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21. 2. 2011



For several decades, history of methodologies of teaching foreign languages has been a highly renowned science among academics.

The research work proposed a method of organizing various activities in the classroom with the purpose of creating support for the development of understanding of the history of methodologies as a specific meta-cognitive strategy. With the purpose of presenting numerous learning strategies, these activities (both inside and outside the classroom) are based upon the observation of a variety of methodologies applied through history, and the variation in the use of different strategies on generations of learners.

This project involved four volunteer students, Lenka Křivanková, Zbyněk Resl, Denisa Richterová and Barbora Tachovská, all studying a French course as their first foreign language (FJ1 - B1/B2). These four students not only participated with others in class activities, but they also agreed to participate in interviews at home with their parents.

In short, this paper will present the following steps of the project. Firstly, students’, and subsequently their parents’ good learner’s profiles will be elaborated and then they will be compared with the Stern’s profile.

These repertoires of activities will then be transcribed, in terms of strategies of learning, and integrated into Oxford’s classification.

Finally, it will be examined how the activity of learning the history of methodologies can be integrated into this classification of strategies (a strategy being defined by Rebecca Oxford as ”the often-conscious steps or behaviors used by language learners to enhance acquisition, storage, retention, recall, and use of new information” [1]).


1 The variability of good learners’ profiles: students’ and parents’ good learner’s profiles


This part will describe how different “good learner’s profiles” will be defined and then compared to each other. According to Joan Rubin, the observation of this variability of learning strategies in each profile will help students “improve their performance by paying attention to learner strategies already seen as productive.” [2]

The first activity in the classroom consisted of defining an initial profile by asking students to describe spontaneously characteristic behaviour of a “good learner”. Then students led the very same inquiry at home with their parents. The answers given by their elders formed a second profile. Then both repertoires of the various skills were compared in a table. Later they were compared to Stern’s profile with the objective of including particular behaviour described by the students and their parents into wider descriptive categories (the number of the strategy as it appears in Stern’s profile is given in parenthesis):


Students’ good learner’s profile:

Parents’ good learner’s profile:

pay attention (1),

pay attention (1)

answer questions (2),

are active (2)

ask questions (2)

show tendency to empathy, are tolerant (3)

have good ideas and propose activities (2)

show accuracy (4)

are hard-working, do their homework (5)

hard-working and resistant(5)


do not forget to bring with them what they need : text-book, dictionary, pen...(5)


are well-prepared (5)

look forward to learning (7)

enjoy learning, are willing (7)


When comparing both parents’ and students’ good learner’s profiles, it appears that the older generation has a much wider range of learning skills at their disposal. They mentioned six general strategies out of the ten strategies contained in Stern’s profile. The younger generation pointed out only three of them. Good learners, according to the parents, show in particular empathy and tolerance, they are capable of accuracy in order to understand the general principles of  languages.

We can also notice that the elders give a higher priority to the organization and the planning aspects of the learning process. Even though the younger generation mentioned these aspects, they described such activities in much less detail. In Stern’s profile, those skills of organization and planning are part of a larger group of cognitive procedures.

Inversely, the younger generation show a propensity to refer to “an active learner“ in much more detail than the elders do. They specifically are not afraid to “propose activities“, demonstrating in this manner that they consider themselves as an entire pole taking part in the learning/teaching process.

Both generations, despite their divergences, agree that good learners always pay attention to the presentation of new content and instructions given by the teacher. Good learners are active; they answer individual questions and do not remain passive during group activities. They show stamina and are hard-working both during the lesson at school, and outside, when doing their homework. Last but not least, parents and students share the view that good learners are willing to learn, look forward to learning and demonstrate appropriate motivation.

2 Comparison of good learner’s profiles


Following the initial observation of the differences between parents’ and students’ answers, learning strategies included in Stern’s good learner’s profile, as summarized in French by Paul Cyr, were presented to students. [3]

The purpose of this was to induce, from the examples brought by the inquiries, the general skills described by Stern. At the same time, this initial activity allowed the students to compare the answers brought by the inquiries and those in Stern’s profile. Thus they could observe which strategies seen as productive had not been mentioned in the inquiries.

(I present here the way the students themselves have summarized Stern’s profiles, and how answers from students and parents are examples of it (students’ answers, followed by parents’ answers, are given in parentheses).)

The following list shows the students’ summary of Stern’s profiles. The comparison of examples of students’ answers and parents’ answers is given in parentheses.

Good learners,

1-    know how to observe their method of learning and to adapt their behavior to various situations (pay attention – pay attention),

2-    are pro-active and have reached a level of autonomy (answer and ask questions, have good ideas and propose activities – are active),

3-    are tolerant of others and themselves (not present in students’ answers - show tendency to empathy),

4-    understand the grammatical structures of the language (not present in students’ answers - show accuracy),

5-    use highly cognitive structures to develop an experimental discovery and understanding of the foreign language. This program includes planning on learning, hypothetical construction, deconstruction and successive adaptation (Are hard working, do their homework – are resistant, are well-prepared, do not forget to bring with them what they need: text-book, dictionary, pen...),

6-    use the largest socio-cultural context to build meaning into new statements in foreign languages (present in neither parents’ nor  students’ answers),

7-    volunteer to practice in the class room (look forward to learning - enjoy learning, are willing to learn),

8-    seek all opportunities to practice the foreign language with a native speaker (present in neither parents’ nor  students’ answers),

9-    are able to observe their own performance?production (present in neither parents’ nor  students’ answers),

10- do not refer to their mother tongue to build their understanding of the foreign language (present in neither parents’ nor  students’ answers).

The results of the comparison with Stern’s profile show that strategy number 8 - seek all opportunities to practice the foreign language with a native speaker, strategy number 9 - are able to observe their own production, and strategy number 10 - do not refer to their mother tongue to build their understanding of the foreign language, are completely absent from both students’ and parents’ answers.

As well as allowing students to comprehend how learning strategies have changed over time, from their parents’ to their own generation, the observation of these differences likewise presents students with the wider possibilities of new strategies they did not spontaneously consider.


3 Comparison of learning strategies


With the aim of expanding the variety of strategies they use, students were told to complete the questionnaire prepared and put on line by Fabien Olivry for the languages center in the Bauhaus University in Weimar [4], as homework.

The leaners were asked how often and how systematically they resort to a specific strategy. For instance, in response to the question “Do I create mental links between what I already know and the new content I am learning?” Besides the answer “I don’t know”, students can grade their answer on a scale from “never” to “always.” Although Fabien Olivry does not use Rebecca Oxford’s classification as its sole source, he respects the general distribution of strategies into six subcategories, A to F, as it appeared in Oxford’s classification [1], but describes more precisely the sub strategies under the six general strategies.

The feedback was obtained by asking the students what new strategies they had discovered after completing Olivry’s questionnaire, and the results were evaluated. Rebecca Oxford’s classification (as translated in French by Paul Cyr (1998, pp.32-33)) was then used as a way of amplifying the variation between parents’ and students’ profiles.


Rebecca Oxford’s classification of learning strategies

Direct strategies


1.     Creating mental linkages

2.     Applying images and sounds

3.     Reviewing well

(do their homework – both)

4.     Employing action


1.     Practicing

(are active – parents only)

2.     Receiving and sending message strategies

(answer questions – students only)

3.     Analyzing and reasoning (accuracy – parents only)

4.     Creating structure for input and output

(do not forget material they need, are well prepared – parents only)

Compensation strategies

1.     Guessing intelligently

2.     Overcoming limitations in speaking and writing

Indirect strategies

Meta-cognitive Strategies

1.     Centering your learning

(paying attention – both)

2.     Arranging and planning your learning

(well prepared - parents / have good ideas and propose activities - students)

3.     Evaluating your learning

Affective Strategies

1.     Lowering your anxiety

(look forward to learning, enjoy learning – both)

2.     Encouraging yourself

(are resistant, willing – parents only)

3.     Taking your emotional temperature

Social Strategies

1.     Asking questions

(ask questions - students only)

2.     Cooperating with others

3.     Empathizing with others

(show tendency to empathy, are tolerant -parents only)


Asking the students to subordinate each activity to one of the six larger strategies allows a comparison which indicates how the older generation is more aware of cognitive strategies which appear more frequently in their answers.

Consequently the students analyzed a page from Vilem Pech’s textbook: First steps to French. [6] In essence Pech applies Comenius’ principles, contained in his Orbis Sensualium Pictus, that I will dare to summarize roughly as illustration, repetition and translation. Thus students had a concrete overview of one possible way how foreign languages were taught around 1947.

Finally the students were asked to allocate the activity of “being curious how an old textbook worked” into a general strategy. The main tendency was to consider this activity as a meta-cognitive strategy, and more particularly a way to arrange and plan learning by enlarging the number of possible strategies that can be offered.




The history of methodologies, when presented as historical knowledge of various theories linked to activities employed in the teaching and learning process, has to be considered as a meta-cognitive activity. Indeed learning a language could already be considered as a general cognitive activity and, therefore, as a reflection upon learning strategies; the history of teaching and learning will definitively appear as a meta-cognitive activity. However, besides this hypothetical short-cut, research work that involved the active participation of students reached a similar conclusion. Students allocate the activity of “being curious how an old textbook worked” into a meta-cognitive strategy described by Rebecca Oxford as a way to arrange and plan learning.

Different good learners’ profiles were compared and  various strategies and their different use throughout history were observed. The observation of these differences, as well as allowing students to comprehend how learning strategies have changed over time, from their parents’ to their own generation, likewise presents students with the wider possibilities of new strategies they did not spontaneously consider. These strategies are mainly: “seek all opportunities to practice the foreign language with a native speaker”, “to observe their own production”, “do not refer to their mother tongue to build their understanding of the foreign language”.

Thus, students might find the opportunity to use more strategies than before, and thereby reinforce their capability to arrange and plan their learning.




 [1]  OXFORD, Rebecca. Language learning strategies: What every teacher should know. 1st printing, 1990. Boston, Mass.: Heinle and Heinle Publishers. ISBN-10: 0838428622.

[2]   RUBIN, J. What the "Good Language Learner" can teach Us. TESOL Quarterly, March 1975. vol. 9, no. 1, s. 41-51.

[3]   CYR, Paul. Les stratégies d’apprentissage. 2nd printing, 1998. Paris: Cle International; Anjou: CEC inc., c1996. ISBN 209 033 326-X.

[4]   OLIVRY, Fabien. Découvrez vos stratégies d’apprentissage [online]. GERMANY, Weimar: Bauhaus-Universität. [cit. 2010-10-30]. Retrived from WWW: http://www.uni-weimar.de/sz/franzoesisch/autoapp/strat/strat.html>

[5]   PECH, Vilem. První kroky do franštiny. Praha, Kvasnička a Hampl.



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