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Teaching secondary modern foreign languages
Teaching secondary modern foreign languages

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3.2 Promoting independent learning

Using learning strategies such as those outlined above implies an active approach to language learning, and has been closely linked to self-directed learning and learner autonomy (Holec, 1981). However, this does not occur spontaneously; students need preparation for self-directed learning, including learning when and how to apply learning strategies such as those identified by Oxford.

How students develop those strategies is part of an ongoing discussion focused on the questions of whether strategy instruction should be integrated in lessons or taught separately, embedded in the language teaching materials or made explicit (O’Malley and Chamot, 1990). Depending on your context the statutory curriculum requirements may also favour one or other of these views.

This debate has produced several studies supporting either explicit or implicit strategy instruction. For instance, Holec et al. (1996) argue in favour of presenting learning strategies in a meaningful way within a communicative context for language learning.

On the other hand, Dörnyei (2005, p. 174) has pointed out the advantages of explicit learning strategy instruction, as it not only raises learners’ awareness about language learning strategies, but also offers a wide menu of strategies for learners to choose from and encourages students to reflect on their strategy use. O’Malley and Chamot (1990) also argue in favour of separate instruction, where students can focus their attention on developing strategic processing skills rather than trying to learn second language content at the same time.

Consequently, when using language learning strategies in the classroom, it is important to consider whether to use them implicitly or explicitly, although this may also depend on the statutory requirements for your school context.

Activity 4

Timing: Allow about 1 hour

Watch the video ‘One school’s journey’ [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . (Alternatively, you can read a transcript.) As you watch, note the implications for teachers when students use the independent approaches to learning. Use the following questions to help:

  • How does taking an independent approach encourage the students to become more intrinsically motivated in their learning?
  • What is the role of the teacher?
  • How does the teacher model aspects of learning?
  • What kind of environment has the teacher created?
  • What do you notice about the layout of the room?
  • How can you apply some of the principles you observe in this video clip in your own language lessons?
  • How are the students able to develop the learning strategies identified by Oxford?
  • Are there any activities that you could include in your lessons to further develop students’ competency in applying these strategies?

Although not directly focused on independent learning in the MFL classroom, several key messages emerge for the MFL teacher from this video clip.

As the students become more independent learners, they will become increasingly intrinsically motivated and able to take greater responsibility for their own learning, In addition, as you help students to have a greater awareness of the learning process by teaching ways of thinking and learning, you will be supporting the development of lifelong learning strategies that they can apply across the curriculum.

There will also be more opportunities for creative teaching and learning to take place. This is the focus of the next session.