This week I was inspired by an amazing TED Talk, given by the educator Sugata Mitra, whose work harnesses the power of children's curiosity and ingenuity to create powerful learning. By sparking children's interest, giving them freedom and encouragement to wonder, his students have achieved astronomical learning. Mitra has challenged me to think long and hard about how much learning autonomy I give.
This week, my personal teacher challenge is to infuse all of my work with moments and space for student autonomy. Over the span of three decades, I've taught thousands of students. One thing they all have in common is that I am no longer their teacher, but if I’ve done my job right, they are still learning. Powerful teaching sparks curiosity and imparts the tools and encouragement for perpetual learning.
So I’ve undertaken a perpetual-learning-experiment by embedding curiosity, tools, time, and encouragement for autonomy in my brand new unit on the judiciary. On day one, students are encouraged to ask questions that they are curious about; as we move forward, I channel their curiosity with tools, practices, and sources; and as they work towards their question, I praise them as they wonder towards autonomy. See for yourself.
Here’s three essential steps towards autonomous learning
1. Spark Interest – Ask big, wonderful, surprising questions as models for their own curiosity: I wonder how different our country would be if we didn’t have a Supreme Court?
2. Give Freedom – Muster any resources to help students pursue their questions.
3. Encourage – Nudge students towards valuable sources and tools with lots of praise.
I got an email yesterday. “Hey, Mister Milner! I just read this great article that’s really helping me understand this tragic migrant crisis. I thought your students might get something out of it!” Student becomes teacher, teacher becomes student; the cycle of learning continues. And as I think back, I realize that there was a teacher, all those many years ago who taught me to teach myself. Thanks, Mrs. Brown.