This story is based on my experience of introducing learner autonomy in bachelor level in teaching reading. Introducing autonomy in the class where the students are very much habituated to teacher fronted and teacher controlled classroom is a very tough job. They are usually highly reluctant to take responsibility of their learning. They lack confidence and motivation. In the beginning of my intervention, they tended to think that they can do nothing on their own regarding reading. When I asked them to read texts at home on their own, very few of them did so in the beginning. One of the students said “madam can you provide me with the techniques to read at home own my own. I understand nothing”. Other students said, “There are a lot of new words in the texts. If I started to look them up in the dictionary it takes me a lot of time”. Still other said, “If you provide me with the answer I can memorize them and write in the exam. I am not sure of the answers I write myself”. There were similar views from other students as well.
In the beginning I was also frustrated because the students were unlikely to follow my idea. I kept on convincing them that they knew more than they thought they knew. I said that if they learned any new word in any reading text they would encounter the same word in other texts as well which would facilitate their learning and the time consumed in one unit will save time for other units. Then I asked them to make flash cards for any new words they encountered. Their flash cards would contain words along with the pronunciation in one side and the meaning, one suitable example sentence where the word is used in meaningful sense and any other relevant information on the other side. They found the idea very interesting. It helped to bring a kind of variation in the classroom as well. Slowly and gradually students became habituated to keep cards. I kept on asking them to make cards of new words every day. At the end of intervention almost all students started to keep their flash cards which helped them increase their vocabulary as well as boost up their confidence in reading.
Slowly I shifted from explaining passage to providing them with the tasks and asking them to do the task in the class under my guidance. I divided them in groups and asked them to read and underline answers to the questions in reading texts. They would be happy to do so. I checked and confirmed their answers with the whole class. I did the same with true false items and other comprehension based exercises. To make certain whether they were doing the exercises sincerely, I would ask them to note down page number, paragraph number as well as the line number in the text. If it were true false item they would not only have to tell whether the statement was true or false but also why it was true or false. This made them somehow serious in their reading.
The interesting thing was that they did not think they understood the passage even if they were able to do all the exercises given in the text. They kept on demanding that I read and explain the text for them even after they had done all the exercises. Not to make them frustrated I did the same for some texts but my explanation was always after they had finished doing the exercises. I made them write the answers to the questions discussed in the class at home. The problem was that even if they could find out the answer in the text most of them had problems in writing the answers. To improve their ability to write answers, I checked their answers (giving focus to the weaker ones) and provided them with answers.
When the students became a bit habituated in doing the tasks on their own in the classroom, I asked them to read texts at home before that was discussed in the classroom. Some students started to do the same and realized that their understanding was better. I kept on encouraging them and appreciating their efforts. From this they felt a sense of achievement. This encouraged other students to read text independently. Then the class started to be interactive in comparison to teacher fronted class. At the end of my one month intervention there were apparent positive changes.
Nowadays, slowly and gradually my students are becoming independent in their reading though there is still long way to go. I have a sense of achievement for this has brought some hope and confidence in my students regarding their study. Now I have realized that “small things matter”.
(Ms. Madhu Neupane, Lecturer, has been teaching at the Central Department of English Education, Tribhuvan University, for 6 years. She completed Master’s Degree in English Education in 2003 and Master’s Degree in English Literature in 2008. She has published some articles and books and presented papers in different conferences. She has experience of teaching English from Primary Level to Master’s Degree. She has conducted some research in the area of ELT. At present she is an executive member as well as life member of NELTA. Her interests include teaching and conducting research in ELT.)
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