Talking to myself about learner autonomy

Here is the second of two “conversations with myself.”
You can see the first one here. Both of the originals come from posts that I made on the dogme yahoo group  in April 2008.

Mike 2008 is in italics and 2012 Mike is in blue.



I just completed a 10 week session and I taught “Listening” for the
first time. The only homework assignment that I gave the students for
this class was to listen to English for at least 30 minutes a week
outside of class and to write a (very) quick summary about it.

This homework was due every Friday, and students shared what they
listened to and referred classmates to materials/websites that they
found useful. I thought it was a great part of the week.

I answered students questions about phrases and words through (voice)
emails and tried to point them in the right direction on how to decode
things. The voice-email often took the form of, “thanks for your
homework, I can see that you really like ____. You asked about ___,
without hearing the context, I would guess that it meant ____” and
things like that. (15 students)

I also compiled a list of all the words and phrases that gave them
trouble or that they claimed to have “learned” that week. I sent this
list to everyone at the end of 5 weeks. Some students seemed confused
about the list. I said that it was all the new words/phrases or those
that had caused them trouble and that someone in the class
would/should know it. Of course, I told them if there was word that
they didn’t know/couldn’t figure out, to please let me know.

(Perhaps this was a mistake…I am starting to think that Korean
students “need” a test in order to sit down and study…hopefully more
on this soon)

After a few weeks with the Listening Logs I said that it was great to
watch TV, but the Listening homework had to be just listening.
(Friends on an MP3 file counted as .5). Soon, I disallowed anything
made in Korea. Perhaps I should have made these restrictions at the
beginning. The students didn’t seem to mind, they jokingly said that I
was getting stricter and stricter but they seemed to like it.

At times I recommended certain things, like Obama’s speech on race or
audio books. I was surprised when nearly everyone listened to Obama’s
speech and told me that it was too hard and “not interesting” and
filled with “too many words about politics.” I think one person
enjoyed it. Some of the websites that I recommended were never used.

I wonder if perhaps I made a mistake in not taking them by the hand
and showing them the websites and reiterating which ones I thought
might be most useful.

To wrap up this longer-than-expected message. After the final class
and goodbyes and a completed survey I bumped into some students. They
thanked me again. One guy told me/complained/lamented the fact/let me
know it was him who wrote the comment that he didn’t know what to
listen to for the homework. I suddenly felt a bit depressed. I
wondered if I didn’t make my point clear

“I wanted you to become independent learners/listeners. Next week I
will not be checking your homework, but I hope that you will still
practice listening. I expect what you listen to should be different
from him or him or her. I am really sorry if I didn’t make that point
clear enough. I hope you will make a habit out of listening and this
was just the first step. The next step is up to you.”

And finally to my question: What could I have done better?

(Was I imposing my Western/Dogme philosophies on the students who
simply wanted to be told what to listen to and then tested?)

Thanks for reading,


Hey bro,

Good times with that listening class, huh? If I remember correctly that was the first time you taught a class strictly focused on listening, eh? Your questions at the end really cut to the core. You asked what you could have done better and if you were imposing your Western or Dogme philosophies on the students. My take, at the moment,  with some time and distance,  is that you actually did ok with it. Was it perfect? Probably not. But I don’t think it has to be, or really can be for that matter.  The students signed up for the course knowing that they were getting foreign teachers. If they wanted “Korean style” (whatever that is exactly) they could surely have chosen that. Let’s be honest, most of the students in the program were escaping from or making up for their previous learning and needed/wanted something different. Also, I am sorry but I am not completely sure about what you see as the dogme aspects of this assignment or course. 

I’d say it was a cool idea to get students to listen on their own. I also think it is rad that you had students sharing and evaluating the resources. It seems like this is a nice way to get students to realize what is out there. Gosh, imagine what they could do now with all the podcasts floating around? I think maybe you were beating yourself up a little, Mike. This was your first time to give such an assignment and I suspect that you weren’t totally clear with the instructions or the objectives. I say good on you for trying. Unfortunately, I don’t think you had another chance to teach this same listening course after this, right?  It sounds like you were learning as you went along and responding to what you were seeing. Haha, good thing you “banned” TV shows, especially Friends. I am sure it was pretty annoying to read about Ross and Rachel weekly. 

I really liked  your point when you said that you won’t be there to help the Ss next week and how you were trying to get them to become independent learners. My question here is if you could have been more explicit about this in the beginning? This might have been helpful to get more students to “buy-in” to the assignment.

You wondered if you might have showed them some of the resources. This sounds like a potentially productive time. Maybe something to add onto the Friday sessions. You called it “hand holding” which sounds a bit negative. What if we just called it helping? 

Again with hindsight, the class (and thus the assignment) seems like it was largely successful. I think a few tweaks in the delivery and a bit more transparency for the assignment might have been helpful. I have fond memories of those Friday classes. It was all new and the students were in charge of sharing what they’d learned and listened to. They were teaching each other vocab from the listening and you were helping out as needed. That was pretty dope. Also, I think it is pretty cool that you were doing voice emails back in 2008 (especially because I don’t remember it) though I am wondering if there are ways to make the emails to students a bit more helpful. Nothing comes to mind on this though.

You mentioned requiring a test. This might not work so well with the vocab from their listenings because they all listened to different stuff. I hate to say it but perhaps you wasted your time compiling all those words. It was a listening class not a vocab class, right? I don’t know, but maybe part of the confusion was the fact that you gave them the list at the end. I can see how the students might have been confused by this. Giving a list of vocab at the end of a course for lexical items (yes you will use that phrase sometimes in 2012) that they are not tested on or expected to know might seem strange to students.

I think that this story (like the first) is another example of how collecting feedback throughout the course can be very helpful. If you wait until the end it might be too late! And then you just have feedback from that specific class and the next group might be completely different. So, my advice is once again something about collecting feedback early and often, being as clear as possible for the reasons for assignments, and finding out and addressing students’ needs and expectations. It sounds simple, right? It’s not always so simple but this is a start. One other thing about feedback…remember that it’s not really about you, but rather just about what you’ve been doing in class. You can change this. Of course sometimes you won’t follow the suggestions and that is fine too, just be sure you reason it out. 

Hopefully this is helpful in some way. 

Thanks for sharing and take it easy,

PS- Don’t even think about buying stock in Facebook. Seriously. You might consider joining Twitter and blogging ASAP though.

PPS- Apparently you say things like “rad” and “dope” and call yourself “bro” in the future. Look out for that.

PPPS- Just trust your instincts with future employers and job opportunities.

PPPPS-Don’t use too many PS’s because people will find it annoying or at least tease you. 



  1. laurasoracco

    I identified with 2008 Mike’s self doubt about showing them the websites… and agreed with 2012’s Mike way of seeing hand holding more as helping. Useful reminder to 2014 Laura. Liked this time travel reflection!

    • mikecorea

      2014 Mike is very happy previous Mikes took the time to type up such things. I am also happy present day Laura was able to get something out of it as well! 🙂

      My current thought is that “hand holding” for a purpose can be time well spent.

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