Student Autonomy

6 Strategies for Promoting Student Autonomy

Flexible classrooms rely on students demonstrating a certain level of independence in their learning. It is necessary for teachers to be able to maximise their time working with individuals and small groups if they wish to maximise their time working with the rest of the class.

Unfortunately, as instructors are all too familiar with, children of all ages frequently revert to relying on adult assistance. Instead of removing duties from the classroom that need autonomy, teachers can train students to be their own best assistants by providing them with the necessary skills and knowledge.


Then there’s me: Students are asked to rely first on their own and their peers’ understanding of a task when taking this technique. Allow students one minute to silently go over the directions, two minutes to debate the directions with one another, and three minutes to prepare their approach to the work before allowing them to proceed. Then and only then can they seek aid. Alternatively, you may give a one-minute explanation of the directions to the entire class in place of or prior to pupils reading the directions silently or in groups.

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These are simple but effective techniques, especially for pupils whose reading and writing skills are still developing. Recorded Directions and Responses: Make a recording of yourself providing directions using the voice memo feature on your device. (If you want to be creative, you can use an accent or a character voice.) Students can replay the directions as many times as they need to in order to hear any problem spots or simply to hear your explanation again. Students can either finish their assignments at a station or centre where the device is stationed, or they can upload the file to a class website or app like Seesaw. Students can also film themselves or a peer reading or explaining directions aloud for subsequent playback as an alternative to using a computer.

When students can record their responses to a task or their skill performance, digital recordings help them to become more independent in their task completion. This eliminates the need for the student to wait for an audience, and it allows the teacher to engage with individuals or small groups of students instead. When working with smaller children, responses can be recorded and played back directly from the devices themselves. Students in higher grades can upload their responses to a separate website or folder if they like.

When the teacher isn’t available, students might use resource files to supplement their learning. These files contain troubleshooting instructions for procedures and tools that students are likely to encounter on a daily basis. For example, what to do when the iPad screen freezes or how to get beyond writer’s block are all topics covered. Extra graphic organisers, peer editing mechanisms, and rubrics are all possible additions to resource files. Physical files (for example, folders with paper documents inside) should be put in a conspicuous area of the room, while digital files should be stored in a clearly labelled, easily accessible location on a device.

Hint Cards: These are similar to resource files, except they are tailored to a particular lesson. For example, the teacher in this video has foreseen potential difficulties with the arithmetic exercises that the students are completing in this lesson. Students use her tip cards to ask probing questions that she would pose to them if they were stuck, and they do so before talking with her. Students become more familiar with the questions as well as the process of getting unstuck as time goes on.

Colored Cups: This self-monitoring and signalling approach helps kids develop the ability to recognise when they require assistance from a teacher. Each group (or individual) will be given a stack of three different coloured cups to use (ideally, green, yellow, and red to mimic traffic lights). The teacher directs the student to exhibit the cup that corresponds to the manner in which they are currently working:

The green cup on top signifies that I/we are fine and that no teacher assistance is required.
Yellow cup on the top: I/we require instructor assistance, but we are able to continue working while we wait.
The red cup on top indicates that I/we require instructor assistance immediately and have stopped working.
The teacher keeps an eye on the cups as they circulate and works with groups based on the urgency of the situation. Initial observations of pupils’ reactions to roadblocks may indicate that they are viewing them as a “red-cup scenario.” Taking advantage of this opportunity to develop independence is a good idea. Mark the times when the cup should be yellow and lead the student or group to something they can do while they are waiting for you to arrive. If the top cup is yellow or red, remove it from the oven for a few minutes and return to assist.

The use of Question Chips can assist students in determining whether their inquiries about tasks are “must ask the teacher” or “could find out on my own.” During the course of the class time or longer, each student—or group of students—receives a limited number of question chips (e.g., pennies, paper squares, or game chips). These numbers show the number of times students can seek assistance from the teacher. If pupils only have a few chips, they are less likely to raise their hands and summon the teacher for simple questions that can be answered by the class.

In order to avoid squelching inquiry or discouraging students from seeking clarification, question chips are intended to prompt them to ask themselves, “Is this something I already know, will find out soon, or can ask a peer—or do I need to ask this now so that I understand?” The goal is for students to consider whether they need to ask a question now in order to understand something later. Teachers can be informative, just as they were with the colourful cups, as everyone learns how to use the chips. In the case of a procedural issue, for example, you might respond with “Do you really want to use a chip on that?” and a general suggestion regarding when, where, or how to get the answer to that question.

These tactics must be taught and demonstrated in order to be effective. Introduce them as needed, and select ones that are appropriate for your subject, students, and teaching style. Students may not become self-sufficient overnight, but with patience and practise, they will all be able to learn how to assist themselves.