How a coaching approach can promote Learner Autonomy

by Rachel Paling

Many people do not think that they can learn by themselves. I discovered that I could from a very early age, but only now do I realise just how autodidactic I was and I am. At the age of 15 I taught myself Spanish, albeit my motivation was extremely fired up as I had fallen in love and I remember gathering all my father´s Learn Spanish books and spending hours and hours trying to work out how to write letters in Spanish. I never had a Spanish lesson in my life and moving there at the tender age of 17 consolidated my written Spanish converting it into spoken Spanish. Living near Barcelona I also absorbed a lot of Catalan and some years later working in Italy allowed me to also develop my Italian using Spanish as the springboard. Again, I never had a lesson of Italian. The same happened with my German knowledge, with the experience of living in Germany, I learnt the language and maybe and a couple of lessons in German (I confess that German was more of a battle and is still my weakest language).

As a Neurolanguage Coach, one of the key points for effective learning is in fact learner autonomy. In fact, as a coach for me the best things for my client to say to me are “I can do this alone and then can we touchbase and go through it?” or even “Rachel, I would like to learn alone and can I call you when I need some assistance?”. The more a learner really takes ownership of his/her learning, the more effective the learning will be. 

One of the most important things for educators to not only understand but also to really ensure, is that “the person doing it learns it”. This only requires a shift in mindset of the teacher and more emphasis on the coach role. The coach is there to facilitate, be a sound board, encourage, empower and support the learner. The coach is not there to do it for them. Most of the time, teachers are not self aware of just how much they really are doing for their learners: like finishing off sentences; preparing lots of work for the sessions; not giving the learner thinking time and space to think for themselves. I always say to teachers to observe themselves and bring in the awareness and always ask what more could the learner be doing and how could I do less. 

Coaching is also about the learner becoming really aware of how he/she learns best. Personally, I discovered that I love writing: I connect and learn better when I can write something down. In addition, I like logical structures and when I was studying for my law degree I spent hours and hours creating written summaries and then summaries of summaries, breaking it down and then having that capacity in an exam to create the skeleton breakdown and build it back up into pages and pages for the exams. In Criminal Law I remember I wrote about 20 pages in just 2 hours, obtaining the highest mark for that year. The coach should really have a coaching conversation with the learner that reveals insights for the learner relating to his/her learning style. It does not have to go into complex self discovery, just a journey through the coachee´s learning experience to see if key styles are revealed and there is no judgement here, it is just about finding out whatever is the preferred style or styles and then understanding how to introduce activities that reflect those learning styles. 

In addition, the learner should own the process by setting own goals and own actions, delineating the time in which the coachee wishes to achieve the goals and really getting the coachee to feel that he/she is the master of their own learning. A clear structured learning is necessary, but one in which the learner is the “key driver”. 

Next Tuesday I will be holding a workshop relating to brain friendly coaching conversations about grammar. I am really looking forward to getting you to experience conversations that get the learner to interact with calm curiosity leading to “aha” moments and continuous insights. These conversations follow the PACT PQC model which I created to encourage learner autonomy and effective learning. If we are honest many of our learners hate grammar and many teachers do too, but in fact these conversations transform the whole process, making grammar fascinating, curiosity rousing and extremely enjoyable for both coach and coachee. Join me and experience this for yourself, Tuesday 2ndApril 10.40 in the morning. Looking forward to meeting you there. 

In the meantime, here are a few questions for you to ponder over and respond to in the comments section:

How much do you get your learners doing themselves? 

How often do you finish off learners’ sentences?

How much thinking time do you give to your learners?

How do you in fact empower them? 


Rachel Paling started teaching English over 30 years ago. She holds a BA Honors in Law and Spanish, a Masters in Human Rights and Democratization (EMA), and qualified as a UK Lawyer in 2003, but she combined her teaching experience, her languages, her specialization in business English and her legal knowledge to coach top executives across Europe as well as develop the concept of Neurolanguage Coaching. She holds a coaching diploma, brain based coaching certificates and is an ACC ICF credentialed Life Coach. She is passionate about helping teachers to feel comfortable to deliver grammar through brain friendly conversations and without the books

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s