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Field Post #3

Natalie J's picture

An issue I’ve seen at my field placement is the difficulty of balancing student autonomy and independent work with order and productivity. The Smith School focuses on project-based learning and encourages the use of technology in the classroom. The goal of this method is to challenge students to learn on their own or in groups through research and exploration, instead of spoon-feeding them information through lectures. There seems to be a lot of value to this philosophy because it forces students to think critically about what they are learning instead of passively being given the information that they may not pay attention to. However, this also leads to a certain amount of chaos in the classroom and students spend a lot of the time allotted for work on Snapchat and other social media, watching videos, having side conversations, or doing work for other classes. While this approach forces students to manage their time at least enough to complete assignments by the deadline (or be penalized for turning in their work late), it involves using a large chunk of class as basically a study hall. 

I would like to look into literature about project based learning and other teaching styles with a lot of student autonomy. Specifically, I would like more information on the different forms this type of schooling can take, and if there are any studies that have shown their respective efficacy or lack thereof. I have studied the idea of “free schools” some in a previous education class. In free schools, there is absolutely no curriculum, assignments, or formal teaching, and students are fully in charge of directing their own learning. While this is an extreme model and very different from the project-based learning seen at the Smith School, the two methods are related in that they involve high levels of student autonomy. I plan to integrate this research on different types of autonomy-based learning with my observations and experiences from my field placement to reach some preliminary conclusions about best practices for allowing students to guide their own learning, which hopefully also integrate a productive structure in the classroom.


jccohen's picture

Natalie J,

This sounds like a productive direction for further investigation, both in considering what you've experienced at your field site and in pursuing additional literature to inform your questions.  Several elements to keep in mind are the ages of the students andhow long they've been in a setting that emphasizes student autonomy; I'm wondering to what degree this is a mode of learning that students practice and get better at.  Also, I'm curious about to what degree students at your site choose their own projects; and more broadly, where does student engagement come into play here?