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Autonomy in learning English as a foreign language

Adaptation to trigger motivation

             Students don't generally show interest in a school subject unless they are willingly motivated. To be motivated, however, doesn't only mean to have a motive or a specific purpose while learning what you are learning. It is not choosing and adopting the best teaching method - be it communicative approach, Content based instructions, content standards or else - that makes the students motivated. Moroccan teachers of English will have observed that the students in the Common Core are more motivated than the students in 1ère BAC; and the students in 2ème BAC. are the least motivated students. Is there a logical explanation to this phenomenon apart from the degree and amount of difficulty in each of the stages of learning English throughout the high school syllabuses? This is not the question I am interested in for the time being. I seek rather to understand and make it possible push the laggards and the dragging unmotivated students into the procession of the class.

             Not all the students in the same class are identical vis-à-vis learning English. Some of them are highly involved and motivated whereas limited English proficient students keep aloof and feel helpless. So it is advisable to help the learners develop a certain amount of autonomy to learn the target language in the way it pleases and interests them. This is what I call "adaptation to trigger motivation". Despite the apparent misleading easy structure of the task, it needs a lot to be settled and each one knows what the exact role to play is. I mean the teacher and the students in terms of individuality. The teacher gains the role of guide and monitor showing not telling the students what to do and letting them choose the appropriate way to do it. The students, on the other hand, are given more freedom to deal with the learning process in their own styles and manners, but they should first be aware that the styles and strategies they adopted are well adapted to the nature of the work they do and of course to reach efficiency. If the adaptation is successful, it will continue with the learners even after school in their vocational life. Therefore, it is the teacher's task par excellence to assist the learner in adapting the right strategy for the right task. The learning process eventually becomes simple, amusing and long-lasting if not motivating.

Adaptation versus Adoption

             When I talk about adaptation, I don't imply that either the teacher or the student should adopt this or that method in dealing with the learning/teaching process. On the contrary, I aim at showing that adapting provides more autonomy and freedom than adopting, because individual learners differ in their learning habits, interests, needs, and motivational strategies, and develop varying degrees of independence throughout their lives (Tumposky, 1982). So they cannot normally adopt one method or strategy that works for them all. Each individual learner is a mixture of backgrounds, emotions, intentions, interests, worries, inner-conflicts, degrees of resistance and so on. Therefore, each learner needs to stage-manage and revise the method to fit and serve her or his own pace, mood, learning drive, degree of assimilation etc. It is because one learner equals a whole class of 35 students that the balance of powers in the classroom is of paramount importance. In a classroom of 35 students, the teacher is confronted with different individual "islands" that each of them is characterized by its own topography, atmosphere, weather, minerals, flora, fauna and so forth. Hurricanes are frequent in some of them being adolescents; whereas in some others the lovely climate prevails all year long and it is there that the learning process proliferates with just a little adaptation with the climate. How to adapt with all the various components that form the learning/teaching process leading to motivation is the question.

             Are rewards and punishments enough to prompt motivation? Alas no! The process is multifaceted and requires lots of other procedures that teachers have to take into consideration; the first of which is the teacher herself. She should, first and foremost, behave appropriately and should have a good rapport with her students. The lower the anxiety in the classroom is, the longer motivation lasts. It would however be of great relevance to look upon maintaining and prolonging motivation until the end. It is known that the students have a tendency to get bored easily if a task takes a little longer time. The students should keep feeling satisfied and progressively doing something leading to success otherwise the level of motivation will get lower until it evaporates; and this couldn't be achievable but with the teacher's savoir faire. Rewards and freedom not punishment can work perfectly well in this performing stage concerning motivation.


             To sum it up, the individuality and the mood of each learner is a central factor to take into account while adapting an adopted method or strategy to fit the students' needs and special efforts and abilities. This is a hard task for the teacher, yet it is on the teacher that the entire job rests. The teacher supplies the students with the necessary material and clues to build up their own strategies to eventually reinforce their achievement behaviour. The whole process, therefore, paves the way to the students so as to reach the level of autonomy in learning for life time.

M. Abdessalami


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