viernes, 23 de octubre de 2009

Literature review

The theoretical foundations of the present research project are basically two: autonomy awareness and inquiry-based learning. To start with, the main objective of this action research project is to analyze how the implementation of an inquiry-based learning unit, containing a variety of inquiry-based hands-on science activities, can help students increase their autonomy awareness making them more autonomous learners while they develop their critical thinking skills within a student-centered environment. For this reason, I will provide definitions for the following concepts: inquiry-based learning and autonomy awareness. And then I will consider some literature that has been written about this research topic. I will describe two projects which are linked to the purpose of my project that were carried out at different elementary and secondary schools in the United States. The first one was carried out by Douglas Llewellyin (2001) and the second one by Douglas Cuchiarelli (2001).

Inquiry-based learning

Inquiry-based learning is rooted in the scientific method of investigating phenomenon in a structured and methodical manner. Related to teaching and learning, it is an information-processing model that allows students to discover meaning and relevance to information through a series of steps that lead to a conclusion or reflection on the newly attained knowledge. In most cases, teachers use a "guided inquiry" method to facilitate the learning experience and structure the inquiry around specific goals of instruction. The benefits of inquiry-based learning include the development of critical thinking, creative thinking, and problem solving.

The main components of inquiry-based learning include:

• A question or series of questions related to the topic of inquiry to be explored (problem statement),
• An investigation and gathering of information related to the question (data collection),
• Continuing with a discussion of findings (analysis),
• Commencing with a reflection on what was learned (implications/conclusion).

1. The first step in any inquiry is the formulation of a question or set of questions related to the topic of inquiry. The question can be posed by the teacher or by the students. Sometimes the question is referred to as a hypothesis or a problem statement.

2. Once a question is posed, students are encouraged to investigate the topic by gathering information from sources that either the teacher provides or within learning resources or tools that are readily available to the students.

3. When enough information related to the topic of inquiry is gathered, it is organized in categories or outlined by highlighting the important information relative to the topic. This helps the pupil make connections with new learning and prior learning.

4. The information is discussed and analyzed for further understanding. The teacher can direct the discussion and highlight the implications that arise from the investigation and show how it relates to the solution of the problem.

5. Conclusions are made and related back to the original question. Student reflections are encouraged and serve as a way to relate back to the inquiry and retrace the steps that led to the conclusion. This also serves to reinforce the model so that students can repeat the process in any problem-solving situation.

Autonomy awareness

Autonomy awareness, a stage of learner autonomy in which, according to Nunan (1997), learners are made aware of the pedagogical goals and content of the materials they are using, and they are able to identify their own preferred learning styles and strategies as well. Over the last two decades, the concept of learner autonomy has gained momentum, becoming a 'buzz-word' within the context of learning and guiding the curriculum towards a more learner-centered kind of learning (Little, 1991). The following are two classic definitions of autonomy awareness. The first was put forward by Henri Holec (1981) and the second by David Little (1991).
Learner autonomy awareness is when the learner starts to become more willing and capable of taking charge of his/her own learning. The learner should be capable of determining the objectives; defining the contents and the progressions; selecting methods and techniques to be used; monitoring the procedure of acquisition...; evaluating what has been acquired (Holec, 1991).

Autonomy awareness is the foundation to start developing a capacity - for detachment, critical reflection, decision making and independent action. It presupposes, but also entails, that the learner will develop a particular kind of psychological relation to the process and content of his learning (Little, 1991).
It is clear from this that autonomy awareness is not a method of language learning – it is a capacity necessary to start becoming an autonomous learner. Autonomous learning presupposes student control, joint responsibility for evaluation, and an emphasis on learner awareness. The teacher is seen as a counselor and a resource.

The main point here is that most of these can be seen as ways of organizing learning, as methods. They may be more or less teacher-led and the degree of teacher control is not clear. We use the term «autonomy awareness » to refer to a «capacity» and not a «method». It is a capacity that (usually) needs to be acquired, hence our emphasis on «learning how to learn». Once students recognize that they have control, they may choose how they learn: they may choose self-study, or they may not. We are thus trying to promote autonomous systems that help our learners to develop their potential for taking control of every stage of their learning, from setting objectives, making plans, carrying them out and evaluating themselves.

Taking into account Holec’s view that language-learning autonomy is not innate, it leaves a scope for the development of a system and techniques that may help learners to learn how to learn (McDonough, 1995). Much has been done in the area of learner training — or learner development and awareness. We are thinking about the process that the learner goes through when he or she learns how to learn. There is a wealth of material on learning strategies and styles, and it is to the concepts that we like to introduce our students.

As science teachers, we feel justified in devoting teacher time to fostering students’ autonomy awareness. We encourage them to use their own experiences of language learning and, indeed, their own exposure to language teaching. Above all, we would like them to start to trust their own abilities to analyze problems, to set objectives, to make plans and to evaluate themselves. The corollary of this is that science teachers involved also have to learn to trust the students, and even though this has frequently proved to be a hard task, it is the only way we can foster and increase students’ autonomy awareness in our science classes.

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