You are viewing our website as a(n)

How to give students more autonomy without losing control

  1. Home
  2. Free Resources
  3. Articles
  4. Current Article
How to give students more autonomy without losing control

In his 2009 book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Dan Pink writes, “Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.”  As teachers, we must reflect on whether our goals are for compliance or engagement.  If we want our students to be truly engaged (and not just going through the motions to complete the bare minimum), our students must feel trusted to make choices.  The challenge here is to allow for developmentally appropriate choices.  This is a moving target that depends on the students and the context.  

Dan Pink’s 4 T’s of autonomy can help guide us when thinking about the kinds of choices we’re asking students to make:


Can you provide students with some choice in their learning?  For example, students could choose to learn new content by reading an article, watching a video, or joining a small group lesson with the teacher.  Or, consider allowing students to choose which topic they would like to explore further.   


Think about the different ways students can demonstrate their understanding. For example, can students choose to write a paragraph, create a diagram, or make an audio recording to explain chemical and physical changes?  


You can provide autonomy in student teams without having students freely choose partners.  Consider grouping based on an interest survey that provides both you and the students a voice in the groupings. 


This can easily be forgotten in our highly structured school days.  Recording a lesson and sharing the video in your LMS provides students an opportunity to watch at another time and as often as needed.  You might allow for some flexibility in the order of task completion too. 

and a TIP!

You don’t need to give choice in every area.  To get started, think about which of the four Ts might be an appropriate place to provide students some choice in your next lesson. 


Like these ideas? To learn classroom engagement strategies that make the most immediate impact, we recommend checking out our program, "Fostering Student Engagement."

Learn More >

Amy Jimenez

Author Since: May 8, 2018

Shopping cart0
There are no products in the cart!
Continue shopping