We see it all the time in the classroom. You’ve JUST finished giving instructions for a new concepts 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=learning” is one of our guiding principles at STEM Minds and in the STEM Minds Online Academy (SMOA). We even have it posted on our wall at our headquarters!!
We believe that mistakes=learning, and we want our students to know that too. Because it is ok to give something a try, and maybe **gasp** 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?
One strategy is implementing classroom policies. For example making a policy that you must ask a table buddy to see if they can help you first before asking the teacher for help. Having policies that prompt students to stop and think “is this something I can easily find out on my own by referring to my notes or handout? Is this something someone at my table group could help me with?” allow students to solve problems on their own. When students solve the simple stuff on their own, the teacher frees up time to help other students with more difficult problems that actually require teacher guidance.
One of our solutions is online learning. SMOA allows students to be more autonomous and allows students to move at their own pace. If a student wants to really dive in and move forward quickly, they have the freedom to do that. But if you are a student who needs a bit of extra help, you can take your time as you work through the content!
Online reflection posts prompt students to really check in with themselves and reflect on how they are feeling with the content. As a teacher, it can be difficult to check in with every single student during every single activity to see how they are feeling. If students are autonomous and check in with themselves, then teachers can more easily keep tabs on how everyone is progressing, easily determining who is struggling and who needs a challenge.
One of the benefits of a tech-based solution is that if students are able to access their reference materials with ease, they can help themselves instead of making their teacher repeat instructions over and over! Video tutorials with time stamps contribute to student autonomy. Students are free to pause, rewind, and return to previous videos if they need help or need instructions repeated. They don’t just have to rely on their teachers assistance or their own memory because all of the previous tutorials are available to them. With the materials they need right in front of them on the platform, they can work autonomously and the teacher has more time to help students with more difficult questions.
Making online resource files available for students is another way for students to help themselves in the classroom. Easily accessible files like glossaries and troubleshooting tips allow for students to help themselves. For example, a teachers time does not need to be spent troubleshooting a frozen browser window when it could be better spent coaching a student through higher level concepts. This problem can be fixed when students have easy access to their troubleshooting tips in the Online Academy.
SMOA projects are left open-ended to promote classroom autonomy. When students have the ability to choose how they approach a project, they take ownership for their own learning. By taking ownership, students are more engaged in the content and get much better results because they are actually invested in doing well on their project. 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!
Student autonomy looks different in every classroom of course. Our solutions is using tech (which we obviously are passionate about!) but there is no one perfect way to create an autonomous classroom!
Students won’t become independent overnight, and they obviously can’t teach themselves! But using the right strategies and tools go a long way in making students independent. An autonomous learner will take responsibility for what they are learning and will be more effective than someone who is simply reliant on the teacher. And by building a more autonomous classroom, teachers actually free up time to teach the most important stuff while students are able to find answers to their easier questions on their own!