In sitting down to write this blog, the first word that came to my mind was autonomy. I learnt this important concept at university and it made a world of sense to me. In short, to be autonomous is to have self-governance.
I hear you panic and exclaim, “I cannot allow my child to govern himself, that’s crazy!” To develop autonomy in a child they are definitely given boundaries and guidance. It is through a search for independence that a child discovers their interests, their curiosities, their strengths and their limits. They are active participants in the world around them and they explore and process their impact on the environment, and vice versa.
Telling a child to do their homework because it’s due tomorrow seems to have little relevance to them. They don’t think the way we do, and deadlines aren’t really of value to them. Yes they need to learn the important skill of meeting a deadline, but they need to see the value in what they’re doing first.
We can involve children in their own learning, by developing their autonomy in ways such as:
1. Linking their learning to their personal interests
I like to find out what interests children and then steer everything towards that interest, where possible. For example, let’s say that little Jonny (a snail-saver and animal book-lover) is not in the mood to do his spelling. Ordinarily, you might say something like, “You have to learn your words this week if you want to pass your test.” This would involve your child in their learning because they would want to pass a test, but it isn’t going to motivate them to see the immediate or long term value in being able to spell.
You might instead choose to say, “If you want to help animals, you also need to be able to spell in order to write the animal’s names and information about them to find them a home.” This way, you are linking learning to real life, to your child’s goals and aspirations to make learning relevant to them personally. Pretty soon they’ll do the linking themselves (because you’ve helped guide their thinking this way) and want to be involved in the learning because it will help them reach their dreams.
2. Appealing to their independent abilities to rationalise
Sometimes you can’t link certain areas of curriculum. Sometimes your child will have to learn about the three levels of Australian government and this really isn’t going to be their cup of tea, despite their teacher’s enthusiastic efforts to make it seem exciting! Each year in Year 6, there seems to be only a few budding politicians, and for the rest of the students I simply have to put on my best performance and most enthusiastic voices, props and acts to make government seem valuable to them. To keep the ‘flame of relevance’ burning, I resort to reasoning with them (appealing to their independent abilities to rationalise) by saying:
“The Australian government have decided that in Year 6 it is important that children learn about the three levels of government. To be an informed citizen, they believe you need to be exposed to this in Year 6, before developing this further in Year 7 and building upon it in years ahead. This is so you are a member of this country with some knowledge of how it is run.”
That seems reasonable, right? The children always agree and decide that it is unreasonable to live in a country and not know how it is run, so they endeavour to learn about the local, state and federal responsibilities. They have been entrusted with the theory behind learning it, understood they’ll be building on it in years to come, believe it has value if they plan to live as a citizen of this country, and therefore feel involved in their learning.
3, Reflecting on and processing feedback
Furthermore, involving your child in their learning means sitting down with task feedback, teacher emails, or their report and having conversations that allow you to reflect and set goals. For example:
“Jonny, in Maths, it says you are still working on mastering your six times tables. Did you know that times tables are like the concrete we build a house on? It is so important in so many areas of Maths. I have a Times Tables song I can play in the car on the way to school. How about we listen to the 6 times tables every morning for a week and then you can tell them back to me on Friday night. If you get them all right, you can stay up an extra half an hour/hour and we can play some games.”
In having these conversations and setting these goals, it helps involve your child in their own learning. They see how they can use feedback in reports or tasks/assessments to change their future. They have control over what they can’t yet do, and have the power to change it. They begin to develop autonomy (self-governance) as you guide them to govern themselves. You guide them in how to move forward, how to improve and how to take control.
We all have a vested interest in these special little people who are capable of having a big impact in the world. It doesn’t matter if they’re building a personal snail collection, exterminating garden pests, or studying Malacology (the area of invertebrate zoology that deals with the study of snails), they have independent thoughts and dreams. When we focus on these, as we involve them in their learning, they have nowhere to go but up.
— Written by Erin Woodage, Year 6 Classroom Teacher