Teachers And Learners Perspectives Towards Learner Autonomy English Language Essay

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Introduction

Since the arrival of UNTAC (United Nation Transitional Authorities in Cambodia), Cambodia has gradually seen a remarkable demand of English language users, thus contributing to many changes in the development of English language teaching and learning in the country. At the same time, new insights into language acquisition, language use, learning styles and etc have increased English language teachers', learners', and users' understanding of what the process involves. Although the existence of English language in Cambodia, if compared to French language, is still short-less than 20 years since the presence of UNTAC in Cambodia in the early 1990s, Learner Autonomy (LA) is actually not a new concept for Cambodian EFL learners and/or many English language institutions in the country. The Institute of Foreign Languages (IFL) and The Australian Center for Education (ACE)-two of the biggest English language schools in Cambodia-have for many years set up learning centers, Self-Access Center (SAC) in IFL and Guided Individual Learning (GIL) in ACE, as for Cambodians EFL learners to conduct their autonomous learning activities. Ly, Chea & Sou (2007) suggested that GIL was established to enhance learners' independent learning and self discovery.

However, to say that a lot of, if not all, Cambodian EFL teachers and students have sufficient and reliable knowledge about LA could be too assumptive a statement. Even on regional and international levels, LA-in terms of its definition and implementation-is still a controversial or an unclear topic even though there have been a great number of researches conducted related to LA, especially to discover the perspectives of learners and teachers-who are the most directly involved stakeholders in the process of learning-towards LA.

Previous Studies relating to learners' and teachers' perspectives about LA

Reinders (2000) conducted a study to investigate students' perception about LA by focusing on what they think of SAC, which is similar to Self-Access Language Learning (SALL) described in the book by Gardner & Miller (1999). As distinguished in Ly, Chea, & Sou (2007), SAC or SALL is rather a new concept and quite different from a traditional library.

To find out more about EFL teachers' and learners' perspectives about LA more than just the use of SAC, Usuki (2001) discovered how Japanese students felt towards LA and found that most of the students just hesitated to implement LA since they did not fully comprehend the implication of LA theory. Dafei (2007) and Nonkukhetkhong, Baldauf & Moni, (2006) found similar things with their participants who did not have confidence in exploiting LA as one of their learning styles just because they did have little reliable knowledge about LA.

When we talk about LA, it is crucially important to find out the perspectives of teachers whose responsibility is to introduce LA to their students and motivate their students to use it. Evrim (2009) suggested that most teachers, instead of encouraging their students to take responsibility in learning, bore most of the responsibilities when they realized that their pupils were carefree about their learning. Williams & Burden (1997), in a section of their book, made a recommendation that EFL teachers study individual differences of each of their students and capitalize on the differences as to tap into their students' potentials.

Chamot, Keatley, Meloni, et al designed a guide book full of teaching strategies such as Metacognition that an EFL teacher might use to train their learners to become autonomous. Radai & Shanklin, (n.d.) discussed learner centeredness approach and its characteristics in relation to LA. Yu (2006) also talked about many factors (i.e. Metacognition, Motivation, and Learning Environment) which an EFL teacher might want to have a look and adapt their teaching methods accordingly as to encourage their learners to adopt the sense of LA.

Limitation of the Studies

There have of course been many researches and studies conducted in the topic of LA particularly to discover EFL learners' and teachers' perspectives about LA. However, these researches seem to prescribe rather describe what learners and teachers really perceive and know about LA.

In 1960s, Noam Chomsky-in his pursuit of studying Grammar-found an interesting theory about human grammar. Instead of following the footsteps of people who had prescribed grammar, he described grammar and proposed a theory that humans are naturally born with linguistic structures called Universal Grammar (UG). In short, Chomsky took the road not taken and found a brand new thing.

Therefore, interesting results may also emerge if a different approach is taken and used in this research. In the study, the researcher will try not to discover Cambodian EFL learners' and teachers' perspectives about LA by proposing to them any aspect (i.e. SAC, learner-centeredness) and asking for their confirmation. Instead, instruments such as interviews and observations to gather in-depth information will be employed in this study to explore what teachers and learners actually perceive about LA. The participants will be encouraged to frankly talk about what they know as long as they think it's related to LA.

Significance

This study to identify Cambodian EFL teachers' and learners' perspectives about LA will contribute to better understanding of the concept and implementation of LA in Cambodian context of English language teaching and learning. The results of the study will provide useful information regarding the level of comprehension and understanding that teachers and students have had about LA.

Also, the study will help improve Cambodian EFL teachers' teaching ability. With reliable information about students' perspectives of LA, teachers may employ right teaching approaches and methods as to promote learners' autonomous learning activities in classroom and increase their learners' level of autonomy.

Research Problem: To discover Cambodian EFL teachers' and learners' perspectives towards Learner Autonomy (LA).

Research Objectives:

To find out Cambodian EFL learners' perspectives toward the concept and implementation of LA.

To ascertain Cambodian EFL learners' perspectives toward the concept and implementation of LA.

List of articles

+ Chamot, A.U., Keatley, C., Meloni, C.F., et al. (n.d.) Developing Autonomy in Language Learners: Learning strategies instruction in Higher Educaiton. National Capital Language Resource Center.

More like a teaching guide book than a research paper, the authors write about a variety of teaching and learning strategies an EFL or ESL teacher may use to teach their students English language and most importantly empower them to become independent learners. Particularly for part: Empowering Your Students with Learning Strategies, the authors discuss two main teaching strategies (i) Metacognition: teaching students to think about their learning and (ii) Teaching strategic thinking and the learner-centered classroom. For my research proposal, this guide book is important because it serves as a good literature or background and because it offers my main research question preliminary answers.

+ Dafei, D. (2007). An Exploration of the Relationship between Learner Autonomy and English Proficiency. Asian EFL Journal: Professional Teaching Articles.

Conducted with 129 non-English majored university students, this study investigates the relationship between learner autonomy and English proficiency. The researchers used (i) a standard test to identify the participants' English language proficiency, (ii) a questionnaire to explore the relationship and differences of the participants' learner autonomy, and (iii) the interview to find the reasons why such relationship and differences exist. The results suggested the higher level the students' English proficiency was, the more autonomous they were. In a way, this study relates to my research since it makes me cautious about a fact that students' ability may influence their perspectives about 'learner autonomy'.

+ Evrim, U. (2009). Autonomy in language learning: Do students take responsibility for their learning. Journal of Theory and Practice in Education, 5(2): 148-169.

In this study, Evrim distributed a 52-item questionnaire to 320 randomly selected students from a group of 960 freshmen students and 24 teachers in a Turkish university where English is the primary medium of instruction and conducted interviews with some of them (8 teachers) to find out about the perceptions of university students and teachers regarding responsibilities and abilities related to autonomous learning, and the autonomous activities both inside and outside the classroom. The results show that while students don't take responsibility for their learning, teachers take most of the responsibilities. Personally, I like the discussion of the study since it goes deeply to separate students' perception based on their gender and the suggestion that the researcher makes for both teachers and students. The researcher's suggestion sheds light on the items that I should include in my research instruments as to find out about teachers' and students' perceptions towards learner autonomy.

+ Gardner, D. & Miller, L. (1999). Establishing Self-Access: From theory to practice. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

This book examines establishing, maintaining and developing self-access language learning (SALL). In the first part of the book, the author discusses many interesting points including learner's and teacher's beliefs toward self-access learning, learner's preparation for self-access learning, and the benefits of self-access learning to learners and teachers. Though the book does not directly present insights related to learner's autonomy, I still think that much of the book's discussion on SALL is quite relevant to my study on learner's autonomy because self-access learning is one of the sure characteristics of learner's autonomy in learning.

+ Ly, S., Chea, T. & Sou, V. (2007). Guided Individual Learning Center: A Non-Classroom Learning Environment. CamTESOL Conference on English Language Teaching. 3.

In this research, the researchers examined characteristics and functions of a Guided Individual Learning (GIL) available at the Australian Center for Education (ACE) in Cambodia and reported all the features that distinguished GIL from a normal or traditional library. Those aspects were resources for autonomous learning, GIL center teachers, teacher liaison, and etc. Though not closely related to my study, the research actually shows me what a good Self-Access Center should look like and what characteristics it should possess.

+ Naizhao, G. & Yanling, Z. An Empirical Investigation of Learner Autonomy in Some EFL Classes in China.

"In this qualitative study, the researchers try to understand the concept of learner autonomy and investigate the practice of learner autonomy in EFL classes in China by comparing the results of two groups of students-those who are in class using autonomous learning activities, called the Experiment Group and those in class using traditional teaching approaches, called the Control Group. The results of the comparison revealed that with autonomous learning activities, the students' motivation to study was aroused and most of them were actually able to take charge of their own learning. This study, in a sense, gives me another way of doing a research or research instrument to understand learner autonomy."

+ Nonkukhetkhong, K., Baldauf, R.B.Jr. & Moni, K. (2006). Learner-Centeredness in Teaching English as a Foreign Language. Thai TESOL International Conference.

In this case study, the researchers tried to understand the perceptions of five secondary Thai EFL teachers about learner-centered approach and its implementation. In order collect the data, the researchers spent around 5 months observing these presumably good and active teachers of the school and set up self-reporting questionnaires for them later. The results of the study showed that because they were not sure about the theory of learner-centered approach, they had little, if any, confidence in implementing the approach at all. Though this research contains many weaknesses such as limited number of participants and weak research instruments, I still find it somehow relevant to my study since it discusses another interesting perspective regarding learner autonomy. Specifically, I'm more interested in discovering what teachers and students think about learner-centered approach as a part of learner autonomy.

+ Radai, P. & Shanklin, T. (n.d.). Language matters: from dependent to autonomous language learner. In Medgyes, P. & Malderez, A. (1996), Changing Perspectives in Teacher Education (pp. 31-35). Oxford, England: Macmillan Education.

In the book, the authors mention that students need to become more flexible in their learning and application of rules. But, the first concern would be to enable students to monitor their own language and compare examples of authentic English with the rules they have learnt. Additionally, the authors quote John Dewey's work as 'the aim of education is to enable individuals to continue their education. The object and reward of learning is continued capacity for growth (Dewey 1916, p17)'. Based on my understanding of this section, I can say that learner-centeredness is the end goal of education, and it is pivotal that learners of any subject or language be thrust upon with the sense of independent learning or learner-centeredness in their learning process as early as possible. It stresses the importance of changing teachers' perspectives towards students' learning responsibilities.

+ Reinders, H. (2000). Do it yourself? A learners' perspective on learner autonomy and self-access language learning in an English proficiency program. Retrieved October 10, 2010, from http://www.eric.ed.gov/

The researchers conducted a study on 150 students-most of whom come from Asia-in an English Proficiency Program in New Zealand. In order to get the subjects' perspectives of learner autonomy particularly students' views of Self-Access Center (SAC), the researchers administered questionnaire to all the students participated, interviewed 15 randomly selected students, spent at least 3 hours every day during the course to make observations, and used other resources such as the SAC database. The data collected were analyzed and discussed in separate points such as usefulness of SAC, frequency of the using of SAC, correlation between the use of SAC and learners' language learning development, and etc. This 93-page article is quite relevant to a research question of mine about Cambodian EFL learners' perceptions about learner autonomy, and provides me good research instruments.

+ Usuki, M. (2001). From the learners' perspectives: the needs for awareness-raising towards autonomy and roles of the teachers. Retrieved October 02, 2010 from http://www.eric.ed.gov/

In this small-scale case study, Usuki made an observation of 34 first-year Japanese students majoring in English at a university in Japan. The observation was conducted in a 4-month training whose purpose was to raise learner awareness for autonomous learning through learner training. The result of the observation suggested that past learning experiences influenced the way Japanese students view learner autonomy and made them somehow hesitate to take on autonomous learning activities. This study offers me a new perspective for my research study, which is the influence of traditional way of teaching on students' perspectives of learners' autonomy.

+ Williams, M. & Burden, R.L. (1997). Psychology for language teachers: A social constructivist approach (pp.88-100). Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

In chapter 5 "The contribution of the individual student to the learning process" of the book, the authors discuss the importance of learners' contributions into their language learning, and quote Oxford and Ehrman (1993) as "teachers of a second language need to identify and comprehend significant individual differences in their learners if they are to provide the most effective instruction possible". Many challenges are, however, pointed out whether those contributions which affect learners' learning process can be exactly measured. Some distinct research variables, such as age, gender, personality, aptitude, intelligence, and motivation, are instanced as unclear. Personally, this section of the book helps me to understand what teachers actually think of learner autonomy, thus relating to one of my research questions.

+ Yu, P. (2006). On the Factors Influencing Learner Autonomy in Chinese EFL Contexts. Sino-US English Teaching, 3(5).

In this paper, Yu reviews a variety of researches conducted in China in the topic of learner Autonomy and discusses main factors influencing learner autonomy in Chinese EFL contexts. Yu discusses three main factors including Motivation, Meta-cognitive knowledge and Learning environment. This study acts as guide in answering one of my research questions about factors influencing Cambodian EFL learners' level of autonomy.

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