Student Autonomy and Empowerment
Students reported feeling more connected to their school and peers when they felt that students in their school:
- were given the chance to help make decisions.
- had a say in how things work.
- got to help decide some of the rules.
- were asked by their teachers what they want to learn about.
- got to help decide how class time was spent.4
Student Autonomy and Empowerment
These skills can help provide students with opportunities for autonomy and empowerment in the classroom.
Include students in the process of creating class rules, expectations, and norms. Revisit these regularly with the class to discuss what is working and what may need modification.
When transitioning from in-person to remote learning models (and vice versa), revisit class rules and solicit students’ input on any changes they think should be made to best suit the new learning environment.5 For example, discuss options for students to opt-in or opt-out of using cameras and establishing other ways of maintaining accountability and engagement (e.g., chat box, verbal participation, polling questions).
Ask students for their input on how class time is spent4 using a brief survey or poll (in person or virtually) or group brainstorming session. For example, consider asking for students’ input on content (e.g., key questions, topics they would like to learn about); mode (e.g., project-based assignments, group vs. individual assignments, assessment format); and classroom structure (e.g., small groups or “break out rooms” for virtual learning, discussion boards, didactic instruction).6
Make changes or adaptations to lessons, activities, and assignments, as possible, to reflect what students have indicated interests them.2 For example, provide supplemental readings and videos, or invite guest speakers to talk about topics that students are most interested in.
Consider inviting students to lead classroom discussions or group-based activities. For example, ask students to choose a topic or concept that has been covered in class to reteach to classmates.5
Offer choices rather than mandating a single option whenever possible. For example, consider having students choose assignments or assessment formats from a menu of different options.5
Ask students to keep a journal (for virtual settings, this could be housed in an online platform or shared file) and reflect each week on what has been going well, what challenges they’ve had, and what they might try differently the following week.7
- Hafen CA, Allen JP, Mikami AY, Gregory A, Hamre B, Pianta RC. The pivotal role of adolescent autonomy in secondary school classrooms. Journal of Youth and Adolescence. 2012;41(3):245-255.
- Ruzek EA, Hafen CA, Allen JP, Gregory A, Mikami AY, Pianta RC. How teacher emotional support motivates students: The mediating roles of perceived peer relatedness, autonomy support, and competence. Learning and instruction. 2016;42:95-103.
- Kiefer SM, Pennington S. Associations of teacher autonomy support and structure with young adolescents’ motivation, engagement, belonging, and achievement. Middle grades research journal. 2017;11(1).
- Acosta J, Chinman M, Ebener P, Malone PS, Phillips A, Wilks A. Understanding the relationship between perceived school climate and bullying: A mediator analysis. Journal of school violence. 2019;18(2):200-215.
- Search Institute. Building developmental relationships during the COVID-19 crisis. Published 2020. Accessed September, 2020.
- Michigan MTSS Technical Assistance Center. Classroom PBIS for online learning. Published 2020. Accessed September, 2020.
- Nordegren C. 3 reasons to use formative assessment in your virtual instruction- And tips on how to go about it. Published 2020. Accessed September, 2020.