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An AZ of methodology: Autonomy

What and why?

Autonomy has two main aspects in language teaching. The first concerns the students'
use of the language. The ultimate goal of most language teaching is to develop the
students' autonomy in their own language use. That is, to develop the ability to use the
language as they need or want to. This has direct implications for the kind of tasks that
students are asked to do. If students are only asked to do 'closed tasks' they are unlikely
to develop the ability to use the language with ease. open-ended tasks are much more
important in this respect.
The second aspect of autonomy, however, concerns how the students learn. If all the
decisions about learning are always taken by the teacher, the students will not have the
opportunity to decide things for themselves. This means that they will not develop the
ability to learn by themselves or to work out what works best for them as individuals. In
a rapidly changing world, however, these abilities are increasingly important as people
are continually required to learn new skills and absorb new information. Learning how
to learn should thus be a vital component in any educational course.
Practical ideas
Cambridge English Worldwide incorporates numerous tasks which require
students to decide things for themselves, to plan and to evaluate. You can
discuss these tasks with the students so that they understand the value of them
in helping them to learn without your direct supervision.
The Listening and Speaking Pack provides a good support for the students to
exercise autonomy in learning. You can spend some time discussing with the
students how they use the cassette, when they listen to it, and so on.
The help yourself section in the Workbook (Level 1 onwards) offers practical
support in developing the students' autonomy in learning. You can read and
discuss some of the ideas with the students, and then return to this after a week
or so and ask how many of the techniques they have used, why they have or
have not done so, and so on.
The decide exercises ask students to make decisions. You can increase the
number of these in order to encourage the students to take more responsibility.
See also do it yourself.
After the students have decided something and then carried it out, it is
important for them to evaluate what they have done. You can discuss what they
did, how it went and how they could improve it next time.
Stress to the students that there are a number of vital tools for learning. They
need to have a bilingual dictionary, a grammar, notebooks and a cassette player.