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  • Writer's picturePriscilla Suen

Having Autonomy in the Classroom

We see it all the time in the classroom. You’ve just finished giving instructions and already kids are proclaiming they can’t do it! It is often the case that students immediately default to needing adult help before even trying something themselves. This is one of the reasons why “mistakes equate to learning” is one of our guiding principles at Astor international school.

We believe that mistakes equate to learning, and we want our students to know that too. It is ok to give something a try, and maybe make a mistake!

Fostering autonomy in the classroom is important so students will become more independent and can complete tasks without constantly defaulting to needing teacher assistance. The benefit of fostering autonomy in the classroom is that teachers can create a flexible classroom where they can devote more of their time to working 1-on-1 or in small groups with students. An autonomous classroom means that the teacher is able to give more attention to high-level learning instead of spending all of their time repeating simple instructions, or solving problems that students can solve on their own.

So how does one create an autonomous classroom?

In the Astor Internationa School Year 3 classroom, we have a buddy system where the students choose their partners to work together and they reflect on the choices that they made. There will be times when students prefer working with their peers, as it causes them to focus more on having a conversation instead of the task at hand. The teacher will have a short reflection about the choice that they had made and give them the opportunity to think about making a different choice the next time around. Allowing students to make their own choice gives them the opportunity to reflect on their decision-making. It allows them to experience what it is like to make a decision and to be able to differentiate between a good decision and a decision that might not work too well.

Another strategy that we use at Astor International School is to support students to be more autonomous and allow students to move at their own pace. When we do various activities in the classroom, we allow students to decide how much they would like to complete. An example from the year 3 class would be complete maths questions. The teacher would set a baseline that every student needs to complete at least three maths questions, working out their solutions and writing down their answers. Those who would like to attempt to do more, they are always more than welcome to do so. You would be surprised, most of the students would actually go for doing more.

The next strategy that we use is to allow students to decide how they would like to approach a project. By giving students the opportunity to choose, they are more engaged in the content and get much better results because they are actually invested in doing well on their projects. After all, they chose it themselves! Engaged and autonomous learners even become empowered to take their learning outside of the classroom and level up their skills!

Of course, student autonomy looks different in every classroom. They won’t become independent overnight! But using the right strategies and tools go a long way in making students independent. The autonomous learner will take responsibility for what they are learning and will be more effective than someone who is simply reliant on the teacher. By building a more autonomous classroom, teachers actually free up time to teach the most important things.

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