What is student autonomy?
Students with autonomy need to be able to think independently, have a voice that carries weight, and constructively use any freedom that they have in the classroom.
To have autonomous students, teachers must let their students think independently, give student voices weight, and give students the freedom to constructively contribute to the classroom.
We all want students who can think for themselves, engage authentically with the class material, and create in unique ways.
But we don’t give them enough freedom to do this. When I was still a science teacher, I would give my kids options for their projects and plenty of encouragement to be creative. It did not work out well, they still had to ‘be creative’ using science content.
Giving kids real autonomy isn’t as easy as sprinkling a little choice into each unit. Starting Innovative Arts class has taught me just how difficult it is to re-animate the autonomy of our students.
It took years of struggle. Slowly, it became clear that you need to give a lot of freedom t than a typical classroom will allow. I am thankful to be able to customize classes to accommodate students in this way.
Below there are examples of student autonomy that will be found in a normal classroom and the extra student autonomy examples found in an ‘Innovative Arts’ classroom.
Student autonomy examples for a typical classroom
Speak to students as equals. Give them respect and assume they are mature. Kids are sensitive to how they are treated by adults and very much appreciate being treated as equals.
Make sure the environment is safe. Kids need to feel safe before they will share openly.
Give students class jobs and other responsibilities. This can be great if there are real responsibilities that they can help with. Do not make stuff up.
Ask students for their thoughts (and listen to what they say). If they are very tired of taking notes, for example, listen and make a change.
Give students choices for their assignments and classwork. Students do not get very many choices as they work through their classes.
Student autonomy examples in Innovative Arts class
Train students on how their brain works and growth mindsets. Students need to learn how to use their brains better. How many students have complained that they ‘studied for hours but still did poorly on an exam? Ineffective study habits are like a car stuck in a snowbank. Spinning your wheels for hours does nothing.
Be flexible in the mediums, methods, and styles of each student’s learning.
Normalize having fun while learning. Too many classrooms are stuffy and boring.
Students are empowered to explore their interests and develop their own styles. I explore this weekly on my Youtube Channel.
Connect with a positive teacher community!
Useful links for teachers:
This site holds the resources for Innovative Arts class, a class that replaced our technology class in our middle school. Students learn to create as engineers, designers, and more. At the same time, we are learning about our brains/mindsets (‘Puzzle‘), engage technology (‘Shift‘) and the creative process (‘Create‘).