To Exist or Not Exist? How Student Autonomy Changes the Classroom: Part 2


By Kristin DeJong

Last time around, we introduced you to the idea of implementing a few new strategies to lighten your teaching load and promote more student-centered learning in the process. Today, we round out that list with a few more ideas you’ll be doing in no time.

Establish Team Roles

Help the class determine who will do what, assigning roles such as a leader, reporter, time keeper, errand boy/girl, and presenter, and a routine for rotating through those roles at the start of a new school year. This will communicate to students the high expectations of cooperative and supportive team learning you expect.

Teach students what the responsibilities are for each role, and if you have language learners, you can assign them a role for “keeper of the minutes” and this will not only help build their language skills, it will help them feel like part of the team.

Discuss the Discussion

Next, students must be taught how to interact with each other through “accountable talk” in order to achieve more academic discourse. They must see and experience respectful disagreement, questioning, and persuasion in order to support each other’s deeper and more critical thinking about core content.

Students spend a lot of time texting and we cannot assume they will know how to speak to one another, face to face, respectfully, and productively. Including laminated “accountable talk” stems on the desks, using “agree/disagree” cards, modeling student discussions with a fishbowl technique, and using a “two-cent” strategy allows for both the chatty and quiet students to have equal opportunity to share ideas, all contributing to the idea of students working “as if the teacher did not exist.”

Optimize the Logistics

Lastly, don’t forget to set up an area of the room where basic supplies, such as pens, pencils, and paper are readily available. Often times it is not a student’s fault that they don’t have basic supplies and we must pick our battles; lacking basic school supplies should not be cause for shame or a referral.

Establishing a routine for how a student should go about discovering what they missed if absent…one that does not involve hovering at your desk while you’re trying to resolve something more important, is also essential to operating an environment where the teacher is “non-existent.” A notebook, an online “Google doc,” with missed assignments, or simply asking a teammate, all work well when students have missed class.

In order to achieve student autonomy and ownership of learning, these routines will go a long a way to achieving the ideal classroom culture where the students “live in the rigor” every day. You too may find yourself having to post quotations in your classroom the night before your observation, so that your evaluator will know they have walked into the very best set of classroom conditions; one where you have achieved great success with student learning because your students are self-directed and having supportive and rich academic conversations.