material through which he is expected to learn the language in an individual way, which varies from one learner to the other. It follows that focus has to be on the individual learner and on his needs in the learning process. What consequences does this have for textbook authors?
If we return to Holec's definition of autonomy (1983: 3), he goes on to explain the 'decisions concerning all aspects of this learning':
â€¢ determining the objectives
â€¢ defining the contents and progressions
â€¢ selecting methods and techniques to be used
â€¢ monitoring the procedure of acquisition (rhythm, lime, place, etc.)
â€¢ evaluating what has been acquired
This definition of autonomous learning describes a fairly complex process, and one which does not come naturally to the learner. It has to be learnt, at least in a traditional school context, and the textbook can function as a good tool in providing guidelines or "scaffolding' (Bruner 1994). Bruner applies the term 'scaffolding' to the support and assistance given by adults in a child's learning process. The implication is that the support can be removed gradually as the child manages to take charge. I believe that the textbook can have a similar scaffolding function, but 'scaffolding' should be seen as a dynamic force and not a static entity.
Autonomous learning is seen by Holec as a double process. On the one hand, it entails learning the foreign language; on the other, learning how to learn. Thus autonomous learning reaches beyond a school context: it is a life-long process of constantly developing awareness.
The learner's choice
The learner's choice is central to Holec's definition. He regards it as a necessary means to develop autonomy. This does not mean that all the learners make one choice as a group, but that each individual in the classroom chooses. As we have seen in Kelly's theory of personal constructs, the individual aspect is essential to learning. Knowledge is not an objective entity that can be passed on from the teacher or the textbook to the learner; learning has to be monitored and controlled by the individual learner. Only the learner himself has insights into his own pre-knowledge and is, therefore, the only person who is capable of establishing the necessary relationship between what he already knows and the new material presented to him. This necessitates a shift in the classroom from teaching to learning and from teacher to learner.
If we believe that textbooks can play a role in promoting learner autonomy, we need to examine in what ways. It is easily presumed that it is primarily through working with the tasks and exercises in the textbook that learning takes place. But when the learner is given the opportunity to take charge of the learning situation, all the material provided by the textbook is equally important because it carries potential for learning. In an autonomous learning environment the learner may take charge of all kinds of material and use it to further his own learning. The tasks can only be regarded as suggestions which the learner might reject or replace by his own.
In order to provide the learner with choice, a certain scope is required so that he can use the texts and the tasks which he is given, or which he chooses himself, according to his own personal interpretation, interests and needs. One consequence is that there must be room for freedom of choice for the individual or for groups of learners. It is important that learners are shown ways to explore this freedom and that they understand what freedom of choice entails. Through a rich variety of texts, genres, tasks, approaches and methods they can learn how gradually to make qualified choices that will suit their own personal learning processes.
How can textbook authors accommodate this? I would like to give a few examples of what I see as some of the learner's options that a foreign language textbook can provide:
â€¢ choice of subject-matter
â€¢ choice of different types of texts
â€¢ choice of different levels
â€¢ choice of varying amount (of texts and tasks)
â€¢ choice of approach to a text
â€¢ choice of tasks
â€¢ choice of approach to tasks
â€¢ choice of progression
The first three options are equivalent to what Holec refers to as content (1983:3). Different types of texts means a variety of written and oral genres. There is no need for all the learners in a group to concentrate on the same text at the same time. It is also possible to accommodate a choice of levels in a textbook. If there is a wish for learners of diverse ability to concentrate on a particular content, it can be the task of the textbook author to provide for this possibility. Adapted and simplified versions of texts can be placed alongside the original version, and then it is up to the learner to choose which version he wants to read. Each learner also has to decide how much he can cope with within a given period of time, in other words, determine his own progression.
The textbook will, of course, have only a limited number of options with regard to the learner's choice of content. Still, there should be sufficient material for the learner to choose both subject-matter and genres. When he reaches a certain level of awareness of his own learning, he will realize that he needs or wants to go beyond the textbook to search for more material. The tasks can also encourage the learner to bring other material into the classroom.
The same text can be approached in a variety of ways. Tasks which show learners different approaches to texts will encourage diversification and personalization. Through a choice of tasks the learner will become aware of different methods and techniques that can further his language learning.
In addition to a variety of texts, the learner must be provided with sufficient scope for personal interpretation by means of open-ended tasks. This, in turn, entails that teachers and textbook authors do not stand between the learner and the text by interpreting it, or worse, digesting it on behalf of the learner. On the other hand, we have to be aware that the student has to learn how to make qualified choices, a process which can be assisted by both teacher and textbook.
It should be possible for the learner to use the material in the textbook in such a way that he can determine some of his own objectives. This entails being able to choose which texts and which tasks will suit his purpose, or that the texts and tasks can be used in different ways for different purposes. Through personal interpretation, negotiation, self-evaluation and discussion between learners and between learner and teacher, an individual awareness of learning can develop. The textbook can initiate and encourage such an awareness-raising process.
If the learner is to have the opportunity to choose his own approach to a text without the teacher standing between learner and text in an attempt to interpret and simplify, it is important that the text has both quality and potential. There must be certain qualities inherent in the text that different young learners can use to further their learning. Some learners might choose to concentrate on a specific linguistic problem; some on learning new words and expressions; some on analysing the plot of a story, the characters, the point of view, certain cultural aspects, etc. A constructed textbook text which focuses on a specific linguistic feature, rarely has the necessary diverse potential for furthering individual learning. Authentic texts have far greater potential as 'they have been written for a communicative purpose' and as such 'they are more interesting than texts which have been invented to illustrate the usage of some feature of the target language'. (Little, Devitt & Singleton 1994: 24) The 'flat' text created for the teaching of a foreign language is usually not challenging or interesting enough to the young learner. It fails to awaken the interest of young learners because it lacks conflict, or if there is a trivial conflict, it is usually solved by the end of the text and leaves little up to the student's imagination and interpretation.
An authentic text, including one that the learner finds difficult to cope with, can be challenging and can give the learner a chance to interact with the text, trying to interpret it in terms of what he already knows, and thus learning something new. This gives the teacher the role of assistant to the learning process that goes on in each pupil. 'The teacher does not try to transfer knowledge, but makes her/his own knowledge available to the learners, and is herself/himself at their disposal to assist them in their various learning projects' (Trebbi 1996). By discovering features which arise from personal interest and which serve their own purposes, either alone or in cooperation with others, the learners will have plenty of material to convey to each other and to discuss in a social learning process. Such classroom communication can be about topics which individuals or groups of learners have worked on, what they have found interesting, about strategies they have employed in coping with texts, etc. Through spoken or written communication with other learners and with the teacher, metalanguage and awareness of learning will develop.
To promote autonomous learning textbooks should, therefore, place sufficient authentic texts at the learner's disposal so that he can choose a text which he finds interesting, or at least, a way of approaching a specific text which accommodates his needs and interests. Authentic texts are also essential for discovering language as culture and as models for the learner to develop his own texts. The tasks in the textbook must encourage the learner lo diagnose his own needs, assist his formulation of purposes, and point out the multiple possibilities inherent in a text, for enjoyment, analysis and learning.
Learning styles and strategies
If the learner is to be allowed freedom of choice in order to find material to suit his objectives, the textbook cannot determine the progression for all learners as one. According to Little (1991: 7) 'the learner generates his own purpose for learning; in pursuit of those purposes he determines not only the content of learning but the way in which learning will take place.' In Holec's definition of autonomy, the learner selects his own methods and techniques to be used. This is done from his own needs and as a result of his past experience.
In order for the learner to discover which methods and strategies might suit his learning purposes best at any given time, he needs to practise a series of approaches. Many young learners have a fairly limited 'repertoire', mainly because they have not been exposed to sufficient diversity of approaches. Given a completely free choice, they choose within their own rather narrow scope (Fenner 1995). The textbook can open up a variety of new ways to approach the learning material. By gaining a wider experience, the learner will master more techniques which he can employ to further his own learning. If the textbook contains a rich variety of methods in the form of suggestions and options, all the time leaving it up to the learner to choose and add his own suggestions, the learner's experience will increase and the scope within which his choices are made will widen. In this way he will be able to discover his own learning styles and find strategies which will suit his personal learning process. This is something the learner has to experiment with. The textbook can, however, illustrate a variety of suggestions for tasks which will provide the learner with examples on which he can model his own personal approaches. After trying them out, the learner will know what types of tasks, styles and strategies he finds useful for his own purposes and will be able to employ these according to personal needs or wishes, and will gradually be able to develop his own.
It is important in self-directed learning that the tasks that are used are open ones, where there is room for diversity of outcome depending on the individual learner's interpretation. Trying out various possibilities is one way of testing personal hypotheses and getting feedback.
Reflection and awareness
An essential aspect of autonomous learning is that the learner develops awareness of language and learning. 'It is essential that an autonomous learner is stimulated to evolve an awareness of the aims and processes of learning and is capable of critical reflection' (Dam 1996: 2). Developing awareness does not come naturally to most learners; it is the result of conscious effort and practice. If the textbook is meant to be a tool which can assist the process of evolving autonomy, developing language and learning awareness is part of the process, and must also be encouraged in the textbook.
Classroom communication and reflection on learning can be encouraged by questions and tasks in the textbook. Metacommunication about learning may include such issues as:
â€¢ what the learner already knows
â€¢ what the learner wants to/needs to learn
â€¢ reflection on choices made
â€¢ reflection on outcome
â€¢ what has been learnt
Together with material for self-evaluation at different points, questions connected to these and similar issues may provide the basis for a process of developing learning awareness. By performing or formulating specific tasks and answering questions on various aspects of his own learning process, and then making the answers topics for discussion in the foreign language, the learner develops both his learning awareness and his linguistic competence.
Being able to express himself about his own learning in the foreign language has wider implications than just developing linguistic competence. According to Kelly '[a] person must phrase his experience to make sense out of it' (1963: 52). By writing and speaking about his experience, the learner develops awareness of his personal process of interpreting and learning. Vygotsky stresses the interrelationship between thought and language in a similar way. 'Thought is not merely expressed in words; it comes into existence through them.' (1934/91: 218). Talking about the learning experience is consequently important not only for developing linguistic competence and awareness, but also for developing thinking.
By advocating the inclusion of such tasks and topics for discussion in the textbook, I do not intend to exclude the teacher, but merely suggest that such tasks can make the learner less dependent on the teacher, and slowly make him see ways of becoming a more independent language learner and user. If the learners are involved in different activities in the classroom; if they read different texts or approach the same text in different ways, they will learn different things. Diversification of content, purpose, method, strategy and reflection guarantee more interesting topics for classroom discussion than is the case in a traditional classroom, where everybody tries, with varying degrees of success, to cope with the same material in the same way. Moreover, conveying individual interpretations to peers and teacher enhances linguistic competence as well as learning competence.
In his essay on "The Culture of Education" (1996), Jerome Bruner proposes that learning is the creation and re-creation of meaning by the individual. In this process of "joint culture-creating", two subjective worlds overlap, however partially, to form "an inter-subjective world, that defines the individual's participation in learning and it is the study of this process which is the object of the ethnography of autonomy" (Riley, 1988). Hill (1991, cited in Pennycook, 1997) quotes Kant's definition of autonomy as "the foundation of human dignity and the source of all morality." Given the lack of theoretical debate on autonomy in linguistics and Second Language Acquisition (SLA)research (Benson & Voller, 1997), definitions of autonomy in second language learning have tended to reflect such broader educational and socio-political derivations, generally tending to fall into five categories:
situations in which learners study entirely on their own;
a set of skills which can be learned and applied in self-directed learning;
an inborn capacity which is suppressed by institutional education;
the exercise of learners' responsibility for their own learning;
the right of learners to determine the direction of their own learning (Benson & Voller, 1997).
Drawing on both theoretical and empirical studies to discuss the construct of learner autonomy, it can be concluded that as learner autonomy is socially-shaped, a combination of socio-cultural theory and community of practice is recommended for any investigation into this construct. It also suggests taking into account contributions from personal and contextual aspects, as well as the interactions between the two. In other words, perceptions of learner autonomy need to be examined in relation to the performance of this capacity. Learner autonomy fostering practice needs to be considered each local context.
Data Collection Methods
In the study, survey questionnaire will be used to find out to what extend the teacher understand the notion of students' autonomy. The survey will be administered in collective administration method, taking opportunities of monthly teacher meeting held in the meeting hall of the department, the questionnaire will be taken home and the response to the questionnaire will be returned department head office within a week.
The researcher believes that survey questionnaire have several strengths. The primary advantage of written questionnaire is the low cost. (Kumar, 2006) Second advantage is that questionnaires are sometimes giving greater feeling respondents of anonymity and therefore the encouraging open responses to sensitive questions (Kidder & Judd, 1986). Kumar R. (2006) stated using questionnaire in the form of collective administration can provide higher returned rate comparing mailed-questionnaire. However, researcher is aware that using a questionnaire as research tool has some significant disadvantages. One main disadvantage according to Kumar (2006) is its limited application. This limitation is that questionnaire can be used with the population that can read and write. A further disadvantage is that the respondents lack opportunity to clarify issues where they do not understand the questions thereby affecting the quality of the information provided. Moreover, the respondents may be able to consult others. (Kumar, 2006)
All the teaching are currently teaching in the Department of English at Human Resources University will be invited to complete an anonymous questionnaire that has been piloted and arranged carefully before putting in to use. Be noted that the researcher will decide to choose on voluntary basis. According to the list of teacher of English, 20 teachers (5 female) will be invited as the sample for my study.
There is some strength in selecting the sample. One of the advantages is that the information provided by the participant will be more reflective to the issue because the participants will answer the question anonymously. Another advantage is that the teachers are likely to understand the terminology used in the questionnaire as they have been working in education sectors especially in ELT for years. However, there are some limitations to this sampling design. First of all, due to the availability of female teachers in the Department of English, there will be small representation of the female voice in the study. Secondly, the teachers selected are currently teaching in the urban area (in Phnom Penh); therefore, this study may not represent the perception of the teachers in the rural area where the availability of technology and other study material may limit the students' autonomy.