In this paper, I will introduce techniques that enhance the effect of classes by
projecting video-materials that I edited on a wide screen. Then, I will describe students'
reaction to English essay writing about the video-material they viewed and their
attitude to working on presentations for their semester-final class. Finally, the question will be raised whether
student autonomy was promoted through these classes and what conditions appear to facilitate learner autonomy.
What is autonomy?
Dickinson (1987) says that autonomy development is facilitated through self-
instruction. He uses this term as referring to "the situations in which learners are working
without the direct control of a teacher" (p.8). He offers the following figure to explain the
Figure 1: A model of self-Instruction from Dickinson (1987, p. 8).
". . . there is an important distinction between learner-centered self-instruction and materials-centered self-instruction."
Dickinson mentions that there is an important distinction between learner-centered self-instruction
and materials-centered self-instruction. The former places responsibility
on the learners. So choices about language materials and ways managing their learning and so on
are left to the participants. Such students might not need any teacher's advice or help at all.
Such a hypothetical learner is regarded as truly autonomous. In materials-centered instruction, the
the teacher's role is partly defined by the teaching materials. The goals of the lesson, materials and so on
are supplied by teachers. Learners' have limited responsibility and freedom is allowed
only within programmed parameters.
Dickinson remarks that these two modes of self-instruction are placed at opposite ends of the continuum. If we put more weight on
learner-centered mode than materials-centered mode, greater autonomy will be given to
learners. In contrast, if teachers adopt materials-centered class, learners may be offered
less autonomy. So, there are various degrees of autonomy in most classes: full autonomy, semi-autonomy
and programmed learning. Along with his view, the following issues are worth considering:
- What kind of materials and methods are effective to have learners transfer from
programmed learning to an autonomous situation?
- What is the teacher's role and how do we lead learners to autonomy
- I selected ten great names from history (Ernest Hemingway, Christopher
Columbus, Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon I, Charlie Chaplin, Pablo Picasso, Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Albert
Einstein) as my material. I wanted my students to learn not only English from the textbook itself but also the details of great people's ways of lives through video-materials.
- The video-materials were not originally attached to the textbook but were recorder from the Japanese TV program Shitterutsumori over the past few years. The
soundtrack of this TV-program is Japanese and the recorded time of each videotape (if the parts of commercials are excluded) is about 25 minutes. First, I edited
by cutting the commercials and added key words in the form of English-captions
using video-editing equipment. Next, through an MPEG (Moving Picture Experts
Group) encoder, these motion pictures were stored in my personal computer by
separating the whole TV program into four or five short parts. MPEG makes it
possible to edit on the screen of the computer by encoding the analogue pictures
into digital-form. These 4-5 minute clips were then inserted into MS Power Point® and
titles such as "boyhood", "rosy period" and "last years" were added. Finally, I
made a slide of questions about the content of each part. I showed students the
slides of pictures and the slides of questions alternately by projecting them on a wide screen in the class.
- I prepared a handout on which titles and questions are written and left spaces for
students' own comments. Every time I showed students one part of the video-material, I had students answer the question and gave them time to write down their comments.
- I gave students the homework of looking up the words in the dictionary beforehand
to understand the content about personal history and anecdotes in the textbook
that has technical words expressing academic achievements of that person.
Video-materials provide detailed explanations for such words and the background
knowledge about the person. After having the students watch all the parts of a
great person's life on screen, I checked whether students could understand the
English sentences in the textbook or not. I had students outline the content by
using the background knowledge obtained from video-materials.
- At the end of every class, I instructed students to write short essays in English
about the person they appreciated, and to submit them at the beginning of the next class.
- In the final class, I had students make a five-minute oral presentation about
the great person that each student respected most. I left all matters concerning
selection, research and form of presentation to each student. I only instructed
them to tell the audience what particular aspect of that person they had most respect for.
It became clear that students made considerable efforts to research their chosen
person. For example, I learned from reading their essays, that some students had rented
videos/CD's to appreciate the work of the famous figure at home.
In the early stages, a few students told me that they were not good at writing essays
even in Japanese and had no idea what to write. They wanted to know what other students
felt and wrote in their essays. They even suggested to me that I introduce other students'
good essays as a model. So, I made and distributed handouts, introduced some of the
good English essays and had students translate into Japanese other students' essays. In
this way, we shared what other students felt in our class. It seems to me that this caused
them to tackle English essay writing more eagerly. Especially, the essays by those who
were weak in writing came to be richer in content than before. By knowing how other
students felt about that person, they discovered new ways of looking at things as well
as getting further information regarding the famous figure.
Only six out of thirty one students, who were very weak in English, could not write
their report in English. It is regrettable that they also gave their presentations in Japanese.
Most students clearly introduced an unknown aspect of the person they investigated by
books, Internet and so on. There were some students who made an enthusiastic speech
about the reason why they liked him/her so much through their own experience and they
had a lot of originality. The audience listened to each presentation attentively.
A final and important outcome was that a student approached me and asked me to
introduce materials on Isaac Newton. Although I did not have such materials, his request
caused me to change my lesson plan. Instead of a planned final written test, I asked
students to introduce a 'great person' of their choice to their fellow students. The great
people chosen by them included a scientist, a cartoonist, a writer, a musician, a politician,
an Olympic athlete, a marathon runner, a painter in the past and a handicapped person
in the present. Thirty one students chose one great person each, researched him/her
without assistance from the teacher and composed their reports themselves.
In the questionnaires sent out, students' comments appeared to be positive.
This perhaps reflects the importance of material-selection. One of the ways to bring
out students' autonomy begins with interesting them in teaching materials. In the process
of my teaching, some students began to appreciate the great person's work at home.
This fact indicates that the materials had a good effect on them. Students feel satisfaction
when there is English plus extra in the lesson. The 'extra' must be something that stirs up
learners' intellectual curiosity, interests and hearts. One student mentioned that learning
about a person through English was easy to work on. Dealing with great names of history
in the class may be one of many appropriate content choices. Using not only a textbook but also a video-image was helpful in
understanding the lives of famous people.
This comment concerns methodological techniques: how to present learning
materials to learners. When I showed students the slides that I edited by using Power
Point®, most students said that they could concentrate on the class and understand the
turning points of a great person's life easily, since the whole life of a great person was
edited by separating it into some parts with titles and questions. Having learners watch
edited video-materials might help them understand the material more fully and in turn
enhance their motivation. One student commented -
Though putting our own ideas down in English essay writing
was difficult, our writing ability improved a little and this work
was a lot of fun.
"When the teacher turned over responsibility for presentation to the students,
most students were forced to turn from materials-centered mode into learner-centered
English essay writing may have been tough for students but it gave them the
chance to think over what they watched again. Moreover, by putting themselves in the
great person's position, they may have greater understanding for them. As students
repeated essay writing, it seems that the content of their essays substantially improved
as compared to the early stages because what they felt through their experience or the
appreciation of the great person's work was included. I'm not sure whether I could lead students to full autonomy through these classes,
but it seems that their consciousness changed from material-centered mode to learner-centered mode little by little as in Dickinson's (1987) sense.
English essay writing about video-materials fits the materials-centered mode of self-
instruction. When the teacher turned over responsibility for presentation to the students,
most students were forced to turn from materials-centered mode into learner-centered
mode gradually. In other words, learners were obliged to transform from programmed
learning to semi-autonomy through the process of English essay writing and giving a
How do we lead learners to autonomy? It is the responsibility of teachers to find
ways in which they can have students take responsibility for their own learning. In order
to do this, it may be necessary to impose tasks. Murray (2000, p.118) remarks that
"promoting learner autonomy means structuring learning environments which enable
learners to assume responsibility and take control of their learning." When asked to give
a presentation, learners had to take full responsibility for the decision-making process.
I believe that this is the first step toward autonomy. To develop learner autonomy, a
teacher should create an environment that stimulates learners' interest and ask them
to complete tasks that place the responsibility for completion on the learners.
Dickinson, L. (1987). Self-instruction in language learning. Cambridge: Cambridge
Murray. G. R. (2000) Learner autonomy. Bulletin for the Tokai University Foreign Language Center,
Garrison, D. R. (1992). Critical thinking and self-directed learning in adult education:
An analysis of responsibility and control issues. Adult Education Quarterly, 42 (3), 136-148.