Sugata Mitra’s somewhat controversial plenary at the end of the IATEFL conference in Harrogate was interpreted by some as an assertion that teachers are unnecessary to the learning process. Despite the backlash from those who maintain that teachers are in no way superfluous to requirements, most would probably agree that learner autonomy is something greatly to be desired, and we have long known that no one can really learn anything just by turning up for an hour’s lesson once, or even twice, a week. It is the students who also spend hours practising at home and make learning part of their lives outside the classroom who tend to be the most successful.
However, so much emphasis is placed these days on language learning outside formal lessons that there sometimes appears to be an expectation that the bulk of the learning will occur outside the classroom, with actual face-to-face lessons being simply there for mopping up any lingering linguistic problems and setting the next tranche of work for the students to go off and do by themselves. This is an exaggeration of the concept of the ‘flipped classroom’, of course, but it is interesting that Linda Hanington and Poh Foong Kwah report that, whilst the students on their blended course gave a 100% endorsement to the online option, they still attended as many face-to-face sessions as they possibly could. They liked the fact that they had the choice of online learning in their own time, but they still really valued face-to-face contact with a teacher and their fellow students.
Whether we favour the flipped classroom or not – and whether the ‘digital divide’ that Nicky Hockly explores in her article actually gives us the choice, anyway – learner autonomy is here to stay, and the question for many teachers is how to achieve it.
In our main feature, Brian Morrison takes a systematic approach, offering frameworks to help the students map out and implement a learning plan so that they can take control of their learning in a structured way.
Unfortunately, it seems that wherever there are goals, achievement and progress, we can’t get away from the urge to test them. Greg Davies identifies the commercial need for progress to be quantifiable in the competitive world of private language schools as a negative factor in encouraging students to speak.
And just how good are we at evaluating people, anyway? Ted Kelsey uses the work of psychologist Daniel Kahneman to raise doubts about our capacity to take rational decisions, and he explores the effect this may have on the judgements we make about our students. Ted’s article was so interesting that I bought Kahneman’s book – recommended also by Alan Maley in a previous issue.
And if you want something to read while your students are off engaging in self-directed language learning, take a look at Alan’s suggestions for detective fiction in this issue. The Dr Siri books by Colin Cotterill are amongst my personal favourites.
I hope that you will enjoy this issue of English Teaching professional and that many of you will come to ETp Live! on 21st June 2014 at the Holiday Inn in Brighton. It is always a pleasure to meet readers and contributors to the magazine, and I hope you will agree that our conference programme is an interesting one and promises to deliver a series of thought-provoking and inspiring presentations.