How did the book come about?
The chapters were originally short articles published in Independence, the newsletter of the IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) Learner Autonomy SIG (special interest group). The project was initiated by Carol Everhard who thought it would be a fun way to invite experts around the world to contribute on a range of themes associated with learner autonomy. Each theme was represented by its own worm, with a 'keeper' taking the lead on soliciting articles from other experts in the field. The concepts are deep but the tone is light and often humorous, making the book very accessible to newcomers to the field. You feel like you are joining the autonomy family as the personalities certainly shine through. At the end of the project, we had 47 articles on ten themes written by 50 experts. Carol and I, along with Richard Smith who had been the newsletter editor in charge of the original editing for most of the articles, decided it would be a nice idea to bring the collection together into an edited book.
What's inside the book?
The 'worms book' contains ten themes, each representing an area of the multifaceted notion of learner autonomy. These themes are: Assessment, Classroom research, Counselling / advising, Culture, Learner training, Motivation, Self-access, Teacher autonomy, Teacher education, and Technology.
Each chapter is special but a few stand out as my favourites. For example, taking the first theme, assessment, Hanne Thomsen writes about self-assessment, Viljo Kohonen writes about peer assessment, and Gina Oxbrow writes about guided reflection. These are themes that still occupy a lot of space in my workplace. Reading about these crucial aspects of learner autonomy makes us understand that the work we are doing now is possible thanks to the fundamental concepts that were mapped out in 2006 or earlier.
Under the theme of classroom research, we see evidence of transition. Lienhard Legenhausen articulates what has now become accepted: theory and practice are linked by means of research. Naoko Aoki discusses how learner autonomy has become part of our personal and professional identity. Maybe I didn't grasp that back in 2006, but now I do. She also notes the shift in research paradigms from a positivist to a constructivist one which has continues to be the case in our field.
The theme of Advising/Counselling is particularly interesting to me and re-reading Marina Mozzon-McPherson's discussion of the role of advisers is a treat. I feel proud of what we have done collectively to develop the field thanks to the fundamental concepts that began with Marina and other colleagues, many of them contributors to this book.
The theme of learner training is still a topical one (and the terminology is still up for debate). Barbara Sinclair's engaging narrative resonates with anyone who has tried to learn another language. Her approach to gradually giving responsibility for learning along a continuum depending on the learner has greatly influenced my role as an educator. Leni Dam explains the 'two sides' when developing autonomy in learners: teacher directed and learner directed with discourse linking the two sides and calls for more clarity. Are we there yet? I'm not sure.
Ema Ushioda sends the motivation worm on an interesting journey of metaphors involving apples, books, ears and even wormholes. It seems like this group of writers were the most creative! I am particularly grateful to Martin Lamb for helping me to understand the relationship between autonomy and motivation. It has taken me a while to sort out the difference/overlap between autonomy (from the language learning literature, sense 1 as he calls it) and autonomy (from a self-determination theory perspective, sense 2), but Martin's chapter really helped with this. (If this interests you too, look out for a new book published by Multilingual Matters coming out later this year!)
The final section I will mention is self access which begins with a humorous narrative by Richard Pemberton going back to the origins of self-access in Hong Kong. I also feel a renewed sense of gratitude to Lucy Cooker when I re-read her chapter about creating the original self-access center at the university where I work in Japan. The field of self-access has shifted somewhat since this collection of chapters were written, but we owe so much to the founders for paving the way.
The book was originally published as an ebook in 2011 by IATEFL and was republished as an ebook and paperback book in the Autonomous Language Learning Series series at the request of the LASIG.
Editors: Carol J. Everhard & Jo Mynard with Richard Smith
Publication date: 2018
Ebook, $6.00 (free for LASIG members)
Print book, 282 pages, $29.99
Series: Autonomous Language Learning
ISBN (ebook): 9780463105368
ISBN (print): 9781981093953
How to purchase