Fostering independence and autonomy in our learners can be a difficult task to master. How do we get them to learn effectively on their own? How do they become self-sufficient and motivated enough to do work without someone else holding their hand? And to know what measures to take if they don’t understand something? Well, it ultimately comes down to the student themselves and their approach to developing skills for independent learning. However, first the teacher must cultivate some learning strategies over time which will lead to the student being able to learn more effectively on their own.
A Metacognitive Attitude
An effective way to develop this sense of learner autonomy in others is to encourage them to be observers of their own learning process. This sense of self-awareness is what is known as a metacognitive attitude. Metacognition means being aware of our own thought process as we carry out a task. A metacognitive attitude is one whereby the learner purposely thinks about and reflects on what they are learning. It also develops learner autonomy by enabling the student to gain more control over what they are doing. If a learner can develop this attitude over time, they will know how to approach future learning tasks and thus become more successful in these endeavors.
How do we do this? – A Plan of Action
According to Dylan Wiliam of the University of London, it has always been clear that the best students act metacognitively. It involves planning, thinking about their learning process, making changes on projects and essays in reflection of this as they go along and checking that they are on track. Many students already do this intuitively. However, many others do not and need some help to get there.
I invoke Robin Fogarty (1994), when thinking about how to get students to approach metacognitive thinking. Here are some steps to take:
1. Before they begin their learning activity, students must develop a plan for how they are going to approach it. To do this, they can ask themselves a series of questions, such as: What should I do to begin? What am I aiming to learn here? What do I want to achieve in this learning activity? Is it memorization or comprehension? Is it a practical skill? Should I do it all now or begin it and come back to it later? Should I split my learning up into chunks? Should I take notes on the content or simply read it a number of times?
2. Once their learning is underway, they should take some steps to monitor the process. Questions they could ask here are: How am I doing? Am I fully following what I am reading? Is there something I need to do to improve my understanding? Should I slow things down? Should I take a break and come back to it later? Is there a better way to approach this task?
3. At the end of the learning experience, it’s time for students to reflect on their learning. They can ask themselves: How did I do? Did I fully understand everything? Is there anything I didn’t understand? Did I achieve what I set out to do? Is there anything I could have done differently? Do I need to revise the activity to ensure I grasp things I didn’t get the first time round? Do I have any questions I could ask my teacher in class tomorrow?
An example – History Class
Let’s say you have created a 30hands flipped lesson on the aftermath of World War 2 for your students to watch at home. This is a complex topic, so how can we ensure that they will manage with the content on their own? Well, first they could begin by making a plan on how they are going to approach the activity. This doesn’t have to take long, just a quick brainstorm before they begin watching. They could plan to watch it twice, once now and once after dinner. They could plan to pause it half way through and finish the second half later. They could plan to take notes while they watch. During the video, they could stop part of the way through and ask themselves are they following the content. If not they could perhaps start again to reinforce what they already saw. They could decide to start writing down questions for their teacher, or using an online dictionary for difficult words. And finally when they finish, they could reflect on their experience and ask themselves if they found their approach useful and how could they improve their metacognitive attitude for next time.
The examples and ways you could do this are infinite. The main thing is that it is vital your students are actively aware of what they are doing when they are learning, and working out ways themselves to improve their learning. According to Wilson & Conyers (2016), an effective strategy in class time could be to “lead class discussions that encourage students to share examples about how metacognition can be used inside and outside of school.” By having students come up with ideas themselves, they may be more likely to actually use them. And by teaching students to develop this metacognitive attitude, the teacher can also become more aware of their students’ learning. This in turn can help the teacher in their lesson planning and their class activities. It is important to be aware, however, that it is not something that can be taught in one class session alone. It is more like a habit that needs to be cultivated and reinforced over a period of time – a new way of thinking, if you will. With time, patience and perseverance, you will find your students will start to engage more in their learning process and begin to feel more confident and independent.
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