Thursday, February 4, 2016

Pie Cutting Event Report - Talking about Learner Autonomy

From Spoonfeeding to Self-feeding: Fostering Learner Autonomy in the English Language Classroom

Speakers: Margarita Kosior and Crystallia Leondiadis

To spoon-feed or not to spoon-feed? That is the question! Well actually the topic which formed the basis of Margarita Kosior and Crystallia Leondiadis’s eye-opening, informative and entertaining presentation at the TESOL Macedonia Thrace Northern Greece ‘Pitta Event’ at City College. The focus of the talk was teacher-centred learning v student-centred learning and how, by being encouraged to think independently, students can become more effective, motivated learners and critical thinkers in an environment where the learning experience takes precedence. Margarita Kosior and Crystallia Leondiadis presented inspiring ideas which can be used in large classrooms or adapted to smaller groups and individual classes.

So what is spoon-feeding? It is the traditional method of teaching where the teacher is ‘ the knowledge dispenser’ and the focus in on the teaching  ; this also known as teacher-centred  learning. Students are, on the whole, the passive recipients of the imparted knowledge. By reversing this method the teacher can  become the facilitator  encouraging students to become active participants in the learning process, hence a student-centred learning environment comes into play.  Below are some of the activities that Margarita Kosior and Crystallia Leondiadis presented to help us focus more on how our students can participate in the learning process.

"Mind Mapping" where a central image or quote has branches of words, pictures or texts attached is one of the activities recommended by the speakers as being suitable for all ages. It is a particularly effective activity for juniors as they tend to ‘think in images and colours’ rather than words. 

Mind mapping can be a great collaborative task where the teacher can facilitate and guide the students. By laying out a huge piece of paper and allowing the students the freedom to put down their ideas and then discussing their and their classmates’ ideas, Mind Mapping actually allows the students to develop all their skills and sub-skills. Maybe more importantly, Mind Mapping is great fun for the students! ( The speakers also talked about digital Mind Mapping which is suitable for classes with appropriate equipment. There are many apps and websites out there such as which allow students to create mind maps with texts, images and even videos.

Poster Presentations was another great idea for all ages and we watched two lovely videos demonstrating its effectiveness. Despite presentations normally being associated with older learners our speakers showed how young learners can also present successfully. Young students can collect pictures and collate them and then prepare a talk lasting one or one and a half minutes. Teachers can also teach students presentation skills such as maintaining eye contact with the audience. Again here the student takes centre-stage with the teacher guiding and assisting.

Using multimedia in this day and age is a great way of "catching the students" attention and another effective student-centred teaching technique shown by our speakers Margarita Kosior and Crystallia Leondiadis was to create videos. Again our speakers demonstrated that junior learners as well  are perfectly capable of existing without the ‘spoon’ and with some guidance from the teacher they can participate as much as the older students. We were shown a video created by language school students  based on the video ‘Kindness Boomerang’ which obviously illustrated the high level of student participation and the potential for many other related activities such as plot discussions and  script-writing which again helps to develop skills. Of course it is not all roses for the teacher, especially where technology is concerned, as sometimes parents cannot quite see the value of these teaching methods especially as their learning experiences often date back 30 odd years.

Why is spoon-feeding still so popular? Many teachers feel comfortable being in control and very often they are obliged to cover specific material as part of their syllabi. The result of traditional teaching methods is that students do not have the chance to become independent learners and memorisation plays a major part in the learning process. Teachers need to be educated in order to move away from teacher-centred lessons and have the confidence to hand over the reins to their students albeit with assistance, guidance and a lot of preparation. By introducing such activities into our classrooms we, the teachers, will enable our students to become more active, independent , critical  thinkers.

Our speakers concluded their wonderful presentation with two though-provoking quotations:

By Natasha Jarnot

Photo credits: Katerina Papageorgiou

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