Autonomy and Language Learning Behavior: The Role of Student Initiation and Participation in L2 Classrooms

Hayo Reinders, Shawn Loewen


There are many different views of what learner autonomy entails. But what does autonomous language learning look like in practice? In this short article we argue that student initiation and participation are crucial to and (one type of) evidence of autonomous language learning.

In this study we looked for evidence of student initiation and participation both in classroom and self-study settings. Over a period of 12 months, second language classrooms in several New Zealand language schools were investigated by audio recording classroom interaction at regular intervals. Focus on grammatical items initiated by the students was then matched with performance on post-tests for evidence of acquisition of those items. Also during this period, 42 language advisory sessions were recorded in one university self-access centre. The recordings were analyzed for evidence of student initiated focus on both linguistic items and learning-related issues. The results of these analyses show that student-initiated topics can significantly impact on students’ subsequent learning. These findings corroborate our hypothesis that student initiation, as a measure of involvement in the learning process, can be one of the predictors of learning success. In addition, if active learner participation is seen as a component of autonomy, then this research provides evidence for a link between learner autonomy and learning gains.

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