My university is on a quarter system, and since the start of the new quarter three weeks ago I have had one goal: to get them off my back to foster learner independence.

I’ve had some successes and some failures (as you can imagine). In the first week, I did a mock-up sheet of how to use COCA. It was step-by-step and included screen grabs and arrows on the sheet. Then we marched down to the computer lab and I turned them loose.

And you know what? Students are impossible to predict, because they followed that sheet and used COCA flawlessly, but nearly every single one of them needed one-on-one help logging in to the computer (username: student/ password: student).

I asked the students to rate the usefulness of this tool, and out of fifty students only two said they didn’t see the use. The other 48 gave responses along the lines of that this would help them study by themselves.

This leads me to believe that although they can be intensely needy, these students actually want to study on their own. Now that I think about it, maybe it’s more about developing trust than an actual need for hand-holding.

What I’ve been doing these days is preparing sheets at the beginning of each lesson that walk them step-by-step through the pages they should look at in their book and the information they should note (open your book to page 61. Look at number 2, part b. Find the word “remember”. What does it say?)

These lessons seem to be a general success. By the time I come in to explain, they don’t really need much explaining. So far, activities like this really seem to till the soil of their minds and help things stick–something I can see reflected quite strongly in their actual use of the grammar points this quarter versus last quarter. In my class, we are required to give speaking and writing grades in addition to quizzes. So far, quiz grades have been steady, remarkable only in that the quizzes I give are much more detailed than they were last quarter.

To me, however, the real sign that whatever I’m doing is making an impact lies in their actual use of the grammar points. Last quarter my poor students (bless their hearts) couldn’t actually use the grammar, no matter how hard they tried. This year, when students speak to me, a lot of them are putting “didn’t” in the right place and tense. This is something they don’t notice–but I do. Their writing, too, is inspiring to me. Last week we did past simple versus past continuous, and I got an overwhelming majority of writing that was done in class and used those tenses correctly. This week it was used to, and the same thing. Whether or not they know it, these girls are actually teaching themselves how to use these tenses.

There are more than a few articles that touch on this concept–teaching students to teach themselves. Sometimes, as Maryellen Weimer wrote in Faculty Focus, students respond quite negatively–they don’t realize that there is a method to our madness.

Because of this, I try to keep the lines of communication clear with my students. “I’m doing this for the same reason I don’t let you tell me your name if I forget–because if I figure it out for myself, I’ll remember. If you tell me, I’ll forget immediately again.”

They seem to understand this, and most of them seem to like this style of working. (I can tell because mobiles are away and the conversation really is about grammar!). I explain to them that there is a hierarchy of figuring this stuff out for themselves in my classroom: first, read the directions. Second, think about it. Ask yourself does it sound right? You know enough English for this! Third, ask your friend. Fourth, check your book and notes (usually included in the first step of read the directions!). Fifth, ask me. But if you ask me, I’m going to just point to where it is in the book.

I’m not doing this to be lazy, I tell them. I’m doing this because I can’t take the exam for them, so they have to know that they know the material.

Still, most of my students seem to view me as the be-all, end-all source of knowledge in my grammar classroom. To that end, TESOL Connections has a few recommendations for building learner trust and autonomy that I think I might use before my next quiz.

First, I think I will have students make a yes-no chart, where they can write down and see the things they know well and don’t know well. Then they can compare it to their friends so they can better assess each others’ strengths and weaknesses.

Next, I really think I could adapt the jigsaw activity to the upcoming unit. In this activity, I give students a piece of the knowledge, and they put it together like a jigsaw puzzle. This is kind of perfect for future and future time clauses, because these units contain multiple components. If everyone focuses on one part of the big whole, though, I think they could put it together.

These activities could improve my classroom collaboration, foster trust among learners, and increase learner autonomy. That would be a win win win for me!