Attending the one-day international English as a Second/Foreign Language Conference entitled “Involving Language Learners: Success Stories and Constraints”, jointly hosted by the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language’s (IATEFL) Learner Autonomy Special Interest Group (LASIG) and the Didactics Section of the Department of Anglophone Studies at the University of Duisburg-Essen, was certainly a privilege. The conference, held at the Essen Campus of the University, brought together researchers, enthusiasts and „cautious“ practitioners all with a vested interest in Learner Autonomy.
The opening address by the LASIG coordinator, the renowned teacher, teacher trainer, author and Danish poineer of autonomous language learning, Dr. h.c. Leni Dam put participants in a frame of mind to engage with the many issues raised during the day related to getting students actively involved in their learning. Finding a point of entry to get started in this process and having a readiness to venture into the unknown were the initial steps identified for teachers to take in order for them to help their students become what one researcher has described as “shareholders of their own learning”.
The first keynote address was then presented by Prof. em. Dr. Lienhard Legenhausen who discussed key principles underlying and guiding Learner Autonomy and stressed the importance (and challenge) for teachers to accept and cultivate the natural process of development which occurs when students “construct language”.
In the ensuing sessions, workshop facilitators and presenters shared their experience and research on the development of Learner Autonomy and other related capacities in Teacher and in-service training, with a coursebook, using Web 2.0 technology and in exploring the role of self-assessment in this context.
After a well-deserved break, the afternoon keynote, delivered by Prof. Dr. Markus Ritter focussed in on the teacher education perspective and the way in which the English Teacher Education Programme at the University of Bochum is attempting to prepare student teachers with the tools and skills they need to support the development of independent learners, by viewing learning as a holistic experience.
In the afternoon workshops, which looked at developing responsible learners in contexts like Content and Language Intergrated Learning (CLIL), primary education, teacher training or those in which digital media are used and the general issue of dealing with practical constraints, one core point of discussion (also reiterated in the reflections with which the event culminated) was the importance of bringing out students’ potential by challenging them to understand, reflect on and make personal choices regarding their own learning. By thoughtfully designing appropriate and interesting task/activities, i.e. the tools which our students will use as “starters” to discover this potential, we are truly authenticating and autonomizing the learning and teaching process.
Finally, for those of us for whom Learner Autonmony is not just a buzz word, but a “value-laden” personality-embedded approach to teaching, we will certainly take up the Leni Dam challenge of seeing our constraints as challenges to be dealt with and taking the success story forward.
Thanks to the experienced support team led by Prof. Dr. Bernd Rüschoff and other conference stalwarts of the Department and the LASIG, the success of the event was not only reflected in a number of applications made for membership to the LASIG, but also in the collegial mood still evident in the informal exchanges at the Ritter “Gluhwein” stand of the Christmas market in the heart of Europe’s Culture Capital 2010.
Definitely what can be defined as an intellectually stimulating Friday to spur on future success!