Sunday, December 11, 2011

Learning Strategies. How Does the Learner Deal with the Process of Learning

Learning Strategies
How Does the Learner Deal with the Process of Learning?

In our experience as learners and as teachers we are day by day more aware about the process of learning and all the different aspects we have to take into consideration. Until now, we realize that process of learning is not only a cognitive process but also it is the interaction of different factors such as sociocultural background, gender, age, affective factors, learning styles and strategies, and also teachers’ attitudes and school conditions. It is in other words the use of mental process and feelings together with communicative skills in an active in order to solve difficulties while learning and more importantly while facing real problems in life.
Williams and Burden (1997) point out how learners draw upon their existing skills and knowledge and use their personal learning strategies in the process of learning. It has to do of how students are aware of their own way of learning. To understand this complicated task, these authors explain what they mean by skills and strategies. On one hand, skills are in relationship of cognitive processes. They are all the resources we have to carry out an activity. But the correct use of them in a purposeful way when appropriate is what is involved by learning strategies. There are many different strategies people use in order to succeed while learning and they can be used consciously and unconsciously.   Strategies can be cognitive, that is, they can involve mental processing, or they can be social and effective where awareness is involved. Also, as learning is not a passive activity, learning strategies can change and thus be learned.
According to Williams and Burden (1997) there has been a considerable amount of descriptive research on learning strategies. Since learning a language is a communicative and social task it is seen differently among people. For that reason there are different learning strategies classifications. Rubin (1981) suggests that there are three major types of strategies used by learners which can contribute directly or indirectly to language learning. The first group is called learning strategies and contribute directly to the language. This group includes six main cognitive strategies and metacognitive strategies which are used to supervise, regulate, and self-direct learning. The second group contributes indirectly to learning and is formed by the communication strategies which are those used when people come across any difficulty in communication because of the inappropriate use of the knowledge of the language. The last group also contributes indirectly to learning and is form by social strategies which are activities learners do in order to be more exposure to the target language.
Another categorization of learning strategies is the one developed by Rebecca Oxford (1990). She provides twelve features of language learning. Later on she provides a more detailed classification. She divides the strategies in two main groups: direct and indirect. Each one is subdivide into three groups. Direct strategies include memory, cognitive strategies, and compensation strategies. The other one includes metacognitive strategies, affective strategies and social strategies.
Teachers and students have to be aware that learning is a dynamic process and that both teacher and students make use of different learning strategies to solve problems. These learning strategies can change through time. One Teachers’ goal has to be that students make use of better strategies and in a better way and then guide them in a way to let them be autonomous. As learning is not a mechanical process, metacognitive, communicative, social, and effective strategies have to be taken into account to get a more holistic learning which is required nowadays. However, creating autonomy on students is a complicated task. It involves both the teachers and students’ roles and the adequate conditions where the strategy training is carried out.
Strategy training involves teaching thinking and learning skills. For that there are specific designed programs. The most known and employed program is the Feuerstein’s Instrumental Enrichement (IE). Its purpose is to identify aspects of thinking such as making comparisons, categorizing, and organizing our thoughts and creating interferences. Somerset Thinking Skills Programme and Lipman’s Philosophy for children are others programs which are designed to teach thinking skills.
The programs mentioned above and many other published works are aimed at learners and neglect in some way the teachers’ role. For that reason Strategic Teaching Model by Jones (1987) emphasized the role teachers play in learning. Its six assumptions guide teachers in their preparation and presentation of their lessons. Another model is the Process-based Instruction by Ashman and Conway (1989) which with after suffering some variation the final model involves assessment, orientation, strategy development, intra-task transfer, consolidation and generalization. The model help teachers how to deal with each of these phases.
There are a number of models about strategy training that try to cover and reach the goals of making students autonomous and leading their own learning. However, the appropriate use of those strategies training and the awareness that they are affected by context, culture and differences between individuals can be useful to help students to be able to solve problems and go further than just memorizing as the Bill mentioned in the reading.

Williams, S. & Burden, R. (1997) Psychology for language teachers. Cambridge: CUP

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