Why and How to Increase Student Autonomy


With the heightened pressure for accountability, teachers and researchers have been eager to find ways to help improve student reading comprehension for career and college readiness. I believe that teachers who give students autonomy will increase student motivation and reading comprehension.  This is a student-centered idea, one that is not always the most popular methodology in teaching today because the management level and structure in this ‘student-led classroom’ must be at an all time high

Student autonomy allows for teachers to become a facilitator of learning.  By building relationships, a teacher can create a collaborative and reciprocal classroom where students are highly motivated and engaged in high level reading comprehension tasks. When students leave this type of a classroom, they leave as well rounded, life-long readers. *truly our goal, right?

To ignore  student autonomy in your practice is like eating tortilla chips without salsa, queso, and guacamole. (It is good, but it could be GREAT.)

Guthrie, Wigfield, Metsala and Cox wrote in their Journal of Psychology in 1999, “One reason that motivation and engagement may influence the development of reading comprehension is that motivated students usually want to understand text content fully, and therefore, process information deeply.”

So, the real question isn’t WHY but HOW to increase student autonomy in the classroom.


This is very important.

Students without choice + Teacher-Led Classroom = Unmotivated, Unengaged, and Unhappy Pretenders
  • Allow students to pick their book
  • Allow students to choose where they sit when they read
  • Allow students to choose the strategy they want to use while reading
  • Allow the reader to pick how they want to respond to the text

If you, the teacher, are explicitly teaching a strategy that will help students understand a specific skill when comprehending poetry (or fiction, nonfiction, or literary nonfiction) teach MULTIPLE. This way, each reader can try out the strategy to see which one worked best for them while reading a poem (of fiction, nonfiction, or drama) of their choice.

Tip: pull as many books within the genre from your local, personal or school library to have on hand.  026

Tip: Complete student reading inventories to make sure you have pulled enough topics that your students are interested in.

2. Give them time in text

The person who is reading is the person who is learning!  Reading aloud, shared reading, and listening to reading are wonderful skills to learn, but the only way our students will become readers is if we give them TIME to dive in to their reading, digest what they are reading without restraints of any kind.

Confession: My child is a ‘reader’, and I am a reading specialist STILL  he is not given as much time to read at home (with homework, chores, family time, and bedtime routines- it is difficult to allow for Time in Text) as he and I would prefer. With knowing that, it is important to give our students the time in class because it really is one of those tasks that is worth the time.

3. Close Reading Protocols

Charging students with the task of reading a piece or picture book or chapter multiple times, each time thinking deeper into the texts allows as much autonomy as you can ask for.  Every time giving each student the independence of choosing the skill and strategy that will improve their level of comprehension. close reading

End result Close Reading Notes and Strategy Cards

*Students must have a strategy bank to pull from for this to become autonomous. This will require explicit strategy instruction to occur through teacher mini-lessons (more on this in a later blog)

Tip: Here is a link to a previous blog I wrote about the Close Reading Protocols in my classroom.

4. Make Guided Reading 70/30

Small guided reading groups should be the main focus of your classroom block with 70% of your instruction, collaboration, discussion, and intervention coming from this structure.  30% of your class block should include whole group explicit strategy instruction, shared reading practice, or word study (vocabulary/spelling).

Guided reading is one of the most effective tools in a teacher’s toolkit on helping students develop reading skills and become increasingly stronger in comprehension.

  • small group allows for a sense of ‘safety’ when asking questions or trying out new strategies
  • teachers can guide and close gaps with misconceptions that occurred during whole group instruction
  • targeted strategy instruction and levelled readers can be used to guide instruction
  • Collaboration is usually more open and informative

Tip: K-2 classrooms should focus on levelled readers predetermined by a standardized reading assessment-  while upper elementary should focus on strategy focused groups based on formative assessments.

5. Allow for Student Feedback

If you want to truly create a student-led autonomous classroom, you must allow for student feedback.  Guide students through sentence frames that will help them articulate how they feel about the classroom structure, strategies taught or environment of the classroom.

Tip: Use daily or weekly exit tickets that can help drive your instruction and classroom structure.

6student feedback009

Categories Teaching

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