Autonomy and Children. Students’ and the teacher’s point of view of an English class about autonomy

Bachelor Thesis, 2013

45 Pages


Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Contextual Framework
Continuous Education Program in the School of Languages
Programmatic Structures
Accreditation and Graduate Profile
Self-Access Centre

Chapter 2: Theoretical Framework
Autonomous learners
Self- Access Centre Ideology

Chapter 3: Methodology
Research methodology: case study
Instruments and methods

Chapter 4: Analysis of the data collection
Classroom visits
Teacher’s interview

Chapter 5: Conclusions



Simple questionnaire questions

Sample Interview questions

Students’ questionnaire answers

Teacher’s interview transcription


Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself


Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for the rest of his life


“Learning a language is a process of working little by little and every day for the rest of your life” (Sinclair, McGrath, & Lamb, 2001). This is the point of view of some teachers when it comes to autonomy. Although this statement does not define the concept of autonomy, it expresses the need for teachers to promote it among learners. Learner autonomy, as Smith (ND) mentioned on his research, has recently acquired prominence in discourse on foreign language education.

Learning a foreign language may sometimes become difficult because of the many factors that interact in this process, for example culture, grammar structures, vocabulary, idioms… Some people think that acquiring a foreign language on their own is not possible because students need a teacher who guides them, but if they wanted to, they could be an autonomous learner. Autonomy can take place both inside and outside the classroom; it depends on the willingness, positive attitudes and responsibility that students have.

The educational system to teach a foreign language has changed through the years. We have left in the past those years when the teacher gave all the information and the students just received it. Nowadays the teacher should promote learners’ autonomy as a new way to study a foreign language. This means that students search the explanations in books or internet and the teacher just works as a guide, helping students without giving them absolutely everything (Smith, ND).

Due to the fact that most educational systems nowadays are concerned with the promotion of autonomy, it seems fundamental to explore what the techniques of a teacher are to teach a foreign language to children in an autonomous way. This is the reason why we worked with an English group of children; part of the program called “Continuous Education”, to know and explore their experience in the process of working in an autonomous way during their first semester and if this process helps them to achieve their academic goals.

The Continuous Education Department designs, develops and evaluates new materials for people who have no access to a university system. The School of Languages, through his Continuous Education Department offers English language courses for students from twelve to seventeen, that is to say, children from elementary school level and teenagers from middle and high school. The purpose of these courses aims, in the case of elementary school children, to provide an initial approach to the basic structures of the English language; and in the case of middle and high school teenagers, the courses have a dual purpose: firstly, to remedy the issues that impede learning, and secondly, to improve and deepen incorporating more knowledge. (Veracruzana, n.d.)

Therefore, the profile of the people interested in studying the English language in this department is:

- Being a student from 6th grade (elementary school), middle or high school levels.
- Being really interested in learning or consolidating their knowledge in English.

Here is important to mention that some students do not want to study English, but take these courses because of their parents. Ideally, students should not be forced by their parents or somebody else to take the course; they should have the conviction to learn a foreign language. Otherwise, it is very unlikely that learning takes place, and even more unlikely to become an autonomous language learner.

We decided to work with this type of learners because they are students from 12 to 15 years old and they are from different schools where their teachers are usually the kind of teachers that gives them all the material and if the student has a question, he only waits for the teacher’s answer. We know that because as them we were students and we had this kind of teachers. According to what Rawls (1971), young students work in a paternalistic way and this is the reason why they are not interested in searching the answers on their own.

In this research project, we will attempt to describe the students’ and the teacher’s point of view of an English class about autonomy, what the opinion of the teacher is, what she does to develop it in their students and what the students do. Another aspect we wanted to explore was the reasons why the students go to Self Access Centre, which is a place where students can practice and improve their English. The general aim of the study is to know what the teacher does to develop their students’ autonomy and how these students perceive the process of being an autonomous learner.

To answer our questions, we first interviewed the teacher, who works in Continuous Education Department with a Junior II level, in order to know what strategies she uses to promote her students’ autonomy. Then we gave some of her students a questionnaire and we did some classroom visits in order to understand their point of view and their experiences about learning in an autonomous way.

In the first chapter, Contextual framework, we present the context of the study and give an overview of the institutional vision and mission of the University of Veracruz according to the Continuous Education Department. Also, it presents the history of this department and the functions of the Self- Access Centre. The second chapter of this project describes some aspects about autonomy and its impact in teaching a foreign language, as well as the main characteristics of an autonomous learner and the ideology of a Self- Access Centre.

The third chapter is the methodology. In this section we talk about the methods we used in order to answer our research questions. We also describe the instruments: the interview to the teacher, the questionnaires for the students and the observations (classroom visits). The fourth chapter presents the analysis of the data collected in the interview, the questionnaires and the classroom visits. Finally, we present the conclusions of our research.

Chapter 1: Contextual Framework

This chapter discusses the vision and mission of the Continuous Education program of the School of Languages of the University of Veracruz. We are going to learn about the general history and the development of this program, what the specific requirements and its objectives are and some other important aspects. Also in this section we give a general vision about what the Self- Access Centre in the School of Languages is.

Continuous Education Program in the School of Languages

According to the information in its website (, attending to their mission to help people to learn a new language, the School of Languages of the University of Veracruz created two departments to promote the knowledge of foreign languages, not only for BA Language students, but also for anyone who would like to learn them. These departments are The Foreign Language Department (DELEX, for its initials in Spanish), which is committed to teach foreign languages to people older than eighteen years old. This department offers courses of English, French, Italian, German, Japanese, Portuguese, and recently Chinese; and the Continuous Education Department, which is the department committed to teach English to teenagers and children.


The purpose of this program is oriented, in the case of sixth grade primary school children, to provide a first approach to the basic structures of the English language. In the case of middle and high school youths, the program has a dual purpose: first, to remedy the issues that impede learning English, and second, to improve and strengthen English language learning by incorporating new knowledge. The main objective of the Continuous Education Program is to contribute through their program content to start, strengthen or remedy, and generally to improve the quality of students’ foreign language acquisition process.


According to the profile required, applicants must be students who will pursue the sixth grade or any of the middle or high school levels, and who are interested in initiating or strengthening their English language skills. Although students are supposed to attend these courses willingly, it is not uncommon that it is their parents who want them to do it whether because they consider it is necessary for their children to learn the language or they want them to overcome difficulties they are having with this subject at their schools.

Programmatic Structures

For each level, elementary, middle and high school, courses are totally independent from each other, and each one reaches its own objectives. In table 1 we can observe how the courses are divided according to the scholar level of the children.

Table 1: programmatic structure

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

For each level there are from two to five groups and these are divided by the age of the learners in order to make them feel more comfortable studying with people from the same age. However, the level children take also depends on the previous knowledge of the language they may have.

Accreditation and Graduate Profile

The way to get the grade is to pass the mid-term and final examinations as well as participation in class and extra-class activities. The exams are created by the group of teachers giving the corresponding levels. Attendance is also of paramount importance to pass the courses, as students are required to attend to at least 80% of the classes.

At the end of each course, students will ideally have achieved the objectives in each of them. The preparation they have received in these courses is expected to be palpable in real terms for their self-benefit, giving them confidence for further study, as well as the possibility to develop strategies to encourage independent learning.

Self-Access Centre

A Self-Access Centre (SAC) is a language laboratory created to promote the practice and self-learning of a language. SACs may vary in their nature, size and mode of operation. The School of Languages has its own SAC, created in 1994. This SAC has different materials for all language skills: oral, written, multimedia, audio-visual and for reference. The materials are designed in order to allow self-correction and self-evaluation, and they can be used in different ways, whether individually or in groups, with different levels of difficulty for different learning styles and they are organised in a way that intends to facilitate their access for the users.

The Self- Access Centre, as a self-learning Centre, has a reception where users can register their attendance to the SAC and in which of the four rooms they are going to work. It has a booth control where users can sort out any technical problem they may have; and where they can also ask for audio-visual material like CDs, CD-ROMs and DVD materials. There are five rooms where users can go to. The reading room offers the users a wide variety of authentic material such as magazines, books, novels and journals. In this room there are also materials with specific information about vocabulary and grammar not just for English but also for some other languages like French, Italian among others. In the video room users can watch TV series, documentaries, films, cartoons, and special language learning videos. In the computer room users can check online material and also search for information about grammar and vocabulary. And finally, the audio room where users can not only listen to music or interviews, but also practice their own pronunciation by recording themselves. All these resources provide an environment in which students can keep a record of the different tasks they have covered on their own.

There is also a room equipped with a TV, a computer connected to a projector and internet access, where teachers can make presentations for their students or consult web pages to give an explanation for the class. There are two cubicles where teachers can give special courses for a maximum of 8 students, as well as personalised guidance to provide students with the better resources in the centre to clarify specific grammar problems they may be having. These cubicles also are used for conversational circles in different languages; in those conversational circles students can practice their speaking skills and also correct pronunciation problems. There is also a teachers’ room, where teachers can work in order to create new materials for students. Not all the teachers of the School of Languages work at the SAC; only a few cover part of their academic load here.

Chapter 2: Theoretical Framework

What is autonomy? How important is autonomy when we talk about learning a foreign language? As one of the main purposes of this research is to find what is the perception of students from Continuous Education about autonomy and what teachers do in order to promote it, in this chapter we present the opinions of different authors about what autonomy means and the importance of this in a foreign language, how this is linked to rationality, the problems of being paternalistic in a classroom, and what the characteristics of an autonomous learner are.


The development of autonomy is an important issue individually as well as socially in that, according to the illustrated encyclopaedic dictionary, it is the state and condition of each individual or country that can manage himself with total independence (Nieto, 2008). This means that autonomy implies individuals acting in order to reach a goal on their own.

People are said to be autonomous when they show interest and initiative towards a particular topic, theme and/or learning experience. That is, when they approach a task without external demand or pressure (Benson & Voller, 2000). In such a case, people show certain characteristics as it is shown in table 2 on the following page, where the process that has been developed over time is made evident, showing what some authors believe to be the characteristics of autonomous learners:

Table 2: autonomy definitions

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Taking into account the previous definitions of autonomy, we therefore consider that being an autonomous learner includes:

1- Being aware of all the strategies they apply in their learning process and if these are effective,
2- Developing analytical thinking,
3- Taking responsibility for their own learning, and
4- Self-Evaluation.

Nevertheless, it is important to mention that although the concept of autonomous learning has been around for more than three decades, it is still the cause of controversial disputes among scholars, who still conduct research to find out the advantages and disadvantages of such learning concept.


According to Rawls (1971), ‘Paternalistic interference must be justified by the evident failure or absence of reason and will; and it must be guided by the principles of justice and what it is known about the subject’s more permanent aims and preferences, or by the account of primary goods.’

One of the main problems when teaching in a classroom is to become paternalistic. In the classroom, the students start asking the teacher the meaning of the vocabulary or about the grammar; and the teacher very often gives the students the answers of everything, materials to improve their knowledge, and often forget that students should also search the information to answer their questions by themselves.

Some people may wonder, if it is the students who have to search the information, what is the role of the teacher then? Throughout this century, the role of the teacher has changed, from being considered as giving the students all the answers to serving the students as a guide. When a student has no idea of where or how they can find selected information, teachers can guide them, tell them where they can search, or explain the information that the students found.

When the students cannot find the information about certain topics, or if the information they have found is wrong or unsatisfactory, the teacher can return to his previous teaching role and teach the topic However, this does not mean that teaching is not one of teachers’ primary functions. If a teacher uses autonomy as an excuse not to teach anything and provides no guidance at all, it is unlikely that learning will take place or learners’ autonomy will develop.

Autonomous learners

Autonomous learners are those who work based on their own necessities and interests. They should be capable of monitoring their own learning; moreover, they should develop different strategies in order to keep growing in their process of acquiring a language. As a consequence, learners may be more active, independent, creative, participative and reflexive learners, in two words, more autonomous.

In her essay about Learner Autonomy, Chang (2001) states

The development of learner autonomy as an important general educational goal has been widely recognised and broadly accepted by the language teaching profession. When learners cannot learn the way we teach them, we have to help them to find ways of doing their own learning.

This means that learners’ autonomy has been accepted by the contemporary language teachers. Possibly the most important assertion of this quotation refers to the fact that we, as teachers, have the responsibility to help students being autonomous, especially when the way we teach them is no longer a way in which they can learn.

According to Little (2001) the central goal of a pedagogy oriented to the development of learning autonomy must be to equip learners with a capacity to use and learn their target language beyond the physical and temporal limits of their immediate learning environment.

Self- Access Centre Ideology

As Delors (1996) has mentioned, “School should impart a desire for and pleasure in learning, the ability to learn how to learn, and intellectual curiosity. One might even imagine a society in which each individual would be in turn both teacher and learner.” In order to make Delors’ desire of promoting autonomy come true, there must be an interaction with learning resources. That is why Self- Access Centres have been built as spaces where students are expected to develop their skills in the process of learning a foreign language.


Excerpt out of 45 pages


Autonomy and Children. Students’ and the teacher’s point of view of an English class about autonomy
University of Veracruz  (Language Faculty)
English Language
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
autonomy, children, students’, english
Quote paper
Julio Antonio Rodríguez Lara (Author)Ytzell Ofelia Vázquez Galván (Author), 2013, Autonomy and Children. Students’ and the teacher’s point of view of an English class about autonomy, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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