Autonomy-supportive educators meet a basic human need; consequently, they enhance educational and developmental outcomes.

“Individuals seek a quality of human functioning that has at its core the desire to determine their own behavior; they have an innate need to feel autonomous and to have control over their lives. This need for self-determination is satisfied when individuals are free to behave of their own volition—to engage in activities because they want to, not because they have to.  At its core is the freedom to choose and to have choices, rather than being forced or coerced to behave according to the desires of another.” –James P Raffini, 150 Ways to Increase Intrinsic Motivation in the Classroom

“Compared to students of controlling teachers and to pawnlike students, students of autonomy-supportive teachers and originlike students show the following positive educational and developmental outcomes:

  1. Higher academic achievement
  2. Greater perceived competence
  3. Higher sense of self-worth and self-esteem
  4. Enhanced conceptual learning
  5. Greater creativity
  6. Preference for challenge
  7. More positive emotional tone
  8. Increased school attendance and retention.”     –Johnmarshall Reeve, Motivating Others

APPLICATION: How can I structure the learning environment so my students experience autonomy?

STUDENT CHOICES:  “Deadlines, threats, competition, imposed goals, surveillance, and evaluations were all found to undermine intrinsic motivation….It seemed that if controlling people–that is, pressuring them to behave in particular ways–diminishes their feelings of self-determination, then giving them choices about how to behave ought to enhance them…. [R]esearch has confirmed that choice enhances people’s intrinsic motivation, so when people participate in decisions about what to do, they will be more motivated and committed to the task–to being sure that the task gets done well….  People who were asked to do a particular task but allowed the freedom of having some say in how to do it were more fully engaged by the activity–they enjoyed it more—than people who were not treated as unique individuals….  It is thus important that people in positions of authority begin to consider how to provide more choice….  Why not give students choice about what field trips to take and what topics to write their papers about, for example.”  Edward Deci, Why We Do What We Do

MENU OF ASSIGNMENTS:  I have had good results with creating a menu of assignments, tests, and projects from which students can choose….two from column A and two from column B, for example. I assign point values to each assignment, but I have heard of instructors who have taken this idea a step further and let students determine at the beginning of the course what percent of their final grade each assignment will be.  For example, one student might decide that the final exam would count 10% of her final grade, while the term paper would count 50%, and quizzes 40%. Another student in the same class might decide to count the final exam as 50%, quizzes as 40%, and the term paper as 10%. This approach might take more book-keeping, but it would certainly give students autonomy over their grades (as well as let them adapt course evaluations to their learning styles).

–Skip Downing, Facilitator, On Course Workshop,

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