Learner Autonomy Transforming a Self-Reflection Task

Lorna S. Asami, Kanda Junior and Senior High School, Tokyo, Japan

Asami, L. S. (2018). Learner autonomy transforming a self-reflection task. Relay Journal, 1(1), 173-177.

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Literature Review

In 2017, the Japanese Ministry of Education (MEXT) published the pamphlet, “Overview of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.” In it, MEXT states that the Central Council for Education has been discussing revisions to the National Curriculum Standards “with the aim of realizing a ‘curriculum open to society’.” The council also advocates “proactive, interactive, and deep learning (improving classes from the perspective of active learning)” (MEXT, 2017, p. 8). Regarding junior and senior high schools, MEXT states that “… schools should verify and adopt an evaluation method, etc. which covers various aspects including students’ motivation and attitude for active learning. This can be achieved by focusing on students’ interest, motivation and attitude towards communication, which all lead to active learning” (MEXT, 2017, p. 8). As I have found it possible to combine active learning concepts that MEXT advocates with my research interests in autonomy and motivation, I am challenged to design a more learner-centered classroom. Walker and Symons (1997) state that human motivation is at its peak when certain requirements are fulfilled. One requirement is that people have sufficient autonomy (Dörnyei, 2001). It follows that to increase our students’ motivation for learning, we need to allow our students to have the autonomy they need to thrive.

At Kanda Junior and Senior High School, the first MEXT aim of having a “curriculum open to society” is met by ten language instructors from seven different countries, who independently teach their own classes, are responsible for various clubs and school activities, and run the school’s newly established learning center called K-SALC (Kanda Self-Access Learning Center). Active learning, the second MEXT aim, has been promoted by Kanda’s staff who have been given in-house workshops on the teaching method. It is at these workshops that I heard about active learning and began to introduce this type of activity in my class. One of these was a self-reflection activity that provided student assessment of autonomy, increased their motivation to improve their presentation performance while also connecting the classroom to our newly established K-SALC.

The Self-Reflection Task

At the finals period of each term in our trimester school year, students write a speech and create an accompanying PowerPoint slideshow to present in front of their classmates. Students are required to memorize their speeches and the pressure to perform is quite high. Students and teachers spend several weeks on writing and rewriting their speeches and PowerPoints. Students are encouraged to visit the K-SALC to practice with native English teachers. When presentation day finally arrives, everyone is nervous and excited. On our latest round of presentations, several classes requested to give their speeches in our brand-new K-SALC room with a large screen for their PowerPoints.

Following the presentations, I created a reflection sheet for the students to fill out in English or Japanese. I modeled it after one that was made for a classical Japanese class by my senior colleague who regularly uses active learning strategies in her classes. One part was for the student to comment on each of their classmates’ presentations and one part was for the student to comment on their own presentation. Ushioda (2016) states “as teachers we need to motivate students to do the thinking and troubleshooting for themselves”. To do this, I asked the students to tell me what they thought made a great presentation, and how they would like to improve for the next one. Their comments were illuminating and different from mine. They emphatically said it was important for the speaker to smile. They said that animation made their PowerPoint more interesting, and being able to properly use the PowerPoint clicker to change the slides smoothly and with correct timing was important. Some expressed that they were disappointed in the level of their English and needed to challenge themselves more. This self-reflection activity was transformed with the student comments. As I revised the self-reflection sheet I had written by adding the students’ comments, the sheet became less of my evaluation and more of the students’ concept of a good presentation and goals for future work. Autonomy has been defined as “the capacity to take control over one’s learning” Benson, (2011, p. 14). By allowing the students to reflect on their own work and have a say in their evaluation, they have taken control over their learning and shown their understanding of the task.

An important point I included in my reflection checklist was to indicate if my students had gone to the K-SALC to practice their speech with a native English teacher. I felt that further discussion was necessary to help the students understand that practice would improve their performance. MEXT (2014) also advises teachers “…to conduct language activities where students can actively share their ideas and feelings with each other through speaking and writing at junior high and high schools.” In our class discussion, students talked about why they had not gone to the K-SALC. Most of the students said they would go the next time we have presentations as they now realized it will improve their presentations. Rather than being negative and about what they had not done, the discussion ended up on an excited note, motivating them to do better next time.

Before the next round of presentations in our final trimester, I will give the students the revised reflection sheet as a guide and reminder of our discussion. Nunan (2003) suggests allowing learners to create their own goals as a step to increasing learner autonomy. Deci and Ryan (2002) state that “…an activity that promotes perceptions of autonomy, competence, and relatedness, is performed volitionally because it nurtures these three basic psychological needs” (p. 49). For our students at Kanda Junior and Senior High School, their English presentation is one activity where they can express themselves and experience autonomy, competence, and relatedness with their fellow students.

Notes on the contributor

Lorna Asami is a full time instructor at Kanda Jogakuen High School. She has an M.A. in English Education from Temple University Japan and her research interests are in motivation and autonomy, especially in connection with self-access centers.

References

Benson, P. (2011). Teaching and researching autonomy (2nd ed.). Harlow, UK: Pearson.

Deci, E. & Ryan, R. (2002). Handbook of self-determination research. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.

Dornyei, Z. (2001). Motivational strategies in the language classroom. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

MEXT. (2014, September 26). Report on the future improvement and enhancement of English education: Five recommendations on the English education reform plan responding to the rapid globalization. Tokyo, Japan: Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). Retrieved from http://www.mext.go.jp/en/news/topics/detail/1372625.htm

MEXT. (2017, February 15). Overview of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. Tokyo, Japan: Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). Retrieved from http://www.mext.go.jp/en/about/pablication/__icsFiles/afieldfile/2017/02/15/1374478_001.pdf

Nunan, D. (2003). Nine steps to learner autonomy. In D. Nunan (Ed.), Practical English language teaching (89–308). New York, NY. McGraw Hill.

Ushioda, E. (2016). NELTA ELT Forum, 16/17. Retrieved from https://neltaeltforum.wordpress.com/2016/12/17/1149/

Walker, C. J., & Symons, C. (1997). The meaning of human motivation. In J. L. Bess (Ed.) Teaching well and liking it: Motivating faculty to teach effectively (pp. 3-18). Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

2 thoughts on “Learner Autonomy Transforming a Self-Reflection Task”

  1. Dear Lorna,

    Thank you for sharing the self-reflection task you used with your students to get them to engage in “active learning” through reflecting on their presentations. Having utilised a similar form of presentation self-evaluation with my own classes, I have no doubt that analysing their own and peers’ performance as well as receiving feedback from each other helped your students to take control over their own learning, and provided additional motivation for future presentations. It also appears their comments had an effect on how you evaluated your students’ performance, as you were able to gain insights into what they judged a good presentation to be. I imagine that the students’ feedback on their peers’ presentations was shared with each other – if so, how was this done? Did the students have an opportunity to further reflect on their own evaluation after receiving their classmates’ comments?

    When reading your article, I wondered about a couple of things. You mentioned that during the class discussion, students talked about why they had not gone to the K-SALC? What were some of the reasons that they gave? Also, you said that after the discussion, students realised that going to the SALC would improve their presentations – how did they come to this realisation and how do you know this?

    I also felt curious to see the reflection sheet that students filled out to know what exactly they reflected on, as it was mentioned several times in your article. You noted that students will be given a revised reflection sheet before their next presentations – how the reflection sheet changed based on learning your students’ perceptions and the class discussion would be interesting to learn.

    It was also wonderful to hear of the establishment of a SALC in a JHS/SHS. I would be most interested in reading any future research you may conduct relating to students’ engagement with this learning space, or even a follow-up to this study after your students make presentations again – after having the class discussion and receiving the revised reflection sheet, whether they chose to engage with the SALC to practice for their presentations and their feelings on the experience.

    Thank you once again for sharing your successful method of promoting learner autonomy among your students – I enjoyed reading it!

    Ewen MacDonald

  2. Dear Ewen,
    Thank you very much for your kind comments and thought-provoking questions! Thank you for the time you gave to help me improve my paper. I will answer your questions in the order that you listed them.
    Q1) How were students’ feedback on their peers’ presentations shared with each other?
    A1) After the presentation, each student received a reflection sheet (Table 1) from each of their classmates (after I checked them first to ensure that comments were constructive and not destructive. This is junior high so I always take precautions, just in case someone is having a weird hormone day.)
    Q2) Did the students have an opportunity to further reflect on their own evaluation after receiving their classmates’ comments?
    A2) Yes, but only during the short informal discussion after I handed all the reflection sheets back. Several of the more outgoing students told the class how they were going to improve their speech and the quiet students listened. I knew that every student in this class would outdo themselves in the final trimester and they did not disappoint me. I really need to write a follow-up paper to address the progress of this class. Happily, I have been assigned to teach them next year as well. Using reflection sheets to trace learner development is a new and fascinating area to me. I am already in discussion with the teacher (Ms. Miwa Kobori) who first inspired me to use these reflection sheets. I am also planning to make a completely different type of reflection sheet for my first-year high school class next academic year that is more open-ended.
    Q3) Why had students not gone to the K-SALC? What were some of the reasons that they gave?
    A3) These junior high students are involved in a variety of extracurricular activities. Not only are they excelling in their studies, but every student in this class is involved in a sport (softball, tennis, badminton, ballet, martial arts, etc.) which means before school, lunchtime, and after school is often spent at practice. It just takes effort to make time but some said they now realize that it really is helpful to go for extra practice with a teacher. It seems that their awareness of the usefulness of the SALC has increased a little.
    Q4) How did students realise that going to the SALC would improve their presentations – how did they come to this realisation and how do you know this?
    A4) They realized this because I took them during classtime to the SALC and had them practice their presentations before the real thing. For the few students who had not memorized their speeches well enough to deliver it without huge pauses and breaks, I had them come to the SALC for more one-on-one practice. The entire class realized that their performance improved with each practice. After taking them to the SALC to practice, they said they felt a little better. They are quite hard on themselves and on each other, and commented in class that they should have gone to the SALC a few more times.

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