This article is an example of teaching procedures

10 Journey 10 Increased decision making and independence

Issue 114, page 40
November 2013
Ian Mitchell Pedagogical Purposes Group, Monash University

Being more independent as a learner requires students to make decisions - and for teachers to provide opportunities and space for this to be possible. Again, teachers can be providing opportunities for many types of decisions from day 1, but the kinds of decisions that students can, and do take, do become much more sophisticated in classrooms where teachers have a year-long learning focused agenda of change. Once again this is understandably a multi-year journey for teachers in learning what sorts of decisions they can trust their students to make as well as how to get them willing and able to make them.

 This journey involves GLBs (Good Learning behaviours) such as seeking more information (Journey 1) and a language about learning such as the names of a range of different procedures (Journey 3) as well as their purposes (Journey 2). It commonly builds on shifts in perception of roles of the teacher and students such as taking more responsibility for learning (Journey 6) and usually requires active monitoring (Journey 9) - you need to monitor your learning in order to make decisions about where to go next and to work independently; this often means you must accept the value of seeking links to key ideas ( Journey 8) and also of thinking about the purposes of tasks.

Building understandings of skills associated with collaboration (Journey 5) helps students to make decisions while they are in a group - it provides opportunities for the children to do these and to practise doing these (see also point noted below about this journey).  Understanding teachers purposes (Journey 7) allows students to make informed decisions about where to take their learning. Finally this journey requires multiple experiences of different forms of reflection tabulated in Journey 4.

 Some ideas

 10.1      Provide students with opportunities for different kinds of decisions

There are many procedures that give students opportunities to make decisions and this is important background, however these are generally opportunities provided by the teacher; journey 10 refers to decisions that are more independent student decisions.

10.2      Deciding what sort of assistance they need

 One relatively independent set of decisions are to do with was getting unstuck, getting started and moving on. There are a number of procedures that have been developed to get students getting unstuck and working through tasks more independently : F 28 Getting started/Moving on map and F21 Try three before me  and F22 Help tokens are three. These involve accepting the role of being more independent.

10.3 Over time, give students opportunities to make the same kinds of decisions

 E.g. at the start of a lesson. How am I going to get started today? How am I going to approach this task? What strategy am I going to use to generate ideas? These sorts of decisions get better with practice

!0.4 Remove yourself from your normal support role

.Some teachers have run lessons where they deliberately do this, sometimes announcing it to the students, and so explicitly forcing them to make more decisions than usual.

10.5 Ask students (often in groups) to select a procedure to use to tackle a task

 In one sense this is set up by the teacher but it does involve a reasonable level of independence as students are making a decision about how they will work. Sarah Foley had her students read information that they had to classify/summarize; different groups chose different procedures such as a Venn diagram, a table a mind map. Tanya Whiteside has students make a similar decision when planning a piece of writing -  they chose a procedure to organise their thinking.

 10.6  More generally tasks that are very open and multi stepped require independent decision making.

 Monica Josephson  and Laima Hamberg did this in their hugely impressive Historyline (procedure A38) where students constructed a saga of an extended family over several generations in an historical period.  Faye Smith provides another example in Problem based learning (C29). Both of these were major initiatives involving several subjects, but  Sarah Foley reported how her students are planning a production on a decade, from history. They are writing scripts for this and there is a very high level of choice (and creativity) required with students having to manage time and resources.

 10.7  Provide opportunities for making decisions about how to set up the room/environment and how to use the space

Several primary teachers give students a large say in constructing their classroom environment; beginning the year with empty walls and a pile of possible resources with th estudents decided what they wanted in their physical environment at that point in the year.

They build this up during the term.