Does autonomy look like this?

To be autonomous, Holec says, students need not only the ability of autonomy, but also an opportunity and/or environment to direct their own learning. In the absence of self-access materials, what can a teacher do? Well, here’s what I tried today: offer choices, and ask questions. Is this “teaching autonomy”?

First I asked students what they wanted to do: they said “role-play” as that was the last thing we did last class, and their homework assignment was to think of a new role-play situation. The one they came up with was: husband returns from business trip unexpectedly early and finds wife in a compromising position. Take it from there! OK.

Q2: Do you want to work on this in pairs (like we did last time), or as two teams?

A2: Teams!

Q3: Do you want preparation time?

A3: Yes!

Q4: Who’s the first player for each team?

Q5 (much later): Are you done?

A5: Yes!

Q6: Now what? We can do

Q7: another role play?

A7: No!

Q8: Use the textbook?

A8: No!

Q9: Watch a movie?

A9: Yes!

Q10: OK, I’ve brought the movie we watched a bit of last time (About a Boy). Do you want to watch the movie, or read some of the transcript?

A10: Read the transcript!

So, we read thru a couple of pages of the transcript, of the part of the movie that just follows where we left off last time. (The transcript, published by Screenplay, includes a Japanese translation with explanatory lexical notes). We then watch that part. I stop the movie at the end of the transcript, and ask

Q11: Do you want to watch more?

A11: No!

Q12: Do you want to use the textbook? Watch another movie? (Pregnant silence). Go home?

A12: Yes! (It was 10 minutes early).

Q13: OK, but first let’s decide what we’re going to do next time.

A13: Watch the Llama movie! (The Emperor’s New Groove)

Q14: Do you want a transcript? Actually I don’t have one, but there are the English subtitles. I…. could make a…. fill-in-the-blanks exercise, tho it would be a REAL bother….

A14: Yes! Fill-in-the-blanks!

One thought on “Does autonomy look like this?”

  1. In order to answer your question: ‘Does autonomy look like this?’ I (we) would need to learn more on the many corners (notions) of the term ‘Autonomy’. And I believe that we are still a long way of understanding all its different dimensions.

    But I can add some personal reflections:

    When you asked the whole group, you treated the group as an ‘entity’ and obviously you only heard the loud voices. Remember there are always those who control group decisions and those who keep silence. Autonomy to me is more an affair of individuality. Decisions need to be taken on an individual basis.

    Another thing you commented (in post: Friday Oct 15th) was that it is not just a matter of just giving choices to learners but leading them into a decision making process based not only on ‘whims’ as you called them. And I agree that once learners relate their decisions to their learning process, they will be on their way to autonomy.

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