Learner Development SIG: Realizing autonomy

Rich Silver, Ritsumeikan University and Alison Stewart, Gakushuin University

Over the past few months, the Learner Development SIG has seen a number of projects come to fruition. First of all, the SIG’s book, Realizing Autonomy, will be published by Palgrave Macmillan. The book has been three years in the making, but will finally be available on Amazon.com and other outlets from this December. It is edited byKay Irie and Alison Stewart and contains 17 chapters by the LD SIG members that describe and reflect on autonomy-fostering practices in a variety of different classroom contexts, ranging through university and high schools classes, to conversation schools and Peace Boat. It also includes a foreword by the SIG founders, Richard Smith and Naoko Aoki, and an afterword chapter by Scott Thornbury. The book is hard cover and not cheap, but all royalties are going to Shanti Volunteer Organization, a charity that has been supporting education and literacy in developing countries, as well as the relief efforts in Tohoku.
As a forum to showcase the chapters in the book, a one-day conference was held in Nagoya this past October. This was a packed event that brought together a diverse group of Realizing Autonomy book authors plus 19 other presentations, workshops, and roundtable discussions in which participants could share their experiences and ideas about promoting learner autonomy. The conference featured two very innovative plenary sessions, one by Tim Murphey from Kanda University of International Studies, and the other by Richard Pemberton of Nottingham University, who joined the conference from the UK on Skype, together with Mike Nix of Chuo University. The conference organizers are now calling for papers for a special Conference Proceedings issue of Learning Learning. More information about the book, conference, and charity can be found at the dedicated website: <realizingautonomy.wordpress.com>.
In addition to the Nagoya conference, the LD SIG has been involved in various other conferences in Japan and elsewhere. The LD SIG hosted a series of great presentations at the Pan SIG conference in Matsumoto. Then at Nakasendo in Tokyo in June, participants congregated for a highly stimulating poster presentation and discussion workshop. In August, four LD SIG members went to Beijing, China and gave a workshop on writing about autonomy at the AILA conference at the Beijing Foreign Studies University. This month, the LD SIG has provided sponsorship to new researchers at the Advising for Language Learner Autonomy conference at Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, and awarded an additional two grants to help SIG members to attend the JALT National conference in Tokyo. JALT2011 is the final major event of the year for the LD SIG, and it promises to be another exciting and thought-provoking affair; plenary speaker, Phil Benson, will be joining us in discussion following presentations on the theme of “Learning from life-changing experiences” at the annual LD SIG Forum on Sunday, November 20 from 5.30–7 p.m.
In addition to these projects, the SIG has been continuing its practice of holding get-togethers once every two months. These are informal gatherings, usually centered on different themes that help us to better understand learning and learning environments. For the March get-together, for example, participants brought in written narratives about their own language learning. These have been compiled in a blog <tokyogettogethers.blogspot.com> that offers a rich source of data for reflection, discussion, and perhaps a new collaborative publication project.
Sharing ideas and insights remains a central activity of the SIG, and its bi-annual online newsletter, Learning Learning, is one of the main channels for this. The newsletter typically features articles related to learner and teacher autonomy, as well as book reviews and reports on recent conferences and events, but it is open to other, non-mainstream kinds of writing about learner autonomy, such as poetry, fiction, or other genres. In keeping with the collaborative spirit of the SIG, Learning Learning <ld-sig.org/LL/index.html> tries to involve new members by constantly expanding its team of editors, proofreaders, and layout designers. In fact, at present we are calling again for volunteers to help contribute to producing the newsletter, as well as learn new skills and work with a dynamic team of people in the process. SIG members old or new who are interested in getting involved in Learning Learning are warmly welcomed to contact the SIG through the JALT website <jalt.org>.

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