Student Autonomy

These days in education, the things we teach kids are far reaching. In addition to learning important things like basic literacy and numeracy skills, there's also a strong focus on thinking and social/emotional skills.

One morning late last year I walked into our Kindergarten rooms and talked to various groups about what they were writing. In one of those conversations spelling became a big part of our focus. What was beautiful was that the children I spoke to weren't at all phased by trying to use big words they couldn't spell. There was no hesitancy about loosely approximating the spelling of many words.

When asked about how they might spell these words correctly, the response was to quickly rattle off the names of 3 students in the class whom they regarded as proficient spellers. These were the go-to people for spelling. If they couldn't help, there was always the word wall to refer to. If the words were not already there to copy the spelling from, they knew to approach a teacher and ask for the word to be added to the class' word wall. Easy!

All of this came from 5 and 6 year olds!

The same morning I was in one of our Stage 2 classes and the students were busy teaching each other spelling rules. They had each been responsible for creating some sort of presentation on a spelling rule that had been problematic for them, and then using the presentation to teach others.

The group I sat with was led by a young boy who had created an iBook he'd made about his spelling rule. When asked why he'd chosen to use iBooks Author instead of another application, his response was that he'd never used it before and he wanted to find out what it was like. That led me to ask him how he'd learnt how to use the app. He explained that he'd seen a classmate use it a few weeks before so he thought he'd give it a go himself. Easy!

Not only did this boy teach himself the required skills to present using a new and very powerful app, but he had the confidence to take a risk and try something new. The back end of this story is that this particular student, like so many others, used to be the exact opposite in terms of risk taking behaviour. He had grown from a student who wasn't prepared to venture outside of his comfort zone, to one who embraced the challenge of learning new skills. That in itself is an extremely valuable life lesson to learn.

It seems our whole school focus on spelling is paying off! As are our focuses on students reflecting on their work, students taking ownership of their own learning decisions and students being encouraged to engage in cognitive challenge that pushes them to excel.

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