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What is Autonomous Learning?
'(Autonomous) students see the purpose of schooling as not being caught being wrong and instead seeing education as about doing stuff that you couldn’t do before'
'Listen to the desires of your children. Encourage them and then give them the autonomy to make their own decision.'
When I teach demonstration lessons (they're not brilliant, just different and thought-provoking) I usually carry out a student autonomy test. Here's how it goes: I introduce the session and quickly offer up a thinking challenge (something that prompts lots of different correct answers). Then I describe a longer, related task and explain a little (but not everything) about it. I take questions, set a timescale, suggest resources and finally say, "3,2,1 Go!". What happens next says a lot about the class and about the autonomy of the individuals in it:
I'm not judging (but you can if you like) only describing the differences I see in a variety of schools. In 1. pupils expect the teacher to do a lot of their thinking for them. In 3. pupils are empowered. 2. means wet play's just finished. Ultimately 3. is the most rewarding: your investment is in creating autonomous learning and collaborative groups.
Dylan Wiliam proposes that teachers who get responses like 3. are viewed by their students as adults who want to help them achieve the things that they value. This replaces the traditional and still widespread view that teachers are adults whose role is to correct you if you get it wrong and praise you if you get it right.
There are many characteristics of an autonomous learner and many justifications for developing autonomous learning - not least that the world expects it, needs it, values it and is prepared to pay for it. Embedding it in your class is pretty straightforward but needs constant maintenance. It's not a one-off lesson but a shift of focus.
How to Start Autonomous Learning
It would be ironic to tell your students exactly what autonomous learning is, why and how they must do it. So here's a way you could work on it together. Look at the following (proposed) justifications for and features of autonomous learning. Then challenge, question and revise them. Evaluate, critique, amend, edit and co-negotiate you own class definition of autonomous learning. Then empower everyone in the class to use the criteria to self and peer assess.
Proposals for debate:
Three prompts to get the review going are:
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