Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Lerner autonomy?

Long after Sugata Mitra's Iatefl plenary about how children learn on their own and so many blogs and negative reactions on this subject, I decided it was about time I wrote something about it.

Surprisingly enough I was not annoyed by what I saw and heard. I was a bit surprised with the "passionate" reactions of many teachers around the world.
In my opinion, this was not an experiment against teachers. I do not think that teachers will ever be replaced by machines.
But how about autonomy to the learners?

Here's what I found on the dictionary:


noun \-ˈtä-nə-mē\ : the state of existing or acting separately from others

Do our learners feel the need to do something on their own?  Or do they need a "push"?
From my little experience so far, every learner is different. We cannot apply the same methods to everybody.
Some students want to learn, some don't.
Some are self-motivated, some are not motivated at all.
Some want to come to our lessons, some are obliged to come.

So for me, it has to do with the personality of the students.

Let me give you some examples of some students:

N., a straight A student, detested English just because her school teacher made her learn 20 pages of vocabulary by heart, with no sense of purpose whatsoever. The vocabulary is there to be learned, the exercises are there to be done.
Result: N. had unanswered questions, no motivation, no goal, felt useless, had bad marks, felt bad about herself.
Now she has the chance to work with somebody else, new technology, lots of research on the internet about things she likes (music, fashion etc). Does she learn the vocabulary? yes, sometimes she learns even more? Does she do extra activities and grammar- voc. exercises? More than she has to... Does she work alone?  She is completely autonomous. Why? Because now she has the motivation to do it.

Second example. I. a young adult, unemployed wants to find a job in a foreign country. Intensive lessons with lots of materials. Lot's of studying on his own, the teacher is only there to guide him. Does he learn? Again yes... Why? because he has the motivation to do it!

Last one: A. 15, school-student, lazy, goes to school only because he has too. Teacher gives him the same homework with first student N. Does he do it? Not all of it! Will he do extra? Probably not! Will he do it if the teacher or the parent is there beside him? Yes, he will!
This autonomy thing isn't working for him!

So there are different factors in learning.
Will the children learn how to play a game even if it the instructions are in Swahili? They will probably make it!!

I did an experiment myself some years back. I got a football game for the PlayStation and changed the language to Dutch. My son was 5 at the time knowing only  his mother tongue (Greek) and some basic English). He managed to play. Not because he is cleverer than any other child nor because he had somebody to explain. It's because he wanted to.

So, I guess our jobs as teachers is to make them want to learn, make them curious,with or without us.

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