Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Fostering Learner Autonomy in a Technology-Enhanced, Inquiry-Based Foreign Language Classroom

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Fostering Learner Autonomy in a Technology-Enhanced, Inquiry-Based Foreign Language Classroom

Article excerpt

Abstract:

This article focuses on a qualitative teacher research project with a fourth-semester university Spanish class that emphasized inquiry-based learning. One of the primary objectives of the class was to increase learner autonomy through self-selected inquiries, self-directed learning activities, and curricular negotiation. Multiple data sources were used to highlight and assess instances of increased autonomy as well as problematic areas and resistance to change.

Key words: inquiry-based learning, learner autonomy, qualitative teacher research, technology, teaching methods

Language: Spanish

Introduction

Many foreign language learners exit middle school, high school, and college foreign language classes with low proficiency levels in their target languages. In numerous classrooms, languages continue to be taught through transmission models of learning based on the tenets of behaviorism (Lee & VanPatten, 2003). Within these highly didactic, teacher-centered classes, students typically assume a passive role, and activities focus primarily on drill and practice, imitation, memorization, and repetition (Lee & VanPatten, 2003; Omaggio Hadley, 2001; Tarone & Yule, 1989). Over the past few years, though, a growing number of researchers and teaching professionals involved with foreign language education have started to explore and experiment with innovative instructional approaches that focus more and more on communication, cultural understanding, and performance-based outcomes. This article reports on a qualitative teacher research project with a fourth-semester university Spanish class in which the curriculum was presented using a technology-enhanced, inquiry-based learning approach. Students in the class were invited to assume increased responsibility for their learning and to make their learning personal, meaningful, and applicable to real-world settings by self-selecting and researching specific inquiries.

Methodology

This project comes from a larger, evaluative case study that focused on the implementation, documentation, and analysis of an inquiry-based curriculum in a fourth-semester university Spanish class during an entire academic semester (for a complete account, see Luke, 2004). The purpose of this report is to examine how the student-centered approach fostered learner autonomy in both positive and negative ways. The case study design was selected in order to gain a greater understanding of the situation and context as well as the personal interpretations and reactions of the participants. Merriam (1998) stressed that case study designs often have a focus in "process rather than outcomes, in context rather than a specific variable, in discovery [italics added] rather than confirmation" (p. 19). At this stage of the investigation the intent was not to draw comparisons or generalize to larger populations, but rather to better understand some of the characteristics, affordances, and nuances of this complex learning environment. Undoubtedly, additional research is needed to examine, measure, and quantify other language competencies and outcomes in similar classroom environments.

Research Questions

There are two research questions that guided the current study: (a) how can a technology-enhanced, inquiry-based teaching approach foster learner autonomy in a foreign language classroom, and (b) how do learners respond to the increased autonomy? These questions were derived from four guiding research questions of the larger project (Luke, 2004), which were:

1. How does a teacher-researcher implement an inquiry-based learning approach in a fourth-semester university Spanish class?

2. What do students do in an inquirybased classroom?

3. What are students' reactions to the learning approach?

4. What are some of the linguistic and educational gains possible in this type of instructional setting?

Data Collection and Analysis

A number of data sources and data collection techniques were utilized to develop the case study. …

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