What does being a self- directed or independent learner mean? Basically, it suggests you can make decisions about what, when and how you study and that, little by little, you’ll become your own learning coach. Is this something we must encourage our students to do? Oh, yes, absolutely! I believe students need to become creative, critical thinkers and we must transform from “imparter of knowledge” to ‘facilitator of learning’. How can we do it? In class, there should be enough room to make lots of mistakes and build resilience so that students can become skilled at HOW to learn anything they want to. In the 21st century constant change will be the norm and those who won’t be able to adapt to new situations will be in serious trouble!
So, what can we do to foster student independence? There are many things you may try. These are some of the things I have done or I am planning to do with my students:
- Give choices
Every time I can, I give students opportunities to make choices. Why? Because in that way they can start reflecting on their own interests and preferences, and take responsibility for learning. Examples of choices could be “Do activity A or B for homework” (I usually give and “easy” option and a “more complex” one so that students have to evaluate themselves and their progress in order to choose) or 'Answer 3 out of the 5 questions' or 'Choose one of these three topics to write about.'
- Involve learners in lesson planning
I love when students become “teachers” for a day (and they love it, too!). Once I had an intermediate level class every Friday from 5.00 to 6.30 pm. Teenagers hated being busy up to so late and were visibly tired so I decided to change my routine drastically. Forty minutes before the class finished, I would stop teaching and sit among my students. One of them would stand up, show me what he or she had chosen (a song, a poem, a video, etc) and the activities he/she had created. I had a quick look at the material and said “Ok, go ahead”. The student would then deliver the rest of the class. Most teenagers brought their favourite song so we normally listened to it and filled in the gaps, chose the correct option or did whatever the student had planned. After that, we wrote all the words they didn’t know the meaning of on the board and get in small groups. Each group worked with a monolingual dictionary, chose 3 o 4 words to look up in it and then shared what they had learnt with the rest of the class. Finally, we talked about what the song meant, mentioned some facts about the band or songwriter’s life and went back home whistling a new tune.
Another option I am trying out now is dividing the class into groups, giving each group a text from the course book and letting them “present” it to the rest. They must plan reading comprehension activities, teach the new vocabulary and create 2 or more exercises for their peers to practice the new words. I also told them the most creative groups will get extra credit, so now everybody is interested in doing something original!
- Encourage self and peer editing
I have done this regularly and students love it. After each test, students have to correct their own mistakes (I just underline what’s wrong and mark the exam). Then, they get in pairs and, before handing in the revised version, they must check it carefully with this person.
So, tell me, what are YOU doing to help your students become independent learners? I’d love your feedback so please take some time to comment.