Self-directed learning and Second Language Acquisition

The freedom that comes with having my own model of an ESL-incubator is that I have 100% autonomy,i.e. control of the variables. It also means I am 100%  responsible for the learning outcomes.  Knowing that an average young learner can reasonably commit only about 1.5 – 3 years to studying a language,what should my priority be?

This would be my priority :

  1. Play Dr.Phil and let learners grief and release their past negative associations with English language learning. My abilities would be so much easier to utilize if other teachers hadn’t traumatise English learners. A strong “affective barrier” makes them less receptive of new input that they would otherwise have understood.
  2. Form a safe environment for learning. They must be able to trust the teacher that I will not judge them, their classmates will not judge them and they are free to make as many mistakes as they need to. No exams, no pressure.
  3. Help them understand how and why they make mistakes (when they do make them.) People have a need to understand and knowing the differences between L1 and L2 and being able to identify that it’s MT interference and not a cognitive deficit helps with their confidence.
  4. Help them create a scaffolding of learning. By blending the correct mix of L1 and L2 in classroom interaction, it creates a bridge for them to build scaffoldings of learning for classroom learning which then becomes their scaffolding for real-life interactions.
  5. Help them find their individual purpose in learning is, not what the indoctrinated declaration is. If they do not have an intrinsic motivation, they are not going to be very effective learners.

This is neither an exhaustive nor exclusive list but it prepares the soil to plant the seed of self-directedness. A learner who is self-directed will, in over as little time as 2 years, show a 10 fold improvement from a student who resists learning (usually to protect their own egos). While this is anecdotal evidence, I had a student who in her Senior year, was notorious for folding her arms on her desk in preparation to sleep through English lessons.

After paying personal attention to her such as Steps 1 to 5, I was surprised at her motivation to participate in class, attend after school classes as well as lead collaborative assignments. Upon completing her senior year a few months later, she entered college to do a diploma in Hotel Management and Catering and apparently, obtained top marks, coming out first in class in consecutive semesters. And she was competing against people who came from English-speaking backgrounds.

Although personality is a factor in how learners respond to a teacher’s ‘grooming’ towards self-directedness, we should prioritize developing self-directedness because it is the most profitable

Self-directedness trumps all forms of expensive educational tools and investments in terms of measuring progress.

For a student to be self-directed, they must have a reason to trust themselves and the future they are headed towards. They must have a belief that the world they desire can happen.

It is not easy when many Asian students already come into an English course with so much emotional baggage and psychological trauma. Dysfunctional families create young people who feel hopeless. Hopelessness does not drive direction.  Severe psychic traumas inflicted by Chinese-medium schools dwell deep in the subconscious of the learner.

If a teacher cannot do anything else, just do healing. Heal the learner and hope that enough healing happens that the Seed of self-directedness can be planted.

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