Language Learning Strategy Instruction

This month we are publishing Learning Strategy Instruction in the Language Classroom edited by Anna Uhl Chamot and Vee Harris. In this post Vee explains the inspiration behind the book.

The inspiration for this book emerged from a chat with some colleagues at the end of a busy day. The discussion centred around research into language learner strategies: those internal tactics that people use to help them memorise vocabulary in another language or to make themselves understood, for example. Thinking perhaps there was something we both had missed, we tentatively suggested that there was a lack of research into how to actually teach these strategies. In the course of our classroom-based research, we had been struck by the way studies into Language Learning Strategy Instruction (LLSI) described in detail research methods and results but said little about the rationale underlying the teaching activities and approaches used. To our surprise, our colleagues shared our concern and we agreed that a book devoted uniquely to this area would be a valuable resource for both researchers and teachers alike. We decided to widen our enquiry to colleagues in a range of other countries and contexts, inviting them also to contribute a chapter on a topic of their choice. Committed to bridging the gap between research and practice, we stressed that their chapters could deal with the theoretical issues LLSI raised but could equally well describe concrete materials for teaching strategies to different age groups.

We were overwhelmed by the enthusiasm to participate whether from colleagues in the USA, New Zealand, Canada, or the UK. However two further areas emerged from their suggestions. The first was to have a section on those strategies that have been under-researched and therefore not frequently taught, such as strategies for learning grammar or developing Critical Cultural Awareness. The second would address the lack of guidance on integrating LLSI into pre- and in-service teacher education. Hence there are four parts to the book: parts 1 and 2 deal with issues such as the range of approaches to LLSI, and identifying and teaching the under-researched strategies. Parts 3 and 4 focus on the implementation of LLSI whether through the use of technology and the coursebook or through engaging with teachers.

Our book draws on scholars with a long-established, international reputation such as Andrew Cohen, Rebecca Oxford and Joan Rubin as well as new researchers and practising teachers. The contributors use their extensive knowledge and experience to present a ‘state of the art’ picture of Language Learning Strategy Instruction. However the book also looks to the future; so each chapter ends with key questions to be resolved within that topic area and the book concludes with a chapter that offers a map for future research directions.

The book will be an important resource for researchers both for its critical perspectives and for supporting them in designing interventions to implement LLSI. It should prove equally valuable to all informed languages teachers and students studying to become languages teachers, since it is one of a very small number of publications to include detailed teaching materials and activities. Although many of the illustrations are for ESL/EFL students, some are in French and German.

Finally it should also be relevant to all those with an interest in Second Language Acquisition since the mental and social processes of language learning, the reasons for differences in the rate and route learners take, and why some learners do so much better than others lie at the heart of our understanding of language learning strategies.

Vee Harris

This book is published in memory of Anna Uhl Chamot, who sadly passed away during the publication process.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting you might also like Language Learner Autonomy by David Little, Leni Dam and Lienhard Legenhausen.

What Does Language Learning Outside the Classroom Look Like?

This month we published Second Language Literacy Practices and Language Learning Outside the Classroom by Miho Inaba. In this post the author explains what inspired this study and how she carried out her research.

I first became interested in out-of-class language learning more than 10 years ago when I had just started my career as a teacher of Japanese at a university in Sweden. I vividly remember how in my very first week at the university, some of my students told me about their favourite Japanese pop culture, such as anime (Japanese cartoons), manga (Japanese comic books) and movies. It was shocking to me at that time – I wondered how they could know Japanese pop culture better than me even though they were on the opposite side of the planet. I was also surprised by the fact that they could speak Japanese even before completing beginner level. It all started from there.

I then started asking my students what they had done in Japanese outside the classroom and realised that almost all do something extra in Japanese alongside their classroom-based study. At the same time, I started wondering what I could do to support their study as a teacher of Japanese. This question motivated (and still motivates) me to dig into out-of-class language learning for my research.

One big challenge when conducting this research was to decide which data collection methods to use. Out-of-class literacy practices are usually ‘hidden’ from teachers, and students undertake such activities irregularly. The very nature of out-of-class language learning might make the research on this topic complicated. However, when considering the different data collection methods available, I came across the ‘diary study with photos’ method in several papers in the field of literacy studies. Visual information is crucial to be included because one feature of literacy in this digital age is its multimodality.

In the end, I decided to employ this diary study with photo method alongside interviews, and asked the participants to include visual information as much as possible, for example, screenshots of websites and photos of books that they had read. I also asked them to bring paper-based materials to class (e.g. their books and essays for the Japanese classes) if possible. In the interviews, I used such visual materials to trigger the students’ memory when they engaged in particular literacy activities in their diaries. They sometimes even used my computer to demonstrate how they utilised online tools and websites. I think this method enabled me to collect rich data in a less intrusive way than either observations or video recordings and also helped me to understand the contexts of their literacy practices.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Language Learner Autonomy by David Little, Leni Dam and Lienhard Legenhausen.

Three decades working with language learner autonomy

This month we are publishing Language Learner Autonomy by David Little, Leni Dam and Lienhard Legenhausen. In this post the authors reflect on three decades’ work in the field.

Learner autonomy entails that learners are fully involved in planning, implementing and evaluating their own learning. We were first introduced to the concept in the 1980s. For Leni Dam it offered a way of responding to the challenge of differentiation in teaching and learning at school; for Lienhard Legenhausen and David Little it was a prerequisite for successful self-access language learning at university. Our collaboration of almost three decades, however, has focused on classroom learning. Leni and Lienhard have used empirical techniques to explore the outcomes of autonomous language learning and compare them with the outcomes achieved by learners working with a ‘communicative’ textbook; while David has been concerned to derive pedagogical principles from successful practice to facilitate replication in other contexts.

Although learner autonomy has been a focus for innovation in language education for almost forty years, it’s equally relevant to other areas of the curriculum. In our view its operationalization entails that learner self-management and reflective learning are exercised and further developed via ‘practice’ appropriate to the curriculum subject in question. In a language classroom, practice means use of the target language as the preferred medium of communication and reflection. Under guidance from their teacher, autonomous language learners use the target language from the beginning to plan, implement and evaluate their learning. Writing plays an indispensable role: learning is documented in logbooks and portfolios, and this supports use of the oral language and facilitates reflection on the process and content of learning.

It is sometimes assumed that learner autonomy is concerned exclusively with individual learning, but this is a misunderstanding. All effective classroom learning is based on interactive communication; what makes the autonomy classroom different is the fact that, by definition, the learners have equal right of access to all discourse roles, initiating as well as responding. Our experience leads us to define the autonomy classroom as a self-generating and self-maintaining community of practice whose members develop proficiency by using the target language to manage their own learning individually and collaboratively. This means that they devise their own learning materials and produce a wide variety of creative texts – stories, poems, plays, and reports on projects of many different kinds.

Some years ago, Leni asked a class of 15-year-olds, ‘After four years of learning English, how would you assess your overall progress?’ This is what one girl wrote (transcribed without correction):

“I already make use of the fixed procedures from our diaries when trying to get something done at home. Then I make a list of what to do or remember the following day. That makes things much easier. I have also via English learned to start a conversation with a stranger and ask good questions. And I think that our “together” session has helped me to become better at listening to other people and to be interested in them. I feel that I have learned to believe in myself and to be independent.”

Clearly, in four years this learner has acquired a proficiency in English that extends her communicative and reflective capacity and with it her identity. Her facility in writing implies that English is a fully integrated part of her developing plurilingual literacy.

The autonomy classroom shares fundamental pedagogical principles with inclusive education. It is thus not surprising that autonomous learning succeeds with students whose learning difficulties might cause them to fail in more traditional pedagogical settings. We have also found that learner autonomy empowers adult refugees learning the language of their host community; and that when primary pupils from immigrant families are encouraged to use their home languages in the classroom (even though their teacher may not understand them), this not only helps them come to grips with curriculum content but also gives them an interest in taking autonomous learning initiatives.

Everything we have written about learner autonomy over the past thirty years or so has taken successful practice as its starting point, and we have always believed that learner autonomy is first a pedagogical imperative and only secondly a fertile research topic. Aimed at student teachers, teacher educators and language learning researchers, our book will have served its purpose if it encourages more language teachers to embrace the principles of learner autonomy and find ways of implementing them in their classrooms.

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also enjoy Managing Diversity in Education edited by David Little, Constant Leung and Piet Van Avermaet.