Carol Higho is a qualified UK Primary school teacher specialising in English teaching and teacher training. She has years of experience in creating, developing and editing materials, mapping courses and designing documentation for effective course use.
Watch Carol’s webinar here, where she details how autonomous learning leads to exam success. She also shares some ideas on ways to develop reading, writing, maths and more through CLIL and activities from the Pearson primary course Team Together, which develops language skills alongside 21st Century skills to help students thrive in today’s world.
The three stages of learning
We’ve all learned things that we’ve subsequently forgotten. Just think about all the facts and figures you were exposed to during your education. Who remembers if sandstone is sedimentary or composite? Could you confidently distinguish a stegosaurus from a diplodocus?
However, there are pieces of information that we hold on to. For example, many people in Europe still have an intimate working knowledge of their currency pre-Euro. So why do we remember certain things and not others? It’s all related to the way we learned the information. The things we remember are things that we actively learned and used – but what does active learning consist of?
There are three stages of active learning as defined by psychology researchers Fitts and Posner: cognitive, associative and autonomous.
Teachers are involved at each stage of learning, building towards giving our students the skills to be an autonomous learner.
The cognitive learning stage
In the cognitive stage, we give our students new information. This might be vocabulary sets or a grammar structure, with a supporting explanation, for example. The teacher’s role here is to explain the information clearly and make sure that each student understands the information fully.
The associative learning stage
In the associative stage, we show our students how to integrate this new information with what they already know, building associations and encouraging them to make predictions. For example, if you’ve taught them the vocabulary set associated with food, how can they relate this with a trip to the supermarket?
The autonomous learning stage
The final stage is autonomous learning, also known as self-directed learning. In this stage, learners set their own goals and choose their own learning activities, using the resources at their disposal (including you, the teacher) to deepen their knowledge. To continue with the food-related example, an autonomous learning activity could be a student deciding to follow a recipe in the target language, building on the vocabulary they already know and using that knowledge to develop a new skill.
This type of active learning comes into play in exam situations, for example, in the speaking section of the PTE for Young Learners exam. Students use information, make associations and come up with new ideas on topics such as favourite animals or hobbies.
If your students are able to successfully demonstrate their active learning abilities ahead of the exam, it builds their confidence and reduces their anxiety.
Exam activities and 21st-century skills
When people talk about 21st-century skills, they are referring to a broad set of abilities, attributes and knowledge that are essential for academic and professional success in the modern world.
In lots of exams, you’ll find activities such as look and find, spot the sequence, word association and find what’s missing. These activities all employ 21st-century skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving. And of course, completing a story and talking spontaneously about subjects uses the skills of creativity and communication.
These skills underpin exam tasks, so it’s very important to develop them in your classroom activities. Once students have a grasp of the cognitive and associative steps of language learning, they’ll be on their way to becoming autonomous learners – which is a huge asset for language learning in general.
Learner autonomy in language learning
Autonomous learners have an edge when it comes to communicating in a second language. They are more confident in their learning ability, and feel more comfortable taking risks when communicating. They develop the capacity for critical reflection, and are more likely to undertake out-of-class learning activities. And they are empowered to make decisions about their learning in terms of goals and strategies – all attributes which make them more likely to succeed in exam situations.
For a more detailed look at developing your young learners’ skills, watch Carol’s webinar in full. She goes into detail on activities and examples from the Team Together course which help to build autonomy in the learning process.
Carol’s webinar is just one of many interesting, useful and informative sessions that were part of the Spring Days programme, which also features webinars on the Global Scale of English, teaching teenagers, tips for adult learners and using Pearson assessments with your learners.
About Team Together
Team Together provides language learning through storytelling and engaging activities and challenges students to communicate creatively in authentic contexts, think critically and work together to achieve success.