6 Tips to kill learner autonomy in EFL “Learner Autonomy”;

Learner Autonomy: most of us like the concept of it. Some of us underline the importance of it. Some of us think that it is a great idea but our learners cannot become autonomous because their families didn’t raise them that way or only highly skilled/enthusiastic learners can reach autonomy. A few of us believe in the possibility and work on it consciously. Anyway, below are the six things, I believe, that does not help learner autonomy whatsoever.

1. Not considering/not empathizing with learner difficulties

Even if the learner is a highly intelligent, skillful professional with a degree, s/he is vulnerable and anxious while learning a foreign language. A foreign language teacher’s initial job is making the learners feel that they are in a safe learning atmosphere. It is not utterly easy to learn a language especially when you are an adult or a teenager. There are millions of other things on your mind, and learning a language require concentration and a strong will as well as great determination. It is our job to consider the levels of difficulty of the tasks, possible problems that can occur while learning a certain aspect of that day’s target language.

2. Spoon-feeding while presenting the language

Not letting learners discover the target language by themselves and for themselves, not trusting the learners’ skills and/ or intelligence also kill autonomy. Inductive language teaching by means of contextualised input  works wonders, but some of us love to be the ‘giver’ of the knowledge:) or controlling everything.  Or some of us use documents like this one, of which aim I have not been able to figure out since I found it next to the photocopy machine in the institution I work for. Puzzled?? Yes, me too.

Guess what? Some of the learners learn despite us.


3. Crushing confidence by constantly correcting errors and focusing on mistakes rather than meaningful and timely praising

Mistakes mean that the learner is trying to learn. So long as the focus is not just accuracy, we need to learn how to postpone our feedback on mistakes. In written work, who likes it when it is full of red ink correction! I remember once, I had given a composition to my Italian teacher with all my enthusiasm and belief in the best work I could have come up with. I will never forget how my heart had sunk whe nI saw all the mistakes on the paper:(. Did I ever look at that paper again? Did I try to learn from these mistakes? No! Even though I am an eager language learner in general who was willing to learn Italian at the time. How about giving focused error correction instead of correcting every single mistake?

4. Using Worksheets with Azar type exercises as class materials:

Fill in the blanks with the correct form of the verbs given in the brackets.

Remember that instruction? Exactly 🙂 All of us have given them; some of us have given them sometimes, some of us have given them when we are too lazy, a few of us have given them when it was absolutely necessary, for whatever the reason is. Those of us who wanted to make learners autonomous have taken them with a pinch of salt. Why? How can one learn how to retain the required language in real life by answering these type of decontextualised, mechanical and non- personalized exercises? See the sample on the left; who can tell me the learning objective of this material? Who can tell me the learning outcome or the communicative value of it? Please let me know if you do. I certainly cannot.

5. Not teaching strategies while teaching skills and subskills

Scan the text below and answer the questions. OR listen to the tape recorder and answer the questions below. OR OK, you two, you are working in pairs. Here are the role cards, OK. A: You have a headache and you are complaining about it to your friend. B: You give suggestions to your friend. Now go. OR OK, everybody, I’d like you to write about the most important day in your life in 10 minutes. Well, you know past tense, you can do it, no complaints, come on!

How about sparing a few minutes before showing a few different strategies/models to do the task and sparing a few minutes more after the activity for double- checking how it is achieved instead of just checking the answers with the strongest in the front seats.

6. Not teaching different ways of recording vocabulary

Different people learn lexis differently. It is our job to show them as many techniques as we can for them to choose from. Research says that students learn only 20% of their vocabulary thanks to us. Teaching them ways of recording them will help them retrieve the words when they need it. It will help them reach autonomy. After all, we will not be able to teach them 7000-8000 word families that allow them to become completely independent and fluent users of English (Schmitt, 2008)!


12 thoughts on “6 Tips to kill learner autonomy in EFL “Learner Autonomy”;

  1. Great summary, Burcu.
    Another one that I keep coming across everywhere is that they don’t allow for experiments with the language. I believe this goes hand in hand with the error correction. I also like to take it a bit further and encourage learners to, for example, guess the meaning of the sentence based on stressed words and then reconstructing the meaning in different ways. There may be more than one. And it DOESN’T matter if they make mistakes, as long as meaning is understood, and if opportunity arises,plus the learners are ready to notice differences AND take them on board, ask them to compare their versions with grammatically correct ones and discuss THEIR “why?”s.

  2. Exactly.. I mean, I am really puzzled when the opposite is experienced in 21st century langugae classrooms. I am asking to myself why? why? why? why are we so controlling? What have we exactly gained from it in our experience?
    Thanks for your comment, Erika.

  3. Dear Burcu,
    It’s really a great self reflection and summary that unfortunately most of us come across many times. I strongly believe in the importance of strategies in language learning. However, neither our teachers nor students look so interested in this issue.
    Well I think we feel more secure in controlled practices rather than taking risks and exploring something.


  4. Hi Sultan,
    thanks for your comment. It si harder to set up communicative tasks, for sure. But they triple the fun both for learners and the teachers, let alone the communicative value of them.

  5. Thank you Cherry. Glad it works like this. I just poured my heart about the issue 🙂

  6. Pingback: 6 Tips to kill learner autonomy in EFL « flwi blogt

  7. Hi Burcu,

    Really appreciated your reflections on learner autonomy and have just posted a link to this post on the TeachingEnglish facebook page if you’d like to check there for comments.

    Please feel free to post on the page whenever you have anything you’d like to share.



  8. Thank you very much for the article/ So right you are! I agree on each point, but could explain me point 5 – an example would be appreciated:) thank you!

  9. Hi Tania,
    Sorry I am a bit late.
    Thanks for your comments.
    The fifth one; well I observe classes sometimes and see that Some teacehrs do not spend time on modeling what to do and basically test students without actually teaching them especially langugae skiils are being neglected. Just answering comrehension auestions aft a reading test is not actually teaching. It is giving the answers. Do I make sense?

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