Alison Fenner, International Study and Language Institute
Year(s) of case study activity: 2012-13
The scheme provided training for students to act as Language Learning Advisors (LLAs) to Institution-Wide Language Programme (IWLP) and Modern Languages and European Studies (MLES) students, providing peer support for developing language learning strategies. The scheme is popular, and has benefited students receiving advice, the Language Learning Advisors, and tutors within the IWLP and MLES.
- Provide students with strategies for ‘learning how to learn’ a language.
- Provide a supportive peer environment in which advice can be given which corresponds to the individual’s academic and cultural needs.
- Encourage the acquisition of independent language-learning strategies and the development of specific skills.
- Foster transferable skills such as self-evaluation, time management and goal setting.
- Allow students within MLES and higher levels of the IWLP to develop coaching skills, enhancing their employability.
- Provide a service to support tutors within the IWLP and MLES.
The IWLP has about 850 students enrolled on its modules, with 24 tutors. The students are drawn from all schools and nationalities represented within the University of Reading.
It became clear to IWLP tutors that students needed to ‘learn how to learn’ a language, since many students have little experience of formal language learning and have therefore developed few language learning strategies. There are many simple techniques which can be taught and be of real benefit to the student. As most IWLP tutors are part-time, they often do not have the time or place to offer this level of support to students on an individual basis.
The project followed the stages as detailed:
- The scheme was discussed with colleagues in MLES in order to explain the benefits of their students becoming LLAs.
- Applications from MLES undergraduates to become LLAs were invited. A further incentive was provided for participation, as students who did so would be eligible for the Reading Experience and Development (RED) Award.
- As the personal approach of the LLAs was essential, applicants’ tutors were asked to give a reference before their appointment was confirmed.
- A training session was held in which the LLAs were provided with materials to help their guidance. These included a questionnaire for LLAs to send to students before their first appointment to encourage reflection upon their learning and goals.
- An appointment system was set up to allow students to schedule meetings with their LLA.
- The scheme was presented to IWLP tutors so that they were aware of its advantages and could encourage their students to attend sessions.
- Throughout the year the LLAs were in constant contact with the Project Leader so their activity could be monitored, and any issues could be addressed.
Students who received advice from the LLAs gained confidence in their abilities, and developed strategies to help themselves acquire language skills more effectively. Additional benefits were that students with access to an LLA were motivated to seek additional resources in the Self-Access Centre for Language Learning (SACLL) or elsewhere, and that having regular appointments with their LLA encouraged students to build in extra time for additional language learning activities.
LLAs found the experience of providing advice to students on IWLP courses rewarding, and they enjoyed the interpersonal nature of the work. LLAs reported that their own language learning techniques had improved as a result of the increased awareness they obtained through the work.
The scheme has provided a useful academic support service for tutors within the IWLP and MLES. As a result, tutors have been appreciative of the scheme.
In its first year, it became clear that the scheme was of great value to both students on IWLP courses, and those who became LLAs. The success of the scheme was reflected in student feedback. Some feedback obtained identified ways in which the scheme could be improved. In the first year there had been less emphasis on matching students to LLAs specialised in the language they were learning. While sessions with LLAs were intended to focus on general language learning strategies rather than language-specific advice, some students expected to have an LLA specialising in the language they were learning, and were disappointed as a result, although most still found the sessions useful. Consideration was given to this, and the scheme was subsequently adapted.
The LLA scheme has been expanded beyond its original remit in terms of the numbers of students who benefit from sessions with an adviser. A greater number of LLAs have been recruited from across MLES, as well as students on high level IWLP courses by recommendation of their tutor. The increased use of LLAs has been enhanced by having LLAs attend initial IWLP sessions in order to introduce themselves to students.
Since the pilot scheme was run, there has been closer liaison between tutors and LLAs so that advisers can be more aware of what advice their students require.
Where possible, students are now matched with LLAs who are specialists in the language they are studying, although the emphasis remains on the acquisition of generic, rather than language-specific, learning strategies and on providing students with a supportive peer environment in which they can develop effective autonomous language learning skills.