Automaticity: Everything You Need to Know

This is the ability to thoroughly understand and comprehend units of written materials with little to no effort, especially in terms of picking out new words. To put it differently, automaticity is the ability to do something automatically, without much thought. In the context of mastering any skill or ability, there comes the point where the learner is able to do something without conscious intellectual effort. That’s what automaticity is all about. 

But what it’s like? It can be called similar to riding a bike. When an individual reaches a point of automaticity, he can jump on the bike and ride it effortlessly while waving to a neighbor or talking to someone riding next to him without stopping to think about each move he needs to make, such as pushing the brakes to stop the bike or adjusting the handlebars to navigate a turn.

Automaticity can help teachers by allowing them to focus more on their students and the learning that’s happening in their classroom. Over time and as teachers gain experience, they become capable of automating certain processes, such as planning, giving instructions, and managing the class. This frees up more of their attention and time, which can be focused on handling other vital processes.

Just like teaching, encouraging automaticity in learning lets students process information swiftly and accurately, which improves their fluency. Teachers can encourage automaticity in the classroom, in one way or another, by focusing on extended practice under specific circumstances, as it’ll enhance fluency by developing automaticity. However, there’s a challenge with using extensive practice activities. 

Unless they’re planned carefully, such activities can be boring for students, which will decrease their investment and motivation in the language. Therefore, if a language teacher is trying to incorporate activities that encourage automaticity, he should do it in a way that offers an opportunity for transfer to real-life materials, communication, and even new situations related to students’ interests. But teachers should understand that it takes time to learn. Hence, automaticity won’t develop overnight or even after a handful of lessons. 

To promote automaticity, these are some strategies that teachers may consider:

  •         Several refresher/review/recycle activities
  •         Multiple group/pair work for elucidation and practice
  •         Use of self-pacing, chance, and choice to sustain student motivation
  •         Offering positive, personalized feedback
  •         Provide students opportunities to ‘transfer’ their learning to new situations
  •         Focus on student-centric task-based language teaching where students are given real-world activities, problems, or situations that need them to use language spontaneously and creatively
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