Finding #5: Student autonomy builds confidence & independence.
Autonomy is a student's ability to be in control of their learning. In other words, it is their ability to take ownership over what the learning process looks like and how they demonstrate mastery.
Why students need to control their learning
Research shows that providing students a sense of control and supporting their choices is way to help engage learners and build independent thinking. It has also been shown to increase intrinsic motivation (Reeve, Nix, & Hamm, 2003).
However, this doesn't mean we just set kids loose to learn on their own. Clearly, some things require repeated guidance and modeling. Finding small ways that students can take control of the learning process is much better in these instances.
We know that giving at least partial autonomy has been linked to numerous positive learning outcomes for students (Wielenga-Meijer, Taris, Widboldus, & Kompier, 2011).
But how can we foster this independence and autonomy, especially with those students who struggle to self-regulate behavior?
Fostering independence in students who struggle to stay on task
Well the research says there are several conditions that support building toward independence.
The first (and often neglected) is to explain unappealing choices and why they are one of the options.
When it comes to word problems, this might include explaining the rationale behind one of the strategies that appears to be a lot more work than the others.
It is also important to acknowledge the negative feelings students might have about a task or their ability to complete it. While we want them to be able to build independence, we don't want them to drown in overwhelm.
By providing emotional supports, we can help determine whether a student is stuck with the learning or with the emotions that come from the cognitive challenge.
Finally, giving choices is recommended. Identifying choices that both you and the student can live with is an important step.
Whether this is working in partners, trying an alternative method, or skipping a problem and coming back, students need to feel like they have some ownership over the challenge they are working through.
By building in opportunities for autonomy, and choice, teachers help students build a sense of self-efficacy and confidence in their ability to be successful learners across a variety of contexts (McCombs, 2002,2006).
We know this leads to numerous positive outcomes and has even been linked to drop-out prevention (Christenson & Thurlow, 2004).
Fostering autonomy in your classroom
You're not going to be able to hold their hands forever.
Giving opportunities to work through challenges independently and to feel ownership for their choices will help build both confidence and skills.
Here's how to get started letting go:
- Give students time to tackle the problem independently (or in partners).
- Don't get hyper-focused on a single method to solve – give opportunities to share & learn together.
- Provide appropriate supports (where needed) to build autonomy for all learners – like reading the problem orally.