Continuing from my previous thoughts related to learner/student autonomy in classroom or in schools in general, I will put down some notes from the papers I have been reading.
Autonomy (usually supported by providing users with choices) is one of the aspects of motivation based on Self-Determination Theory (SDT), and defined as “action that is chosen: action for which one is responsible” (Deci & Ryan, 1987, p.1025). The others are competence and relatedness. According to SDT, a person is self-determined if her psychological needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness are satisfied. SDT suggest that we should examine authority structures in instruction and modify them to support student autonomy (Deci & Ryan, 1987). Autonomy support in classrooms requires instructors to acknowledge students’ feelings and providing them with relevant information and opportunities for choice while minimizing the use of pressures and demands (Black & Ryan, 2000, p.742). The part about minimizing the use of pressures and demands require careful design of the classroom instruction. Perhaps the instructor can give roles to students (not the authority figures) to regulate their progress in the classroom.
Perceived control is an individual’s feeling of being either an origin or a pawn (deCharms, 1968). An origin would be “a person who perceives his or her behavior as determined by his own choosing” and a pawn would be “a person who perceives his or her behavior as determined by external forces beyond his control” (p.273-274). [This is also similar to the motivational theory of “locus of control” (Rotter, 1966) which refers to whether the cause of the event is perceived as internal or external.] People who are origins set realistic goals, determining appropriate actions that accomplish goals and assessing progress toward the goals (deCharms, 1968, 1976). By default, origins either train their metacognitive skills or have such skills in the first place (which is something I don’t know… do people born with metacognitive skills? Although intuitively it is part of the learning process, at what point people diverge on their metacognitive skills and what are the factors that affect such divergence. Something to read a bit or ask experts on metacognition). Pawns, on the other hand, feel controlled by the external events in the environment and thus lack volitional strategies and behaviors.
Autonomy support in classrooms is associated with a number of positive outcomes including intrinsic motivation, achievement (Winert & Helmke, 1995), preference for optimally difficult work (seek for challenge), a sense of enjoyment and vitality and perceived competence (Cordova & Lepper, 1996). Autonomy support can be manifested in the classroom in various ways (Stefanau, Perencevich, DiCintio, & Turner, 2004):
- Organizational autonomy support – can encourage a sense of well-being and comfort with the way a classroom functions… For example, by allowing students some decision making role in terms of classroom management issues. Choose group members, choose evaluation procedure, take responsibility of due dates for assignments, participate in creating and implementing classroom rules, choose seating arrangement
- Procedural autonomy support – may encourage initial engagement with learning activities… For example, by offering students choices about the use of different media to present ideas. Such support had little impact on student perceptions of autonomy or on self-reported behaviors and cognitive engagement (Assor, Kaplan, & Roth,2002). Choose materials to use in class projects, choose the way competence will be demonstrated, display work in an individual manner, handle materials.
- Cognitive autonomy support – may foster a more enduring psychological investment in deep level thinking… For example, by affording opportunities for students to evaluate work from a self-referent standard. Students are given opportunities to discuss multiple approaches and strategies, find multiple solutions to problems, justify solution for the purpose of sharing expertise, have ample time for decision making, be independent problem solvers with scaffolding, re-evaluate errors, receive informational feedback, formulate personal goals or realign task to correspond with interest, debate ideas freely, have less teacher talk time; more teacher listening time, ask questions. While doing all these, it is important for teachers to provide students with models. Becoming cognitively autonomous may need considerable support and practice.
Assor, Kaplan, & Roth (2002) distinguished between three types of teacher autonomy supportive behaviors:
- Fostering relevance by articulating the role of the learning activity in relation to the students’ personal goals
- Allowing the expression of student dissatisfaction with learning tasks to cause the teacher to rethink the learning activity
- Providing students with opportunities to choose tasks consistent with personal goals and interests.
Assor et al. (2002) reported that choice had little impact on student autonomy. Rather, it was the “extent to which one’s actions reflect one’s personal goals, interests or values” (p.273). Relevance of learning tasks to students own personal goals… If students perceive themselves as autonomous, they are more curious, more persistent, more involved and report enjoying schoolwork more than students who report low competence and autonomy.
When translated into teaching practice, it seems that autonomy support has become synonymous with choice. In that perspective, academically significant choices are limited. When testing the effectiveness of choice, Cordova&Lepper (1996) only provided students with instructionally irrelevant choices in a mathematics game. Choices were given on character name etc. Although such choices enhance learners’ ownership which may lead to persistence and increased learning, we know very little on the effects of giving students instructionally relevant choices. Offering choices in different standpoints (cognitive, organizational, procedural) may benefit learners more.
Scaffolding is important when creating a cognitively autonomous classroom (Turner & Meyer, 1999). Self-regulatory skills are needed for students to deal with academic decision making responsibilities.
If students are unable or unwilling to regulate their own behavior in line with classroom opportunities for choice and control, then it is unlikely that these opportunities will have a positive influence on motivation (Ames, 1992). Similarly, asking students to choose and make decisions on too many issues may become intimidating or confusing. Mostly because the consequences of the choices, making the choice might be overwhelming to some students. Helping students to make their choices instead of putting all the responsibility on their shoulders might facilitate to increase their autonomy.
The papers cited so far do not give definite answers with controlled empirical studies.
A 2008 meta analysis by Patall, Robinson & Civey examined the role of choice on students’ (both children and adult) intrinsic motivation and found that choice does increase intrinsic motivation, effort, task persistence and competence.
The effects of choice on intrinsic motivation and related outcomes: A meta-analysis of research findings.
Patall, Erika A.; Cooper, Harris; Robinson, Jorgianne Civey