An autonomy-promoting education affects motivation and positive personal growth, including self-esteem:

“The opportunity to make choices increases our motivation.” –Ellen J. Langer, Mindfulness

“As we expected, teachers who were oriented toward supporting their students’ autonomy had a more positive impact on their students than did the control-oriented teachers.  The students of autonomy-supportive teachers were more curious and mastery-oriented, and they evidenced higher self-esteem”  –Edward Deci, Why We Do What We Do

“I dare to believe that when the human being is inwardly free to choose whatever he deeply values, he tends to value those objects, experiences and goals which contribute to his own survival, growth, and development, and to the survival and development of others.” — Carl Rogers, Freedom to Learn

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

SELF-CHOSEN TEAMS: Let students pick their own work groups for collaborative activities. For example, in writing classes, the teacher can let students choose the groups in which they will do their peer editing.

STUDENT-DESIGNED SYLLABUS: For courses that have many, perhaps even TOO many, loosely-related topics to cover in one semester, some teachers allow students to participate in the creation of the course syllabus. In a health class, for example, the teacher could invite students to look over the 22 topics in the table of contents of the course text. (The teacher has decided that 22 topics is too many to cover in one semester, but it is difficult for her to decide which to drop.)   Then the teacher asks students to vote on which 15 topics they want to study during the semester.   Or, in a literature class, students could choose 20 of the 50 poems in the text that they would like to study.  A variation is to give students the topics that will be covered and give them the choice of the order. (Obviously this would necessitate that the topics are discrete and not cumulative.)

–Skip Downing, Facilitator, On Course Workshop, Skip@OnCourseWorkshop.com

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