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Magazine Issue 65: Autonomous learning
November 2015

This month: Thoughts about Autonomous Learning

Article: Autonomous Learning
New Resources
Additional Resources

This Month's Article:

Autonomous Learning

Autonomous Learning An Article to get you thinking about autonomous learning plus a debate activity to help your students think about how it might work for them.

This is a Free Sample Resource

Categories: Article, Learning Styles, All Ages

Tags: Autonomy Independent Learning

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'

Dylan Wiliam

'Listen to the desires of your children. Encourage them and then give them the autonomy to make their own decision.'

Denis Waitley

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:

  1. Some children stay in their seats and look hopefully/nervously at their teacher for permission to get what they need, sit where they'll work best and to start.
  2. Others rise on mass and start a bun fight of movement, resource grabbing and noisy setting to work.
  3. A third group turn to their neighbour/learning partner or table and after a quick chat begin the task. Representatives collect resources and equipment as needed. Their manner is calm and focused, individuals motivated, the group cohesive.

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:

    Autonomous Learning is valuable because:

  • It's not effective to be always dependent on someone else.
  • Life expects us to be independent.
  • Any job or career requires autonomy to some degree.
  • We are born with a great capacity for autonomy. Why waste it?
  • You are more effective and happier when you are in control of your own learning.

Autonomous Learners:

  • Know what to do when they don't know what to do.
  • Know how they learn and seek their preferred kind of learning experiences.
  • Set their own goals and are persistent and resilient in achieving them.
  • Know when to seek help, how and from whom.
  • Can identify what motivates them.

Three prompts to get the review going are:

  • What else?
  • What if? and
  • What if not?
Simply by not accepting my list as it stands, you will be modelling autonomy and involving your students in principles and practices upon which their future employability will rest.

New Resources:

Arty Thinking

Arty Thinking A Thinking Skills Tool for analysing artwork and other created/designed pieces.

Categories: Thinking Tool, Questioning, Thinking Skills, Art, Secondary

Tags: Questioning Analysis
Teacher Premium Resource: Login or Upgrade to Teacher Premium to access this resource.

Arty Thinking PowerPoint

Arty Thinking PowerPoint A Thinking Tool Template in PowerPoint with guidance on adapting the activity for other subjects.

Categories: Thinking Tool, Questioning, Thinking Skills, Art, Secondary

Tags: Questioning Analysis
Teacher Premium Resource: Login or Upgrade to Teacher Premium to access this resource.

Values Think Sheet - Collaboration

Values Think Sheet - Collaboration A Think Sheet to challenge pupils' understanding of 'collaboration.

Categories: Think Sheet, Thinking Skills, PSHE, Secondary, Junior

Tags: Collaboration Values
Teacher Premium Resource: Login or Upgrade to Teacher Premium to access this resource.

Additional Resources:

Thinking Classroom Archive:

Independent Learning

Independent Learning An Article exploring the differences between adult and child learning and how to make pupils more independent.

This is a Free Sample Resource

Find out more
Categories: Article, Teaching & Learning, Any Subject, All Ages

Tags: Independent Learning Pedagogy Andragogy

101 Questions to Ask a Painting

101 Questions to Ask a Painting A Thinking Tool Example with an application of 101Q Thinking with 101 questions to ask of a painting with people in it. Perfect for promoting engagement with, and discussion about artworks

Categories: Thinking Tool, Questioning, Thinking Skills, Art, All Ages

Tags: Questioning Art
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Skills Think Sheet - Group Work

Skills Think Sheet - Group Work A Think Sheet encouraging creative thinking about skills and group work.

Categories: Think Sheet, Skills-Based Learning, Any Subject, Secondary

Tags: Group Work Collaboration Cooperation Roles
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Opening Doors to Famous Poetry and Prose
by Bob Cox

Opening Doors to Famous Poetry and Prose<BR>by Bob Cox There are books about learning theory which are fascinating and there are great textbooks which are practical. This one is both. Use it for one-off Literature lessons or to design a complete programme. Comes with a resources CDROM.

Available from Amazon

Opens in a New Window
Categories: Suggested Books, English

Tags: Literacy Literature


National Gallery Teachers Notes

National Gallery Teachers Notes Teachers' notes from the National Gallery: background information about famous paintings with classroom ideas to download.

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Categories: Websites, Art

Tags: National Gallery

Next month we think about... Challenge