Autonomy in learningWhen students have a sense of control over their learning, their intrinsic motivation improves; they are likely to persist at tedious academic tasks and they learn to process information at a deeper level. To support students’ autonomy, teachers can encourage them to set their own learning objectives, contribute to course material, and use learning techniques that work best for them. For example, lessons can be structured in a more flexible way, in which students can choose which tasks to solve and the order in which to solve them. They can also have a say in the topics they want to discuss and the formats in which to create projects. Students can experiment with writing an essay, creating a presentation, or a short video, instead of sticking to only one format that might not showcase their strengths and talents.
RelatednessRelatedness refers to the desire to feel connected to and cared for by others. Research shows that social isolation and loneliness are linked to student anxiety, lower intellectual achievement, diminished self-control, and poorer health. But when students feel a sense of belonging, they experience more meaningful relationships, higher self-esteem, better academic performance, and improved well-being. Teachers have the ability to foster a culture of empathy in the classroom, where nobody feels left out. The empathy driven classroom abandons rigid disciplinary approaches (think detention) in favor of techniques such as mindfulness. Students also learn better when examples used in class relate to them and their experiences. This is especially important for students of different ethnic, socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. Students should be able to talk about their struggles without feelings of shame or being judged. Instead, they are encouraged to see learning challenges as part of the process. Many teachers also encourage relatedness by ditching the old classroom design in favor of U-shaped seat arrangements or flexible furniture that allows students to collaborate more.
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CompetenceStudents need to be challenged by schoolwork and know that expectations are high, but they also need a sense of competence — a feeling that they are equipped to meet these challenges and standards. Studies have shown that once students perceive themselves as competent in learning class material, they develop more intrinsic learning motives, even in the face of obstacles. Teachers need to find activities that are not too hard nor too easy for students, and increase the difficulty as they progress through lessons. They can also provide timely and constructive feedback so students can learn how to improve, and not dwell on what they perceive as a failure to learn. To develop competence, students can be taught effective strategies for learning. In other words, how to read critically, or how to approach a Maths problem instead of learning formulas by rote. Ultimately, competence is about students developing a sense of mastery and control over their learning, where challenges are stepping stones and not roadblocks.
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