Professional Development and an Interview with Mitch Albom

Bob and I have been fortunate to take part in some very good professional development opportunities lately, and one of them was offered by Michigan Virtual and MASSP, called Teaching for Today and Tomorrow. Mitch Albom was our keynote speaker, and he was phenomenal. He reminds us that teachers touch students’ lives in ways we don’t always realize, or appreciate. Bob and I were fortunate enough to be interviewed by Mitch that evening, for his broadcast on WJR. You can hear the interview here.

Another PD opportunity we were fortunate to attend is an ongoing series offered through RESA: Exploring Concepts Across Digital and Physical Learning Environments, presented by Joni Degner, Bryan Dean, and Alexis Reid. The series is based on several key points, such as coming back to teaching after Covid, finding and utilizing resources, and supporting executive function skills in students. The one concept that grabbed and held my attention was that of bounded autonomy.

Bounded Autonomy

As most of you know, the Tech Coaches are huge proponents of student-centered learning, where students have voice and choice in the classroom setting. So when Bryan Dean began talking about bounded autonomy, I became very interested. In a nutshell, these are the 5 areas where teachers can provide students choices over their learning. There are 5 components of bounded autonomy:

  • Task
  • Turf/Space
  • Technique
  • Time
  • Team

Task

The task is the work to be done. As the teacher, you identify the learning goals for each lesson or unit, and those are pretty much set in stone. Allowing our students choices in how they achieve the task is something that can be very manageable, as long as the goals are clear and flexible.

Turf/Space

This component offers students flexibility in where they complete their work. In an elementary class, we might consider a certain area of the room that holds the resources necessary to complete the task. In a secondary setting, this could be the Media Center or other central location to which students have access. Sometimes, control over turf/space cannot be turned over to the student, and that’s ok, too.

Technique

Technique refers to how the work is accomplished. Students may choose to do independent research on the internet, or interview a professional in the field of study. They may also choose to engage in interactive activities provided by the teacher, read a book or article relevant to their area of study, or watch videos that help explain the concept they are learning about. Teachers can provide playlists of videos, websites, and other resources to help guide students in the right direction.

Time

While deadlines are seldom negotiable, timelines for work done within a deadline are. Giving the students some control over those timelines will give them some autonomy over their own time management. Consistent check-ins are recommended, to make sure students are sticking to their timelines.

Team

The team component refers to who will contribute to the work to be done. Will this project be done individually, in pairs, or in small groups? Allowing students to choose their “team” is important because it teaches them to choose a team that will be successful in their final product.

The Paradox of Choice

As we know from past teaching experience, students may need guidance when given the opportunity to make choices in their learning. Like any other lesson to be learned, making good, solid choices is a topic that teachers will have to spend some time discussing and practicing with their students. We also need to be aware that offering students ALL choices, ALL of the time, isn’t what’s best for students or teachers, either. That’s why it’s important for you, as the educational designer, to choose which choices you can turn over to students.

Barry Schwartz, a university professor and TED Talk contributor, talks about how giving too many choices to people can cause a “fight or flight” response in students. That by offering too many choices, we are actually crippling a person’s ability to make rational choices. Therefore, carefully choosing the choices you want to offer students is critical to their success.

Want to talk more about bounded autonomy and student voice and choice in the classroom? Bob and I would love to meet with you! Sign up for a Tech Coach appointment and we’ll get started!