The Role of Autonomy and Strategic Involvement in Communicative Language Teaching
The teaching of the second language (L2) entails the acquisition and application of a unique set of facts or information, theories, strategies, approaches, and so on, that correspond with the distinctiveness of L2 learning and its learners. Throughout the years, the academic community has witnessed how the theories that form the foundations of L2 evolved in order to match the corresponding conditions or situations of L2 teaching and learning. As Hinkel (2006) has said, the need to expand knowledge or information is essential in the development of L2 teaching. The need for L2 teaching to succumb to innovation was rooted from the context of change in an academic sense, which consequently strengthened the necessity for L2 teaching to cope with changes within and outside the academic community with the ultimate goal of making it efficient and suitable to current educational environments or conditions. (Hinkel, 2006)
Unfortunately, the continuous innovation of L2 learning has bombarded the academic community with numerous theories, strategies, and approaches that become, if not effective, are immediately outmoded, contested by other academic professionals, modified, or integrated with other theories, strategies, approaches, etc. However, even if the continued innovation of L2 teaching makes this distinct pedagogical process rather complex, the development of new theories, approaches, strategies, and so on, are still considered relevant and are “likely to become stepping-stone in the expansion and refinement of disciplinary knowledge.” (Hinkel, 2006, p. 109) It is therefore necessary to match continuous innovation with unrelenting appraisal of new theories, strategies, approaches, etc. being linked to L2 teaching in order to ensure that they essentially contribute and benefit the academic community. For this reason, the remainder of this discussion will focus on the critical evaluation of one of the approaches recommended for Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), which is the goal of autonomy and application of strategic involvement for progressive learning.
Defining Autonomy and Strategic Involvement
Among the contemporary approaches that are being integrated to L2 teaching is the concept of autonomy and strategic involvement wherein “Students are given opportunities to focus on their own learning process… through the development of appropriate strategies for production and comprehension… to develop autonomous learners capable of continuing to learn the language beyond the classroom and the course.” (Brown, 2007, p. 47) In other words, under the context of autonomy and strategic involvement, one of the goals of CLT is to develop independent learners who do not limit their learning of L2 within the academic setting and the guidance of an L2 teacher. This defines the term ‘autonomy.’ As discussed by Richards and Rodgers (2001), “Independent learners are those who are aware that they must depend on their own resources… The absence of correction and repeated modeling from the teacher requires the students to develop “inner criteria” and to correct themselves.” The absence of explanations requires learners to… formulate whatever rules they themselves feel they need.” (p. 85)
On the other hand, strategic involvement may be defined by discussing how L2 teachers are going to guide and facilitate the learning process. Thus, the goal of creating autonomous learners may be achieved by allowing L2 learners to determine how they learn efficiently and differently and to apply teaching strategies and approaches that match diverse learning styles. (Brown, 2007) The strategies and approaches will be based on the learning styles, strengths, weaknesses, current knowledge, and competencies of L2 learners.
Practicality Autonomy and Strategic Involvement: Opposing Issues
When it comes to determining the practicality of developing autonomy and strategic development in a CLT class, critical analyses reveals to opposing sides, as may be observed from the table below.
Positive Role of Autonomy and Strategic Involvement in the CLT Classroom
Negative Role of Autonomy and Strategic Involvement in the CLT Classroom
Endorses the belief that learners are “self-directed, responsible decision makers.” (Richards, 2003, p. 23)
Supports a learner-centered curriculum (developing autonomy)
Learners learn to set realistic and practical goals
Learners develop self-evaluation skills
Learners develop learning strategies that may be applied even beyond the classroom
Limited and exclusive to the knowledge, skills, and competencies of learners
Developing independence in learners is difficult for nonnative-speaking L2 teachers (Brown, 2007), unsettling communicative competence
The use of the target language by L2 learners beyond the learning environment is uncertain
One positive aspect of developing autonomy through strategic involvement is that it increases the courage and self-confidence of learners because teachers see their students as “self-directed, responsible decision makers.” (Richards, 2003, p. 23) This view forms the foundations of humanistic approaches in the CLT classroom, which is also the basis for the learner-centered curriculum. (Richards, 2003) Furthermore, the goal of creating independent learners through strategic involvement is practical and efficient within the CLT classroom because it helps the learners set realistic and functional goals that they may acquire and apply even outside the learning environment. When students become independent learners, they also develop the sense of ingenuity to apply and develop their knowledge and skills through constant communication with other people outside the academic community. (Larsen-Freeman, 2000)
Through an L2 teacher’s strategic involvement to develop independent learners, the students become equipped with necessary skills and competencies that will guide them learn autonomously and efficiently. However, this primarily necessitates the identification of unique learning styles, including the multiple intelligences (Brown, 2007), in order to determine specific learning and teaching strategies that would prove helpful and efficient to independent learning for unique L2 learners. Consequentially, L2 learners learn to evaluate and correct himself or herself even without the guidance of the teacher, and to learn effectively by acquiring several learning strategies that fit their learning styles, strengths, and weaknesses. (Brown, 2007)
On the downside, however, developing learner autonomy through strategic involvement also has negative impact on CLT. Since it is an accepted supposition that learners are diverse and distinct, this also means that this particular approach to CLT may not apply to all, considering differences in personality, motivation, age, and maturity. As previously discussed, autonomy and strategic involvement regard students as self-directed learners. However, this belief is not practicable within the learning environment since all students differ in levels of self-directedness and sense of responsibility. In addition, learning independently may not seat well some learning styles and weaknesses.
Furthermore, the goal of CLT is to allow students to accomplish communicative competence, and independent learning helps in doing so by encouraging students to learn by themselves even outside the learning environment through perhaps constant communication with other people. The non-practicality of independent learning is that the teachers have no way of knowing whether the students are really applying independent learning strategies when they are by themselves. When the students prove to be lacking ability or competence in L2 communicative skills, then it will be considered a failing on the part of the L2 teaching process and approach.
Another factor that makes the autonomy-strategic involvement approach difficult is the knowledge and skills of the teacher on the native language. Of course, this spells out difficulties in communication and understanding between the teacher and the L2 learner making it twice as difficult for the students to learn independent learning strategies and self-evaluation techniques. During these situations, teaching the technical aspect of language learning becomes a priority as opposed to the development of autonomy, rendering this approach useless.
By and large, the development of autonomy through strategic involvement as an approach plays both positive and negative roles and impacts to CLT and L2 learning. Since the benefits and contributions of this particular approach is undeniable, it would be best for the academic community to determine how CLT shall be able to thwart its disadvantages and negative impacts to learning. This will open up opportunities for academic professionals and researchers to develop this approach and diminish its detrimental impacts to CLT. After all, the failures and shortcomings of L2 strategies, approaches, theories, and so on, are the building blocks of more efficient and appropriate CLT processes in the future.
Brown, H.D. (2007). Teaching by principles: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy, 2nd Ed. White Plains, NY: Pearson Education.
Hinkel, E. (2006). Current Perspectives on Teaching and Four Skills. TESOL Quarterly, 40, 109-131.
Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching, 2nd Ed. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Richards J. C. and Rodgers, T. S. (2001). Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching, 2nd Ed. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Richards, J. C. (2003). Methodology in Language Teaching: An Anthology of Current Practice, 3rd Ed. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.