Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Steps to Grow Learner Autonomy

December 21, 2016 by

suppliesThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on December 9, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Choice in learning is an essential element of the Applied Learning philosophy. When learners have a say in the what, where, when, and how of their learning both engagement and autonomy flourish. Sometimes when we start thinking through choice in the learning environment our minds swing to the extremes. We imagine a place where the learners direct everything.

How successful our learners are with directing their own learning depends greatly on the supports we put in place, and then take away, as learners gain skills and confidence. Here is a sequence of steps to take with learners who are just beginning to take on the responsibility for their own learning-related decision making. This step system will work well during the input and processing phases of the learning process.

  1. Two Choices, Repeat Tomorrow: Offer learners the choice between two activities or resources to interact with. Both choices should be clearly connected to learning targets and/or foundational knowledge. Repeat the choices again the next class day. Support learners to keep track of their choice for day 1, so they can independently move on the other option. Some ways to do this:
  • Make a T chart on the board with the choice options, and have students put sticky notes with their names on the day 1 choice.
  • Give them a very simple work planner, or goal setting sheet
  • Put popsicle sticks with learner names in cups for choice 1 and choice 2

  1. Three Choices, With A Completion Date: Give learners a list of three activities (clearly connected to learning targets and/or foundational knowledge) and a day by which all three need to be completed. You need to make sure that any activities that require you are offered each day. Support learners in keeping track of their choices and time by using a simple work planner, or goal setting sheet. Provide time during each class period for learners to compare their progress through the choices with how much learning time is left before the deadline. Model this process!
  2. Five Choices, Complete 3 With A Completion Date: Give learners a menu with choices related to a target and/or foundational knowledge. Make sure there are some legitimate choices for learners as they will not be expected to use all of the resources or complete all of the activities. Support learners in keeping track of their choices and time by using a work planner or goal setting sheet. Provide time during each class period for learners to compare their progress with how much learning time is left before the deadline. Continue to model this process!
  3. Menu with A Completion Date: Give learners a menu with choices related to a target and or/foundational knowledge. Provide several choices as well as any noted required resources or activities. Make the required resources available for learners to use at any time before the expected completion date, and offer required activities more than once. Support learners with an process for planning and reflecting on progress in relation to the expected completion date. Provide time during each class period for learners to self asses their progress and adjust their work plan as needed. Model this!

You, the teacher, know the learners you work with the best. It will be up to you to decide how quickly you move through the steps. Do not be afraid to push your learners, however. If you move forward to a new step and the learners you work with falter, use it as a self reflection moment for learners and embrace the moment to work on ownership and autonomy skills.

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