Building bricks

holeWhen younger my son went through a phase of wanting to do everything independently, by himself. If you are not in a hurry and trying to get a kid out of the house, it can be entertaining to watch a little boy struggle into his trousers back to front.

Sugata Mitra’s plenary at IATEFL this year continues to generate controversary; indeed, his work in general does as he promotes the idea of students teaching themselves (the famous “Hole-in-the-wall” experiment) and more recently his idea of Self Organising Learning Environments (SOLEs). A search for any of these terms on YouTube or TED will give you an idea of how radical some of his claims may seem, and how persuasive he himself can be!

Some years ago I was involved in organising a TESOL Symposium on Learner Autonomy in the University of Seville. One of the speakers, Leni Dam, spoke about how much teacher work goes into developing learner autonomy! It is not something that happens automatically or even naturally. I am not sure Sugbata Mitra would agree but I think I do.

Michal B. Paradowski has a comprehensive article on the debate in the recent issue of IATEFL Voices. It can be read online and the references at the end also provide excellent follow up, particularly the comments made by Hugh Dellar and Jeremy Harmer.

My son is now autonomous when it comes to dressing. But it took time, and I don’t think he learned all by himself. Parents seem to have some small role in kids development. Teachers probably do as well: even in the future. Sometimes people need to be taught how to brick up that hole in the wall before winter kicks in although, by the same token, I think Pink Floyd had a song about the dangers of bricking everything out.

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