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Fostering learner autonomy in an EFL Malagasy context

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posted on 2021-12-09, 10:31 authored by Dominique Vola Ambinintsoa Razafindratsimba

This research intends to bring insights into learner autonomy in a Malagasy EFL setting. Despite being a topic of research in language education for about four decades, learner autonomy is still almost unknown in countries like Madagascar. Most empirical studies on learner autonomy have taken place in either ESL settings in Western countries or EFL settings in some Asian countries. Very little research has been conducted in African developing countries.  In order to foster learner autonomy in a Malagasy setting, the research encompassed two main phases. Phase one focused on exploring the existing conditions for learner autonomy in a Malagasy rural school; while phase two aimed to promote one dimension of learner autonomy with student teachers through a “reflective learning” course. Phase one examined the affordances of learner autonomy in a Malagasy rural school. It investigated three dimensions of learner autonomy, namely self-initiation, self-regulation, and independence, via class observations and interviews with four EFL teachers. The data revealed some elements of autonomy. Self-initiation was fostered through encouragement and opportunities to learn outside class, while independence (from teachers) was mainly promoted through peer collaboration. Though the presence of the elements was not consistent, the fact that they were promoted at all implies possibilities to further exploit them in such a setting. Self-regulation - composed of planning, monitoring, and self-evaluation - was not promoted probably due to the teachers’ unawareness of its importance, and their lack of experience with self-regulation as former learners. The aim of phase two was to promote self-regulation at a Teacher Training College among a group of 22 first-year EFL student teachers as participants. A nine-week “reflective learning” course was designed to achieve three main objectives: (1) to help the student teachers improve their self-regulation skills via reflective journal writing, in order (2) to help them improve their writing proficiency. In addition, experiencing the benefits and the challenges of reflective learning would lead them (3) to be aware of the significance of self-regulation on their own writing and/or learning in general, and on their future teaching. To reach these objectives, the student teachers were given writing tasks and reflection prompts to answer before, during, and after the writing tasks. Each of the writing task was a 200-word argumentative essay, and was repeated twice or three times in order to facilitate the student teachers’ self-evaluation. The pre-task prompts intended to help them plan their writing (including goal setting), the during-task prompts helped them monitor, and the post-task prompts helped them self-evaluate. A session of group discussion was held each week to allow peer collaboration. The writing tasks, the journal reflections on the tasks, on the group discussions, along with journal reflections on the course were included in portfolios.  The findings of phase two revealed that reflective learning was conducive to the development of the student teachers’ self-regulation of writing. They became aware of their difficulties, which they turned into goals. This awareness enabled them to develop strategic behaviour and a sense of responsibility towards their learning in general. They also realised their capability to improve with little help from teachers, which triggered positive affect. Moreover, they generally improved their writing performances mainly thanks to the sense of responsibility, the positive affect, and the habit of paying attention to details, which they had also developed throughout the course. Furthermore, reflective learning influenced their perspectives on teaching.  The development of self-regulation and that of the improvement of writing varied from one student to another. In order to have a more in-depth analysis of such development (or lack of development), two case studies were used to illustrate the variations and the possible reasons behind such variations. The research leads to a few teaching implications. Firstly, learner autonomy has its place in developing countries like Madagascar. Secondly, the development of learner autonomy should be included in teacher training so that teachers know and value its benefits and challenges, based on their own learning experience. Thirdly, not every student would reach the same level of autonomy in a given time. Weaker students may need more guidance in terms of strategies than other students.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Applied Linguistics

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Alternative Language


Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies


Gu, Peter; Crabbe, David