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Hiroshima Learner Development get-togethers

Writer(s): 
Jim Ronald

 

It was in 2007, as part of a Learner Development SIG initiative, that we started local get-togethers in Hiroshima. This was prompted by suggestions from Mike Nix, and by the lead taken in Tokyo and the Kansai area. I received these suggestions as one of the few SIG members in the Hiroshima area at the time – and although I managed to ignore them for a few months, I couldn’t help but take them personally and eventually had to respond. And I’m very glad I did – thanks a lot, Mike!

Our meetings were held in cafés in or around Hiroshima Station, and continued for about 18 months, with attendance ranging from an initial dozen people to a more typical three or four. Although we’d have welcomed more people, and did feel a little discouraged by the small numbers, the fact was a small group was ideal for discussion, for telling and getting feedback about things we were planning or doing in the area of learner development, for encouraging each other as teachers, and for starting and developing real friendships.

But then I got busy, we stopped meeting for a month, then two, then three… and no one seemed to notice! I also got busy with a couple of other activities, both very enjoyable and rewarding, and both fruits in some way of the LD get-togethers: a Japanese study group made up of five or six English teachers who hadn’t studied for a decade or so, and a pragmatics activities book project with two further colleagues/friends.

Then, late last year, hearing about plans for kick-starting the get-togethers in Tokyo and Kansai, and reflecting on all the good things that had come out of having them in Hiroshima before, it seemed a good time to try again. Also, the ETJ Expo was coming up, and I had been asked to present something about the LD get-togethers – the get-togethers that weren’t getting together anymore…

Feeling that in Hiroshima we might need a broader base to attract more people, at the ETJ Expo I spoke about our need to develop as teachers, and how a focus on learner development is one essential aspect of our development. As language teachers we need to go beyond how and what language to teach: to helping the learners in our care learn better, find and use resources (including us!) better, and take over responsibility for their own learning. Consciously adding the dimension of learner development/autonomy to our teaching forces us to become more reflective teachers: teachers who need to challenge what we’re doing, try new things, and investigate language learning in some way.

At the end of January 2012, then, we had our first new, improved LD get-together – with added teacher reflection, action research, and whatever else people brought to the mix! Thanks to support from our Hiroshima JALT chapter (many thanks!), and the LD-SIG, nine people joined this, and nine in February, too. Some of us have started reading books on learner autonomy or reflective teaching to report and discuss at our meetings. Also, as we face a new school year, we are planning how to investigate or promote learner autonomy with our classes through the year.

I’ll finish with some participants’ reasons for joining the Learner Development get-togethers. If you are interested in joining us – in Hiroshima, Kansai, Tokyo, or elsewhere – please visit the LD-SIG website and find out how.

“I have great [nursing] students who start to wise up to self-directed learning in the first year, but less than a fifth of them effectively put it into practice over the next three years. I'd like to know what that missing ingredient is, and how we can bridge the gap between knowing and doing.” (Simon)

“I was so happy to participate in such a meeting because it is very reminiscent of the PD sessions: literature and research shared discussion, as well as topical discussion on relevant issues. The opportunity to enjoy a meal after was a nice, friendly and encouraging way to end the evening. ” (Michelle)

“In Japan, it seems that students are trained to do what the teacher tells them to do, but often that is where it ends. I am interested in finding out how we, as teachers and guides, can make our students aware of their own learning so they will become more motivated to continue studying even outside the classroom. The LD meetings are useful for me because I can get ideas about learner autonomy from other teachers and participate in stimulating discussions.” (Naomi)

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