Promoting Learner Autonomy on EAP Courses for Arab Students

2021-04-30 10:15:07
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In his book on learner autonomy, David Little describe learner autonomy as primarily a matter of the learner's psychological relation to the content and process of learning (9). Currently teaching particularly English for Academic purposes, learner autonomy is an issue much talked about. Learning is part of a leaners integrated identity where some level of autonomy is significant, however, giving or providing sufficient autonomy to learners doing an English course especially English for Academic Purposes is widely problematic based on many reasons. One of the challenges is that EAP is not only emphasized by the undifferentiated unitary mass but also deals with different subject-specific literacies. The primary aim of EAP is to provide students with language support for pursuing learning of other subjects in English. Besides the study course is often designed through assessment of the learners needs. Therefore, fulfilling the expectations and needs of students and developing their autonomy on English for the academic purpose a much-complicated task. Based on the challenges, learning autonomy is a buzz in the foreign language education over the past several years and particularly about lifelong learning skills. Despite the term being widely used, there have different divergent interpretations. Holecs used a foundational definition referring to autonomy as the ability to be in charge of an individuals learning through planning, choosing materials, control of progress and self-assessment (23). On the other hand, Littles defined learner autonomy as involving the capacity for detachment, reflection, making decisions and having independent action (77). The definitions are relevant and used in this context. Based on this background this paper examines the challenges of encouraging and promoting learner autonomy on English for Academic Purposes courses for Arab students. Learning habits preconceived instructor roles and learner roles as well as societal and cultural limitations. Furthermore, it gives a suggestion on the use of real-life projects to explain in an attempt to improve learner autonomy. Besides, it also focuses on motivational patterns highlighting their correlation with ownership and learner confidence and also a brief literature review on the topic.

Brief review of the existing literature

It is essential to examine briefly the existing literature on learner autonomy on EAP courses. The concept of learner autonomy has had a broad infusing process in which various disciplines such as political science, philosophy, sociology and psychology played an important role affecting the panorama of the term. The post-world war two periods provided fundamental theoretical shifts and their effects on the development of the concept of learning autonomy and in particular in the field of education. Ridley et al. goes ahead to state that the primary paradigm shift took place in the area of psychology from the perception of behaviorist to humanist and then to the perception of the Cognitivist (43). The behaviorists perceived learning as a malleable phenomenon and externally controllable. On the other hand, the cognitivist and humanist perception approached learning as the capacity that people possess and social phenomenon that essentially occurs through interactions that are meaningful. The paradigm drifts not only resulted in the development of learner-focused education but also enabled the preparation for communicative approaches that considered the aspects of communication, interaction, the learning needs of individuals and learning autonomy.

The other major influence was from the area of political science. Gremmoand Riley (1995) believes that the interest in the rights of the minority began to influence the policies of the government that had an underlying impact on the development of the education of the adult in Europe and resulted in the emergence of the concept of learning autonomy. The first influence manifested itself at the level of an institution at the inception of Centre de Recherches et dApplications Pedagogies en Languages. To widen access to learning and promote lifelong learning values Holec and his friends developed an adult center to enable learning of foreign languages without direct instructor instruction. They were able to make a distinction between the self-directed learning, literally referred as a desirable learning behavior or situation and learner autonomy referring to the capacity for behavior. They became accepted in the special literature.

On the other hand, the concept of EAP first manifested itself at the level of an institution when the British organization focusing on special English language materials for students in an overseas university (SELMOUS) was founded. The overall EAP concept was defined by Etic. Schaller, Agota & Anita states that EAP is primarily concerned with communication skills in English that are needed for studying purposes informal learning systems (93).

The challenge of promoting learner autonomy in EAP courses for Arab students.

A good number of higher academic institutions are in the countries within the Gulf Cooperation Council, which borders the Arabian Gulf: Saudi, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, and Qatar. Most of them require EAP as a requirement for their student bodies. Ferlazzo adds that most of the training is conducted in medium English therefore English language courses are a requirement for most of the institutions (91). Once the courses are completed, students must grapple as much as they can to meet the demands of learning English. The development in quality English language learning has not satisfied towards the demand of the society in Arab. In the process of studying English for academic purposes, there are several challenges that they face both the students and teachers.

Learning habits

The majority of the Arab students lack English background knowledge since the English curriculum is only provided in the first year of their low secondary school. This has had a major impact on their learning habits when adults. Most of the students do not make an attempt of practicing to speak English with the native speakers; the environment is not suitable, and the classrooms are also crowded. The students fear speaking English primarily because they lack the confidence to use the English language because of feeling shame and are afraid of making mistakes. The Arabian curriculum is not very suitable for students to motivate and help them improve English. They have a preconceived perception that The English language is difficult to learn.

Their study habits and learning styles posed the greater challenge in their study of English. The Arab culture is believed to be an oral communicative culture. They like getting involved in long conversations, debates, and discussions and form an integral part of their social life. Despite the Arabic language being a phoneme-rich language, have no major problems in pronunciation and no crucial barriers to communication in spoken English, most of the Arab students lag far much behind. Even the advanced students can hardly spell the basic words. Moreover, the most articulate and intelligent students are also unable to write a coherent or a legible paragraph.

The curriculum and the students learning habits are to be partly blamed for this. The English teaching materials and methods are repetitive and dry, and most of the students do not have much discipline to school work. According to Arabic, the language is essentially an oral communicative culture where writing follows the spoken language pattern more closely than it is in English. Al-Mahrooqi , Rahma & Christopher states that in written English there is the use of a syntactically clean sentencing and only favors concise and complete expression of ideas whereas the written Arabic often meanders around the information or ideas just as similar to their spoken language (76).

Preconceived learner

The Arab students usually have a preconceived perception about learning English for Academic Purposes. The majority of the students often feel that English instructors are not well trained, for example, some of the teachers use the Arabic language when teaching. And therefore, they cannot do well and influenced the interest of the students. The students also attribute their problems to their weak background, methods used in teaching and the environment in their country.

Weak foundations they feel have resulted in their English status, affected their motivation to learn English and the instructors lack of interest. Moreover, they faced a lot of difficulties with vocabulary due to the weak foundation. As a result, they are unable to do class presentations worth many points. The students lack important vocabulary when they are engaged in authentic communicative situations such as speaking and writing. They are unable to express their ideas accurately and freely due to their limited vocabulary. Despite the inadequate vocabulary they can be solved by providing more discipline-specific reading courses to improve their vocabulary depth and size. They can also be made aware of what to expect in their academic disciplines. Furthermore, as a result, the students also face difficulties in grammar. O'Rourke, Breffni, Lorna adds that being that grammar is an essential need in conveying messages, it is important to create materials that can enable the students to progress in the learning of EAP (89). The students prefer doing their assignments at home because they could it fast and still get good grades.

On the environmental reasons the students feel the excessive use of mother tongue is also a major challenge in promoting the learning of EAP. Besides there is limited opportunities and time to practice English being that their classes are usually very crowded, and the teachers do not find time for close teacher-student teaching. Furthermore, they felt that some of the cultural practices limit their study. For example, it is culturally inappropriate for boys to work with girls. Therefore, it makes it hard for them to freely participate in group work or to even sit together.

On the other hand, it is observed that most of the students state that the teaching methods are inappropriate. Some of the teachers had low proficiency in English and used the Arabic language in doing some of the explanations. The educational institutions also lacked writing practice. Furthermore, they also face difficulties during the lectures. Taking of notes, the processing of visual information coping with stress when demanded to have active participate, understanding the use of metaphorical language used by the tutors and also responding to questions asked during lectures was a challenge due to the limited vocabulary they had. Using different lecturing styles such as conversational style and discussion style is another source of difficulty for EAP Arab students. Finally, recognizing facial expressions and gestures in authentic lectures that are absent in written text can also confuse EAP students.

Preconceived Instructor roles

Teachers teaching Arab EAP students on the other hand usually have preconceived perceptions. Most of the Arab EAP instructors had a preconceived notion that the Arab culture was oriented to towards the group rather than the individual. However, the Arabian students are pervasive more organic and less monolithic sense of the group. Learners helped and supported each other within their study groups, constantly socialized and participated in group rituals. Some of the preconceived challenges by instructors include;

Preparation of suitable course materials: many Arab EAP instructors have difficulty to find and prepare suitable teaching materials. There is always difficulty in getting access to subjec...

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