Learner Autonomy in the Classroom. How to Create a Positive Learning Atmosphere

Seminar Paper, 2014

14 Pages, Grade: 2.0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction.

2. Theoretical Context
2.1 A Definition of Learner Autonomy
2.2 How to Promote Learner Autonomy

3. Learner Autonomy: Creating a Positive Learning Atmosphere in Classroom
3.1 Learner Autonomy in Language Learning
3.2 The Teacher’s Role in the Classroom

4. Practical Application: “Great Books to Read” as a Project at the University
4.1 Strategies
4.2 Cooperative Learning in a Group

5. Conclusion

6. References

1. Introduction

This paper aims at providing an analysis of learner autonomy in the classroom. It presents an examination of how a positive learning atmosphere in a language classroom can be achieved, i.e. the question “how to teach” (Brown 1994: 51) in a classroom has to be considered.

First of all, some theoretical positions and beliefs in the context of learner autonomy will be depicted, especially the definition of the term ‘learner autonomy’ will be discussed. Regarding the theories, in particular task-based learning (TBL) and project-based learning (PBL), it will be examined how learner autonomy can be promoted. However, the emphasis in section 2.2 will be laid on the definition of both task types. Although there exist a variety of theories regarding learner autonomy, this paper will only focus on the two theories mentioned above. After having presented a definition of learner autonomy and focusing on learner autonomy in language learning, as well as the teacher’s role in the classroom, this paper will take a specific look at the question how a positive learning atmosphere can be achieved. Therefore, the emphasis of this paper will be laid on chapter 3, i.e. on the analysis of how a positive learning atmosphere can be created with regard to the theoretical context. Finally, it is important to establish a connection between the theoretical context and the practical application. Therefore, based on a project at the University of Essen called “Great Books to Read”, methods and strategies as well as cooperative learning in a group will be investigated. Accordingly, the project “Great Books to Read” based on TBL and/or PBL will illustrate both how a positive learning atmosphere can be achieved and how learner autonomy can be promoted.

2. Theoretical Context

As far as the question of achieving a positive learning atmosphere is concerned, the theoretical framework will be presented in this chapter. First, the definition of learner autonomy will be outlined. Subsequently, it will be illustrated how learner autonomy can be promoted, especially by taking the theories of TBL and PBL into account.

2.1 A Definition of Learner Autonomy

Learner autonomy has become a central topic in language teaching and learning over time. Gathercole (1990: 16) describes autonomy as follows: “Autonomy is when the learner is willing to and capable of taking charge of his own learning”. In addition to this definition, the term ‘independence’ plays an essential role: the learners shall be able to choose their own aims and purposes as well as materials, methods and tasks. Therefore, learner autonomy concentrates on the examination of why, what and how the student is able to learn independently. A more detailed definition of learner autonomy is described by Camilleri who states that learners are expected to carry the responsibility for their own learning, to negotiate and cooperate with each other and with the teacher in selecting objectives and ways of achieving them, sharing knowledge, experiences and feelings while respecting the individuality of others, and learning to monitor and evaluate their own progress. (Camilleri 1999: 5)

Hence, it is important that learners develop to work independently not only for their performances at school, but also for their extracurricular life. Therefore, learner autonomy aims at “preparing young people for life-long learning through the ability to organize and direct their own learning” (ibid.), irrespective of whether in a school context or in an extracurricular life context. At this point, teachers are obliged to provide their students with an autonomous learning atmosphere in their lessons. Obviously, teachers take the responsibility for the development of their students.

The question of how learner autonomy can be promoted appropriately in the classroom in order to achieve a positive learning atmosphere will be clarified in the following section with the help of TBL and PBL.

2.2 How to Promote Learner Autonomy

The promotion of learner autonomy is not easy to achieve, but it is essential for a language classroom. Usuki (2007: 43f.) states that “in order to promote learner autonomy teachers need to be aware of the learner’s viewpoints about their learning”. Hence, in order to implement the promotion of learner autonomy, the two mentioned theories TBL and PBL can be used. Before both theories can be applied, it is important to have an idea about what they are about. Therefore, this chapter will first depict these theories in order to illustrate how the promotion of learner autonomy can take place.

Starting with the first theory, TBL, it is recognizable by its name that it is a kind of learning that is principally based on tasks. In order to provide students with TBL opportunities and to know how this theory works in the English curriculum, teachers should be aware of the following questions suggested by MA (2008: 2):

1. What is a task?
2. Why should learners learn English through tasks?
3. How should tasks be used in the English classroom?

First of all, a task may have diverse definitions. One definition is given from a dictionary of applied linguistics:

an activity or action which is carried out as the result of processing or understanding language (i.e. as a response). For example, drawing a map while listening to a tape, listening to an instruction and performing a command, may be referred to as tasks. Tasks may or may not involve the production of language. A task usually requires the teacher to specify what will be regarded as successful completion of the task. The use of a variety of different kinds of tasks in language teaching is said to make language teaching more communicative since it provides a purpose for a classroom activity which goes beyond the practice of language for its own sake. (Richards/Platt/Weber 1986: 289)

This definition emphasizes the importance of communication-oriented language learning. At the same time, it creates a more positive learning atmosphere than in a less communication-oriented language classroom. Students are asked to solve certain tasks, in particular tasks for which creativity is required or even rather expected. Hence, these kinds of tasks will help students to work more independently. Through the independent work they will gain sufficient practice in order to work autonomously. However, Breen suggests a further definition for a task:

Any structured language learning endeavour which has a particular objective, appropriate content, a specified working procedure, and a range of outcomes for those who undertake the task. ‘Task’ is therefore assumed to refer to a range of workplans which have the overall purpose of facilitating language learning – from simple and brief exercise type, to more complex and lengthy activities such as group problem-solving or simulations and decision making. (Breen 1987: 23)

Both definitions underline that “language is more than simply a system of rules” (Nunan 1989: 12). Therefore, TBL primarily focuses on meaning and communication rather than on form. Taking the second question mentioned above into account, students should learn English through tasks for several reasons: Firstly, the focus of a task is laid on meaning, as mentioned before. Secondly, a task has a context and also promotes the use of language in a purposeful way. Thirdly, real-world processes of language use can be involved. Fourthly, a task involves cognitive processes. Lastly, a task has a noticeably defined communicative outcome, i.e. there is a decision made (cf. MA 2008: 3). Brown identifies the following 5 characteristics of a task-based approach to language teaching:

(1) An emphasis on learning to communicate through interaction in the target language.
(2) The introduction of authentic texts into the learning situation.
(3) The provision of opportunities for learners to focus, not only on language, but also on the learning process itself.
(4) An enhancement of the learner’s own personal experiences as important contributing elements to classroom learning.
(5) An attempt to link classroom language learning with language activation outside the classroom. (Brown 1994: 228)

The teacher has to take these 5 characteristics into account when thinking of task-based language learning in classroom.


Excerpt out of 14 pages


Learner Autonomy in the Classroom. How to Create a Positive Learning Atmosphere
University of Duisburg-Essen  (Anglophone Studies)
Learner Autonomy in Practice
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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learner, autonomy, classroom, create, positive, learning, atmosphere
Quote paper
Hülya Atasoyi (Author), 2014, Learner Autonomy in the Classroom. How to Create a Positive Learning Atmosphere, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/313282


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