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Support students’ autonomy through opportunities for student decision making and direction

Autonomy NGSS P7S4

In tasks where one claim is clearly stronger than others (e.g., because of students’ current knowledge level or curricular scripts), be precise about where students will be exercising autonomy, to avoid presenting students with a false sense of choice. For example, instead of saying, “You can choose any claim you want,” prompt students with, “Choose the claim that you feel is best supported by the evidence.” It can also be useful to engage students knowingly in the process of defending an invalid claim (i.e., playing “devil’s advocate”) to reinforce the practice of argumentation and evaluation of evidence.

Resource Information

Autonomy Principles

The strategy above is aligned to the principles in bold.

Allow students to make choices that are meaningful to them and consequential for their science learning
  • Provide authentic choices for assignments/activities/assessments and in how students complete those tasks
  • Consider whether the choices students are permitted are relevant to advancing their learning or whether they are largely teacher concessions/placations for classroom management purposes
Provide opportunities for students to direct their own learning
  • Support students’ cognitive autonomy by allowing ample time for student decision making and problem solving and by encouraging students to discuss and justify multiple approaches, strategies, and solutions; ask questions arising from their own ideas; make decisions about revising work or what is learned next; and formulate personal learning goals
  • Be receptive to students’ spontaneous questions and ideas that demonstrate independent thinking and ownership of the topic
  • Use student questions and ideas to influence subsequent learning activities
  • In both classroom management and learning tasks, provide rationales or refer to reasons why students might choose to do something, rather than ordering them to comply or coercing them through rewards or threat of punishment
  • Rather than telling students that they should or must do something (or do something in a certain way), ask students for their reasoning and coach them to generate possible solutions. Allow students to make mistakes, try alternative solutions, and/or generate their own solutions
  • Make space for students to express their views and opinions; be open to the possibility that these may differ from your own or may deviate from the planned responses you expected to hear
  • Acknowledge and respond to negative students’ negative emotions and feelings: accept them as constructive information that can be used to transform an activity from something not worth doing, to something worth doing
  • Provide rationales, particularly for unappealing choices