Language learning Strategies and Learning-to-learn. Insights from research

 

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  1. Introduction- Why a post on Learner Training (aka Learning-to-learn)

The rationale for this post is that although the hype about Learner Training (henceforth LT) has somewhat died down many educators advocate the importance of equipping learners with subject specific and non-subject-specific learning strategies and skills which cut across various dimension of human cognition and experience (e.g. organization, independent enquiry, resilience, self-regulation, collaboration, empathy).

Although many theorists and education providers concur on the importance of including the teaching of strategies and skills in the curriculum many schools struggle to find a principled framework for the teaching of such skills. This is because a lot of the research relative to strategies-based instruction has largely gone unnoticed by the international teaching community, with the exception of a few areas of the world (e.g. Canada).

In this very long post I review the literature on LT outlining the research framework that the advocates and proponents of Learning-to-learn have implemented and tested in several studies. This framework could be adapted by schools in their effort to integrate both language learning strategies and generic skills in their curricula.

  1. What are Learning Strategies?

O’Malley and Chamot (1990) view Learning Strategies (LSs) as complex procedural skills whose functioning occurs as follows: in the presence of a learning problem, the brain (working memory) matches the data pattern relative to that problem with a suitable strategy in LTM (long-term memory) which is then activated and retrieved. The following is an example of how the production systems conceptualised by O’Malley and Chamot would operate in the application of one of the learning strategies I taught as part of my PhD study (segmenting)

IF a sentence is long and contains a lot of complex structures

THEN check it more carefully by breaking it up into smaller units

O’Malley and Chamot conceptualise the following categories of LSs, based on the way they affect the learning process: Cognitive, Metacognitive, Affective and Social strategies.

Cognitive strategies refer to operations in learning or problem-solving which involve analysis, interpretation, manipulation, or synthesis of learning materials (Palincsar and Brown, 1984). Examples of these strategies in the area of Editing are: repeating an L2-item aloud to check if it sounds right; translating a sentence in an essay into the mother tongue in order to check that it conveys the intended meaning correctly; taking notes of a correction and seeking the help of the textbook to find out more about the grammar rule broken, etc.

Metacognitive strategies refer to the regulation of cognition: through them learners coordinate their own language learning process. Thus, they play a major role in learning and the frequency and effectiveness of their deployment have been seen to often make a difference between successful and unsuccessful L2-learning/performance (Oxford and Leaver, 1996). Examples of Metacognitive strategies are Directed Attention, i.e. consciously directing one’s own attention to the learning task; Self-evaluation, or appraising the successes and difficulties in one’s own learning efforts; Devising an action plan in order to eradicate a specific error.

Social strategies refer to the social interactions L2-learners use to assist in the comprehension, learning, or retention of information. For instance, seeking someone’s help when one is ‘stuck’.

Finally, Affective strategies are deployed to exercise mental control over personal affect that interferes with learning. For instance, calming oneself before an exam by watching a comedy or taking a walk; reading an inspirational quote to motivate yourself to study.

In what follows, I shall adopt the following working definition of LSs:

Learner (Learning) strategies are approaches, techniques, operations or actions that learners engage in, both consciously and subconsciously, in order to: (1) understand and learn the L2-system; (2) organize and direct their learning; (3) facilitate the analysis, recall, comprehension, production, organization and storage of L2-material; (4) alter their affective state in a way which may enhance their learning or task performance; (5) relate to and interact with the learning environment (including people) in a way that is conducive to learning.

  1. What is Learning-to-learn?

Ellis and Sinclair (1989:45) observed that Learner Training (LT) ‘means different things to different people’. This has led to a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding’ (Ellis and Sinclair, 1989: 44). In an attempt to clarify the issue, they defined LT according to its goals, stating:

LT aims to help learners consider the factors which may affect their learning and discover the learning strategies which suit them best so that they may become more effective learners and take on more responsibility for their learning’ (Ellis and Sinclair, 1989: 45).

Thus, LT aims at preparing students for Self-Direction by providing them with the LSs which give them the potential to become more effective and autonomous learners. It sets out to trigger a process of self-discovery, whereby the learner, helped by the instructor, becomes aware of the way s/he learns best and is able to make an informed choice as to which strategy (or strategies) may work more effectively for him/her in given contexts. This concept implies a radical departure from traditional instructional models where the L2-learner is viewed as a ‘passive’ recipient of knowledge and a teacher a dictator of learning, imposing his/her views and values on the students (Holec, 1981). Writers have defined this role change in various ways: learners should be prepared to share the burden of learning (Little, 1991); to take an active role in the learning process (Eriksson, 1993); to make the most of the time and resources available for learning (Cohen, 1998); to make decisions about their learning goals and become self-reliant (Benson, 1996).

  1. The Rationale for LT

I shall now discuss the rationale for LT. More specifically, I shall focus on the following arguments put forward by LT theorists:

  1. LT promotes self-direction in the L2-classroom
  2. It enhances L2-learning /proficiency/performance
  3. It enhances learner self-esteem and motivation
  1. Learner Training promotes Metacognition (Self-direction)

Self-direction has been defined by Holec (1981) as the ability to: (1) fix objectives; (2) define the content and progression of one’s learning; (3) select the methods and techniques to be used; (4) monitor the acquisition procedure; (5) evaluate what has been acquired. The importance of fostering Self-direction in L2-learning has been emphasized by many writers in the belief that L2-instruction should equip the learners with the linguistic and learning skills which will enable them to function effectively in the real world:

…it is essential for students to be able to control their own learning process so that they can learn outside the classroom once they are on their own. If students are dependent on teachers to shape language to suit them and to provide them with proper input, they cannot begin to take charge of their own learning when the teacher is not there. (Wenden, 1987: 17)

Another reason for fostering autonomous learning relates to the mounting research evidence indicating that more successful learners generally exhibit higher levels of Self-direction (Wenden, 1987). If there is a causal relationship between the latter and success in L2-learning, as it has been suggested, then developing learners’ self-regulatory skills (metacognitive strategies) through LT, may impact positively on their L2-performance.

The development of Self-direction has important implications for the notion, central to most current pedagogical theories (see Rogers, 1969; Littlewood, 1984; Oxford, 1990), that teachers should cater for learner individual needs. The implementation of this principle entails: (a) being able to identify every learner’s needs, and (b) having the time and resources to address them. Both tasks are difficult to carry out effectively in teacher-centred classes, since the teacher cannot hope to match his/her teaching to the learning styles, interests, strengths and weaknesses of all the class at the same time. This issue can be addressed by rendering learners more self-directed.

  1. Teaching learners more effective strategic behaviour will improve their learning

This claim is based on the finding that ‘good language learners’ have a wider repertoire of strategies than less effective learners and deploy them more frequently and more skilfully – that is: in the right contexts and, most importantly, by ‘orchestrating’ the strategies more effectively (Nykos, 1996). In fact, ineffective strategic behaviour has been identified as the main cause of the failure to develop language proficiency by learners with high language aptitude scores (Oxford and Leaver, 1996). Based on these findings, LT theorists assert that there is a causal relationship between strategy use and effective learning and that, consequently, if less effective learners are taught more effective strategic behaviour their language performance and/or proficiency will improve.

The validity of this argument is controversial, as efforts to improve L2-learner linguistic proficiency and performance through LT have met with mixed success. McDonough (1995) concluded his review of LT studies by asserting that improvements in language proficiency caused by LT were relatively weak and only showed up on certain measures. In his review of LT studies Gu (1996:2) described empirical work in the field as ‘fragmentary, unsystematic and narrow in scope’. Cohen (1998) was more optimistic observing that more interventionist studies have appeared in the literature since those cited in McDonough (1995) and Gu (1996), which have tended to be more fine-tuned than the preceding ones. McDonough (1999) concurred with Cohen (1998) that the results of the more recent interventionist studies are more encouraging and reliable.

  1. Strategy Instruction can enhance learner self-esteem and motivation

It has been asserted that giving L2-students access to strategies may enhance their motivation if they perceive those strategies to be effective in facilitating their learning performance. Chamot et al. (1996) noted that L2-students’ metacognitive awareness of the link between strategy use and positive learning outcomes plays a particularly important role in this regard, since self-control over strategy use is an important factor in perceiving oneself as a successful learner. If by noticing this link learners believe that they have acquired an effective approach to the performance of a given L2-task, they may develop positive beliefs about their capability to engage in similar tasks in the future. In this sense, strategy instruction may lead to expectancy of success, a phenomenon which appears to significantly influence learners’ academic attainment (Pajares, 1997, 2002) and is viewed as a crucial component of the structure of internal motivation (Crookes and Schmidt, 1989).

The relationship between expectancy of success and motivational and academic practices has been investigated in the context of educational research on self-efficacy beliefs (e.g. Zimmermann, 1994; Bandura, 1997; Pajares, 1997). These beliefs relate to a learner’s ‘level of confidence in successfully completing a task’ (Chamot, Barnhardt, El-Dinary and Robbins, 1996: 178) and appear to influence the use of self-regulatory learning strategies. In fact, as Pajares (2002) observed, learners with high self-efficacy have been found to make greater and more effective use of metacognitive strategies such as Goal-setting, Self-monitoring and Self-evaluation (Pajares, 2002). Furthermore, they exhibit greater commitment to learning and to the pursuit of their learning goals; select more challenging goals; deploy more cognitive strategies; display lower levels of academic anxiety (Schunk and Ertmer, 2000).

As O’Malley and Chamot (1990) warn, although there is some empirical evidence that LT can significantly enhance learners’ level of self-efficacy and motivation (Nyikos, 1996; Nunan, 1996), it would be simplistic to assume that LT is the ultimate panacea to motivational deficits in the L2-classroom; several complex factors are at play in determining low learner motivation and lack of strategic competence is only one of them.

  1. Approaches to LT

Learner Training can be carried out implicitly or explicitly. In Implicit LT the learners are involved in activities designed to elicit the use of the target strategies without knowing what the rationale and aims of the activities actually are. So, for example, in the context of an Implicit LT programme in editing strategies, the learners may be asked to translate a given L2-composition back into the L1 (my ‘Backtranslating’ strategy) in order to check if it makes sense, but they are not presented this technique as an editing strategy that may help them in the future, nor are they explicitly encouraged to incorporate it in their L2-writing strategies repertoire.

The Explicit approach, on the other hand, is based on the Skill-theory axiom that the initial phases of any skill instruction must involve the learner in the conscious application of problem solving and other interpretive strategies. Thus, Explicit Learner Training, as Oxford and Leaver (1996) pointed out, addresses at least one of the following levels of consciousness identified by Schmidt (1994): Awareness of strategy use; Attention to the issues involved in strategy use; Intentionality to deploy strategies in L2-learning or production; Control over strategy use. The latter component is deemed to be the most crucial determinant of effective strategy use since it refers to the ability to evaluate the success of using a certain strategy and also having the ability to transfer that strategy to other relevant situations and tasks (Oxford and Leaver, 1996).

Assessment, Awareness-Raising and Planning

The first step in an explicit LT programme usually involves the assessment of learner needs through one or more of the following means: observation, questionnaires/surveys, interviews, diaries, note-taking, concurrent/retrospective think-aloud. Since the techniques deployed in strategy assessment (usually the verbal reports mentioned above) are likely to bring the issue of strategy use into learner focal attention, this diagnostic phase usually marks the beginning of the Awareness-Raising component of LT. This phase is viewed as crucial in the development of Self-direction since, it is believed, in order to learn how to learn, one need to know how one operates as a learner and what one’s needs, strengths and learning styles are (Dickinson, 1987; Eriksson, 1993; Cotteral, 1990). It is also recommended that in this phase learners are helped to become aware of their beliefs about learning and of their schemata, since these factors have been shown to interfere with LT success (Wenden, 1991; Gremmo and Riley, 1995;Victori and Lockhart, 1995).

Other factors to consider at this stage are the learners’ individual agenda and expectations about learning (Victory and Lockhart, 1995). It has been found that learners’ participation in LT is based on the learners’ perception of its relevance to their own goals (Wenden, 1991, 1995). Reporting on the outcome of one of the CRAPELS’ first experiments in self-directed learning, Stanchina (1976) noted that learners who remained motivated had clear and immediate goals, which were being served by the experiment. Therefore, it becomes important to understand the nature of the learners’ goal structure.

Other learner characteristics normally assessed in this phase include: their academic background, levels of proficiency, levels of motivation and any other biographical information that might have any bearing on their learning – surveys like Oxford’s (1990) SILL can be used to elicit information about all the above personal characteristics. In addition, in designing the training, a number of curricular and extracurricular constraints must be taken into consideration. These include: amount of time available; resources available; syllabus structure; culture of the target educational setting. These factors need to be examined in tackling the following issues which, as Oxford (1990) and Cohen (1998) point out, are crucial in planning the training:

1.Which strategies will learner trainers select?

2.Will the LT involve a short-term intervention or extensive training?

  1. Will the training have a broad or narrow focus?

As far as strategies selection is concerned, Oxford (1990) provides the following guidelines, based more on common sense or intuition than on research findings:

  1. select strategies related to learner needs and characteristics;
  2. choose more than one kind of strategy to teach
  3. choose strategies that are generally useful for most learners and transferable

to a variety of language situations and tasks;

  1. choose easily learnable strategies, and strategies that are very valuable but

might require a bit more effort.

(adapted from Oxford,1990: 205)

Theorists also recommend that LT include an effective motivational component in order to develop will as well as skill for learning (Paris, 1988: O’Malley and Chamot, 1990; Oxford 1990; Cohen, 1998). In L2-strategy instruction, the importance of attitude and motivation is illustrated in Wenden’s (1987) account of her LT experience at Columbia University where she gave students an intensive ESL course instruction and practice in metacognitive strategies. The feedback she received from the students via questionnaire indicated that the students did not perceive any value in LT. Wenden (1987) attributed these results to the fact that her programme was not closely linked to the language learning objectives of the course. Thus, students did not clearly understand why and how the training could improve their language learning. The importance of socio-affective factors in determining the success of strategy instruction is the reason why, in this preparatory phase, it is paramount to address learner beliefs about L2-learning, strategies and about their self-esteem (Wenden, 1987; Flaitz and Feyten, 1996; Oxford and Leaver, 1996).

Oxford and Shearin (1994) recommend that the following factors should be taken into consideration in drafting action plans for belief and attitudinal change:

(1) learners see the target strategy as helpful in a specific task

(2) learners see the strategy as transferable to other tasks

(3) learners perceive the potential gains as greater than the effort

(4) learners see themselves as self-efficacious and capable

of working independently

(5) learners are interested in the materials and activities adopted in the LT

(6) learners see the connection between the target strategy and success

In addition, Paris (1988) identified the following four instructional techniques as the most commonly used in strategic instruction to provide cognitive/affective support. Trainers need to plan carefully for them taking into account the information gathered during the assessment phase.

1.Modeling, in which the trainer shows the learners how to effectively use the

strategy, usually by thinking aloud about the goals and mental processes involved;

2.Direct Explanation, in which the teacher explains to the students the potential

benefits of the target strategies so that they become convinced of their usefulness;

3.Scaffolding Instruction, in which the teacher provides cognitive and affective

support to students as they practise the new strategies; the support is then phased out;

4.Cooperative Learning, in which students work in groups to solve a problem or execute a task.

Presentation and modeling

In this phase the trainer usually explains the strategy by naming it, showing how to use it, providing a rationale for strategy-use and finally demonstrating (modelling) it (as in, for instance, Jones et al., 1987; O’Malley and Chamot, 1988). Jones et al. (1987) suggest as a modelling technique that trainers verbalise their own thought processes while doing the task, thinking aloud as they encounter problems and work out solutions.

Practice with scaffolding

In order for the learners to proceduralise (automatise) the use of the target strategies, extensive practice is needed. The failure of a number of interventionist studies has indeed been blamed by some authors (e.g. (O’Malley and Chamot 1990; Oxford, 1992) on the insufficient amount of practice given to learners). In most studies, this stage usually consists of a first phase in which the trainer provides support while student practice; this phase is usually referred to as ‘Scaffolding’ (Jones et al, 1987; Paris, 1988). The importance of ‘scaffolding’ instruction relates to affective issues (motivation) but also to the cognitive and metacognitive domain: while trying out new strategies, learners receive cognitive and affective support in the development of problem-solving but also self-directing, self- monitoring and self-evaluative skills.

As illustrated in O’Malley and Chamot (1988; 1990) the development of student skills in using strategies can be developed through cooperative learning tasks; think-alouds while problem solving; peer tutoring in academic tasks; group discussion. Also, checklists are often used so as to view at a glance the possible range of strategies to select from; learners are encouraged to use such checklists as reminders throughout the scaffolding phase (Rubin, 1997). In most courses the scaffolding materials are designed to encourage this kind of activity. Several strategic instructional frameworks also include embedded training tasks which aim at eliciting the use of the target strategies without any metacognitive component (i.e. no explicit reference to the target strategies is made in the instructions the learners receive about the task).

As far as the affective domain of the scaffolding is concerned, Jones et al (1987) have suggested that learner trainers may develop learners’ motivation during this phase by attempting to provide the learners with as many successful experiences as possible (especially at the beginning of their experimentation with the target strategies) and by relating strategy use to improved performance (i.e. emphasizing in their feedback to students the causal link between the improvements in their linguistic output and their deployment of the target strategies). Grenfell and Harris (1999) emphasize the importance of cooperative learning/group-work in providing affective support, especially when dealing with younger learners. Finally, in some instructional frameworks (e.g. Harris, 1997; Grenfell and Harris, 1999) during the scaffolding phase the learners are required to draw up an action plan. In devising this action plan learners may need some help in identifying which strategies are most appropriate to their goals (Grenfell and Harris, 1992, 1999)

The Autonomous phase

In the second part of the Practice phase, the strategy use reminders and any other scaffolding are removed and the learners decide autonomously whether to use the target strategies or not. This is a necessary step since it is only if learners keep using the strategies independently over a relatively long period of time that one can truly say that the training has been successful.

Evaluation

Wenden (1987: 62) provides a useful framework for evaluating learner strategy training which is representative of the approaches taken by most researchers/educators in the field:

1.Has learners’ appreciation of LT changed?

2.Has the learning strategy being learned?

3.Does the skill facilitate performance of the task?

4.Does the skill continue to be utilized?

5.Is the skill utilised in different contexts?

The above questions relate to the following issues: (1) learner attitudes towards strategic instruction, and particularly the issue of willingness/reluctance to take responsibility for one’s own learning; (2) strategy acquisition: how often and how effectively the strategies are deployed; (3) task improvement: not just better linguistic performance but also more autonomy in the performance and greater ease in terms of cognitive and affective load; (4) durability, that is, whether the strategies are used spontaneously without any reminders from the teacher, and (5) transfer of strategy use or expansion, i.e. the strategies are applied by the learner spontaneously to other contexts, again without any prompts from the teacher.

In single group pre-test/post-test designs (e.g. Carrell, Pharis and Liberto. 1989), the evaluation is usually carried out by comparing the outcome of pre-treatment and post-treatment assessments performed on the experimental group using the same instrument(s) and measure(s). In multiple group pre-test/post-test designs (e.g. Macaro, 2001), the same operation is carried out for both groups in an attempt to verify if the treatment group(s) was more successful than the non-treatment one(s). In multiple measurement single group designs, the treatment group is assessed at several points throughout the duration of the training in an attempt to identify trends overtime. In multiple group designs the trend(s) identified for the experimental group(s) are compared with those observed for the control group(s). The merits of these evaluative approaches will be discussed in 6.3 below in much greater detail.

  1. Insights from research as to the effectiveness of Learning-to learn

The issues / findings I shall discuss here emerged from an examination of twenty-one Explicit LT studies I located in the core literature: Cohen and Aphek (1980), Hosenfeld et al. (1981), O’Malley et al. (1985), Carrell (1989), Carrell et al. (1989), O’Malley and Chamot (1990), Fujiwara (1990), Wenden (1991), Oxford, (1992), Aziz (1995), Cohen, Weaver and Li (1995), Ferris (1995a), Klohs (1995), Chamot et al. (1996), Oxford (1996), Dörnyei (1995), Cohen et al. (1996), Dadour and Robbins (1996), Nunan (1996), Thompson and Rubin (1996), Macaro (2001).

9.1 Relatively few LT studies have been carried out to-date,

The most important issue emerging from my literature review is that a relatively small number of LT studies have been carried out. Notably, only five focused on writing strategies (O’Malley et al. 1990; Aziz, 1995; Klohs, 1995; Ferris, 1995a; Macaro, 2001). Furthermore, the result of these studies does not prove that LT is effective. The necessity for further research has thus been invoked by the advocates of LT (e.g. Cohen, 1998, Macaro, 2001) in order to validate the notion that this instructional approach can significantly benefit L2-learners. The need for further research is particularly great in editing strategies research since only one study was conducted in this area (Ferris, 1995)

9.2 Many of the successful LT studies were quasi-experimental

Few of the more successful LT studies were purely experimental in design with subjects randomly assigned to a treatment and non-treatment group. Most studies carried out opportunistic sampling and adopted one of the following quasi-experimental designs: (1) single group pre-test / post-test (e.g. Carrell et al. 1989);(2) single group multiple measurement (e.g. Ferris, 1995); (3) multiple group pre-test/post-test (e.g. Macaro, 2001); (4) multiple group with multiple measurement (e.g. Flaitz and Fleyten, 1996). As I shall discuss in greater detail in Chapter 6, the above research-design types have a number of intrinsic flaws which pose significant threats to their validity.

The obvious implication for future research is that true experimental designs (i.e. with random assignment to experimental and control group) should be adopted. However, this is often difficult in the context of LT interventionist studies since they have to adapt to constraints determined by the curriculum, enrolment procedures, course-structure and logistics of the target educational institution. When such constraints pre-empt the possibility of a purely experimental design, as in the case of my study, the researcher can attempt to enhance the validity of quasi-experimentation through a number of measures aimed at minimizing the effects of any interfering/confounding variables.

9.3 Test/Practice effect (task-familiarity) may significantly contribute to treatment-groups’ gains at post-test

Some of the studies adopting a pre-test/post-test design evaluated target strategy uptake and effectiveness testing their treatment groups through tasks which the training had made them more familiar with than the control group(s) (e.g. Carrell, 1989; Macaro, 2001). For instance, Carrell et al. (1989) tested one of their target reading comprehension strategies, ‘Semantic Mapping’, through the same type of activity (‘cloze-semantic-map’) used in the modelling and (extensive) practice of that strategy. The experimental group outperformed the control group; interestingly, though, no gains were observed on two other independent evaluative measures. In cases like this, it is difficult to discern whether task-familiarity rather than effective strategy use determined any positive results. It should be noted that this issue of task familiarity is related to the recurrent criticism of LT that it is problematic, in assessing the validity of the more successful studies, to discern whether the improvements were caused by the target strategies themselves or by the greater and more focused practice the subjects received by virtue of the training (Rees-Miller, 1993).

The main implication for future research is that, in order to avoid threats to validity from this task-familiarity factor, more than one procedure should be used to evaluate the impact of the training on the dependent variable(s). The results from the different procedures can then be triangulated so as to verify their validity. Furthermore, multiple measurements of the effects of the independent variable may be taken between pre-test and post-test through procedures other than the assessment/training task.

9.4 LT studies have often relied heavily on questionnaire and interview data to evaluate their impact

Many studies claimed to have been successful based mainly or exclusively on data obtained through questionnaires, interviews and/or journals (e.g. Fujiwara, 1990; Nunan, 1996; Chamot et al. 1996). This is problematic since, as I shall discuss below, pre-test/post-test designs using this kind of self-reports as evaluative instruments are particular vulnerable to the risk of validity threats arising from researcher bias/expectancy and subject expectancy issues (defined in 6.2 below). The obvious implication for future studies is that more objective data collection instruments should be adopted (essays and documents in my study). When the logistics of the experiment do not permit the use of such instruments, researchers should at least use two or more forms of self-reports administered at different moments in time in order to provide some sort of data triangulation.

9.5 Most of the successful studies have failed to identify the single aspect of the training which determined their success

Many ‘succesful’ LT studies have taught combination of strategies; this is not useful to teachers as it is extremely difficult to establish which aspect of its design or execution was crucial to their success.

9.6 There is no evidence that the effects of LT are long-lasting

This is particularly the case for those studies which did not include an autonomous phase (e.g. Ferris, 1995; Cohen and Aphek, 1980; Carrell et al. 1989) or included only a relatively short one (e.g. Macaro, 2001). Unless a significant amount of time elapses between the removal of any strategy use reminders and post-test it is difficult to claim that the learners incorporated the target LSs in their strategic repertoire. The obvious implication for future studies is that a sufficiently long autonomous phase should be included.

9.7 Some learners may resist LT

Learner resistance to LT has been identified by some researchers as a major problem (Wenden, 1987; Oxford, 1990). Its causes have been related to the following issues: (a) the learners’ perception that LT was not relevant to their goals and/or needs (Wenden, 1987); (b) learners had a negative attitude towards the concept of autonomy and LT determined by their belief systems and previous learning experience (e.g. O’Malley, 1985); (c) learners preferred continuing using their strategies as they perceived them as effective or more effective than the target strategies (O’Malley, 1985). Not enough is known about the interaction of LT with individual characteristics, such as learning styles, age, cultural background, gender, L2-proficiency, personality types (Oxford, 1996). As mentioned above, LT professionals usually tackle this issue by identifying learner attitudes, history, beliefs, levels of motivation, task-related self-esteem and other individual factors. They then devise an action plan in order to tackle any possible source of resistance to training. In my study I try to tackle this issue by finding out through a questionnaire and an interview as much as I can about my learners. On the basis of the information gathered I shall present and implement the training in a way which will suit their personal characteristics and academic goals.

9.8. Many LT studies may have been too short to impact significantly learner performance

It has been suggested that some LT studies have been too short to be successful. Future studies need to be longitudinal and covering a longer period of time than the past ones.

  1. Concluding remarks

Most LT theorists and researchers recommend the following framework for the implementation of strategy training:

  • An awareness / needs ‘analysis phase which assesses the target students’ strategies repertoire
  • A presentational phase in which a rationale for the training is given and the strategies are named and presented
  • A modelling phase in which the trainer shows the students how the strategies can be used effectively to enhance task performance or learning in general
  • An extensive scaffolded practice base in which the students receive reminders to use the target strategies and cognitive and affective support by the trainer and peers
  • An autonomous phase in which support and reminders are phased out and the students are left to their own devices (to see if they are going to use the strategy independently)
  • An evaluative phase which assesses whether the target strategies have been internalized

My review of the literature has identified a number of important issues in interventionist strategy research. The most important and most relevant to the present study were:

(1) Test/Practice effect (task-familiarity) may significantly contribute to treatment-groups’ gains at post-test

(2) LT studies have often relied heavily on questionnaire and interview data to evaluate their impact

(3) There is no evidence that the effects of LT are long-lasting

(4) It is problematic to identify which strategies bring about performance/learning

enhancement

(5) Many LT studies may have been too short to impact significantly on learner performance

(6) Students may resist training

LT studies have met with mixed success. The learning gains and the barriers discussed above may prompt teachers to wonder whether strategy-based instruction is actually worth the time and effort they involve. In my view, the answer is ‘no’. As an LT researcher myself, having implemented a fairly successful nine-month LT program as part of my Ph.D, I have experienced first-hand how much work and time it requires; much more than busy practitioners in secondary schools can afford to spare.

3 thoughts on “Language learning Strategies and Learning-to-learn. Insights from research

  1. Hi, I would like to use your workouts, games, etc. with my students, they look great! I have a couple questions though. Are there easy links I gave to take students to a particular game or workout without them having to search through the menu for the one I want? When I am looking at the activity, the address is simply legacy.language-gym.com which will only take them to the general site, not the activity I am looking at at the time. Also fo, the for the game room, I have having trouble switching from French to Spanish (I teach both). Thank you for your help and this very good resource! Melissa Dorfman Then Hun School of Princeton

    On Sat, Jan 2, 2016 at 11:41 AM, The Language Gym wrote:

    > Gianfranco Conti, Phd (Lang. Ed.), MA (TEFL) posted: “Please note: being > an adaptation of a chapter in my doctoral thesis this is quite a long and > ‘heavy’ post rife with academic jargon and citations from the relevant > research literature. Introduction- Why a post on Learner Training (aka > Learning-to-lea”

  2. […] Training the students to learn autonomously is ideally what we should do day in day out. However, it is not always easy nor viable in view of the time constraints imposed by the courses we teach on. The above strategies do have high surrender value, though and are mostly ‘no brainers’. If we plan to impart them effectively, though, we must be mindful of the importance of not limit our input to a one-off session ; we must keep them ‘alive’ in our students focal awareness by embedding them in our daily teaching; by reminding them to use in preparation of a mini-vocabulary test you are staging next week; by asking them to use them in class every so often; etc. For  a principled framwork on how to implement learner training (learning-to-learn), please refer to this blog. […]

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