February 12, 2022

Kids go through various stages of increasing autonomy as they age. However, numerous studies have found that the stage that begins around 6th grade and continues through the teen years is unique. 

Unfortunately, this is what gives ‘the rebellious teenager’ an infamous bad rep. Home and street behavior are fertile ground for the flexing of this emergent autonomous thinking, but so is the classroom and the learning that takes place there. 

Autonomy & Education Styles

Naturally, different schools and different classroom teachers have separate autonomous rules and educational styles. Different subject matters tend to lend to certain styles over others, creating a unique autonomy in the classroom. Still, in considering the newfound prescience of being heard, being visible, and not being forgotten in the adult socio-political realm, this has allowed for disruptive spaces and successful movements. 

For example, BLM and MeToo have brought up the topic of whom to allow or disallow from making on-campus guest speeches to university boards and administrators. It seems only fitting that teens should be similarly encouraged to speak up and to safely and respectfully occupy disruptive and discursive spaces. This is a matter of not only self-exploration and self-expression, but also a lesson in autonomy and how to constructively engage in active, healthy, and respectful social dialoguing in the classroom.

In math classes, students want to be led until they can do the leading themselves. Therefore, with every new concept presented, I push to invite students to do teachbacks to peers and to me. Clearly making the toolset they can play with and making a step-by-step work-through isn’t always simple. Creating the desired outcome of an autonomous education takes practice, finesse, clarity of mind, language, and an empathetic sense of what everyone else needs. This ain’t easy, folks!

Student-to-Student Communication  

Luckily, teens are masters at communicating with their peers, though not necessarily in the ways we might like or be accustomed to. For those who struggle with autonomy in the classroom and struggle to relate, this sort of exercise offers other valuable lessons. Sometimes, the steps for autonomous learning are small — starting with teaching a partner instead of the whole class or even simply explaining (justifying) each step to me. Whatever the timeline, there is a clear, safe space for the information (objective) and its personalized presentation and implementation (subjective). This falls within parameters that leave the door open for clever shortcuts, long workarounds, and creative approaches. In short, this system is autonomy that is measured in a classroom setting. 

Similarly, for an autonomous education in English and History, it is crucial that students understand that there are many voices that makeup “history.” They also learn it’s not really up to the student (or anyone else) to choose which voices are relevant, just as it’s not appropriate to judge the past according to modern (or personal) convictions. 

Instead, motivations, circumstances, lived experiences, and systems of thinking and doing (visible and invisible infrastructures) form the basis of historical studies and invite. Therefore, the student can seek to understand his or her place in history as both a product of these systems and autonomy in the classroom. In a learning environment, personal reflections and responses separate from showing and understanding the material. This is not personal, as it invites autonomous thoughts, selections, and learning.  

Encouraging Active Engagement

The creation of questions can be selected by students for them to ruminate on and direct towards peers. This forces active engagement with classmates and material and invites guided interactive communication on their terms. 

By the same token, there are written assignments and projects that require students to select their sources. The sources they select come from a variety of previously examined sources in an argumentative response to an open-ended set of questions or a hypothetical situation. This not only calls for autonomy in the classroom, but also a historically accurate synthesis. Additionally, a number of individual choices about questions, approaches, evidence/argument, and therefore, personal investment is required. These ideas for an autonomous education can be similarly applied to English, science, and even math. 

Why does this matter, though? 

Why Autonomous Education is Important

Autonomous education matters because a student who feels autonomy within a clearly defined framework is an independent, critically thinking, and actively engaged student. They are effectively becoming an autonomous lifelong learner, an active listener, and an engaged and compassionate conversationalist. 

A gifted student who has discovered autonomy and how she or he best engages in a classroom tends to be one who takes active responsibility for his or her learning. Surely, this is the proverbial light at the end of this taxing, boundary-pushing, autonomy-seeking tunnel! They are, and should be, the center of their universe. However, they are by no means the center of the universe. This is perhaps one of the hardest lessons of growing up! 

This is the idea as if you were talking to a child: do you want autonomy in the classroom? Do you want to be in charge of you? Expect to get as much out of all this as you put in. So go ahead and flex, direct, design, and speak up! Let’s see some independence from you! 

Autonomous Education at Scholar’s Academy  for the Gifted and Artistically Elite

 Scholars Academy understands the importance of an autonomous education platform. Teaching and motivating independent thinking for gifted and twice-exceptional students is embedded in our curriculum. Email us today for more information!