Without the use of some form of flexibility within the curriculum, adjusting for the need of gifted students in the regular classroom is an impossible task
Literature indicates that honors students prefer more autonomy than their peers in regular programs (Wolfensberger, 2012; Marra & Palmer, 2004). Autonomy is the subjective experience of psychological freedom of choice while performing activities (Van den Broeck et al., 2010). “Gifted learners are significantly more likely to prefer independent study, independent projects and self-instructional materials to all other forms of instructional delivery (Jeter & Chauvin, 1982; Rogers, 2002, 2007).”(Wolfensberger, 2012; p.33). An autonomy-supportive teaching style seems therefore extra important in honors education.
Reeve (2009) defines the autonomy-supportive teaching style as “Interpersonal sentiment and behavior teachers provide during instruction to identify, nurture, and develop students’ inner motivational resources”. The enabling condition are according him: adopt students perspective; welcome students’ thoughts, feelings and actions, and support students’ motivational development and capacity for autonomous self-regulation. To become more autonomy-supportive, teachers need to accomplish three tasks (Reeve, 2009). First task is to become less controlling. To become less controlling insight into how their motivational style is influenced by various forces and how it effects students is needed. The second task is wanting to support autonomy. Therefore it is important that the teacher knows the benefits and positive influences this teaching style can have on student s and on their own performance and feelings. The third task is to learn the “how to” of autonomy support.
Importance of ‘Offering Freedom’ in honors education
“Offering and monitoring a challenging degree of freedom increases students’ self-regulation and is thus an important element of pedagogical strategies within gifted education (Freeman, 1999; Gentry, Rizza & Owen, 2002; Park & oliver, 2009)”(Wolfensberger, 2012; p. 33). Students with autonomy supportive teachers show more positive classroom functioning and educational outcomes (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Reeve & Jang, 2006; Ryan & Deci, 2000). Supporting autonomy in learning combined with offering structure, for example, by formulating clear expectations (Vansteenkiste et al., 2012), is the key to the development of intrinsic motivation of students (Kusurkar, 2012; Ryan & Deci, 2000) and to improvement of study success (Lerma & Kreinovich, 2016). When teachers support their students in regulating their study activities such that they experience autonomy students’ intrinsic motivation and learning will improve (Vansteenkiste et al. 2009). In contrast, giving students too much or too little autonomy will result in sub-optimal learning processes. The emphasis on the subjective aspect of the need for autonomy implies that the ideal degree and form of support may vary.
Also teachers themselves benefit from using an autonomy-supportive teaching style: an increase sense of personal accomplishment from teaching, less emotional exhaustion (Roth, Assor, Kanat-Maymon & Kaplan, 2007) and probably also greater need satisfaction and psychological well-being (Reeve, 2009).
Teaching behaviors that contribute to ‘Offering freedom’
The research of Wolfensberger (2012; 2014 in pursuit of excellence). resulted in three clusters of teaching strategies that can foster the offering of freedom:
- Strategies that create space for students’ questions, choices, and initiatives’ scaffolding.
- Strategies that foster the sense and excitement of experimentation.
- Strategies that treat honors students as ‘junior colleagues’ in research and education (activities).
Based on the literature search and the research of Wolfensberger (2012) several teaching behaviors were formulated, listed in table 1.
“While many methods are advocated, several stand out in this regard: student-initiated learning, ability-peer tutoring, guided dialogue and reflection leading to metacognition (Freeman, 1999; VanTassel-Baska, 2002)”(Wolfensberger, 2012, p. 33). Offering freedom is about tuning in to students’ personal interest, granting responsibility, and teaching students to make their own decisions (Wolfensberger, 2012).
Teaching behaviors to foster offering freedom
- Allowing students to experiment
- Challenging students
- Offering students trust and guidance
- Stimulating students to take responsibility for their own development
- Referring students to experts when their questions or interests are beyond the teacher’s area of expertise
- Granting students a lot of responsibility
- Giving students new ideas
- Giving students constructive suggestions and leaving it up to the students to use them
- Supporting students’ self-regulation in learning
- Giving students feedback as if they are a junior colleague
- Giving students freedom in time management
- Giving students freedom to choose their own topics
- Using honours as an educational innovation room and experimenting with different education methods and tests
- Having fun with the students
- Being demanding
In a recent study honors teachers in America and in the Netherlands were asked to indicate whether these behavioral aspects are in their opinion essential for teaching in honors. Most consensus was seen on “Allowing students to experiment”, “Challenging students” and “Offering students trust and guidance” (Heijne-Penninga et al, in preparation). In the interviews Wolfensberger conducted “most examples of offering freedom also include strategies to create community or ways to enhance academic competence”(Wolfensberger, 2012, p.117). That is also seen here: ‘Challenging students and ‘Offering students trust and guidance’ overlap with teaching behaviours described respectively in ‘Enhancing academic competence’ and ‘Creating a community’.
Allowing students to experiment
Experimental education has figured prominently in honors education programs for decades (Holman et al., 2009). Folds-Bennet & Twomey (2013) indicate that students should be provided with experiences through which they deeply engage ideas and content so that both their analytical abilities and core beliefs and values are transformed. John Dewey indicate that for a sound philosophy of experience educators should serve as facilitators, who connect learning to students experiences; help shape student understanding through cooperative enterprise, not dictation, and ultimately aiding in group social development as well as the development of individual judgement and exercise (Dewey, 1938; Holman, Smith, Welch, 2009)).
Using open assignments can support and challenge students to experiment and try something new. Important in this is that the teacher asks questions and stimulate the students to think about their experiences and what they have learned. Connecting learning to students experiences as Dewey (1938) formulated it. Essential in this seems to be offering students trust and guidance, the number three teaching strategy in table 1. Wintrol and Jerink (2013) described that honors students “…would love to try something new but are too afraid to do so. They grow terrified when pushed out of their comfort zones and faced with new challenges that might threaten their GPAs and hopes of medical or law school.” Luhtala says in an edwebinar (https://home.edweb.net/ru-ready-2-trust-em-access-essential-developing-citizenship-among-millennials/) that students often create incredible projects that are possible only when teachers give them “the freedom to think and act independently”.
This teaching strategy is closely related with the second pillar of honors pedagogy: enhancing academic competence (Wolfensberger, 2012). The teaching strategy Setting challenging tasks and assignments was seen as essential strategy for teaching in honors and is linked with enhancing academic competence.
In ‘about enhancing academic competence’ you can read: “According students, they experience challenge when they are given complex assignments with little structure and a lack of guidance, choice and control over their learning and independence. From teacher they expect to care and have high expectations (Scager, 2014; Kanevsky and Keighly, 2003; Marra & Palmer, 2004). Autentic learning, multidisciplinairy issues, superviors with considerable knowledge who gave space and little support and reflection as part of the assignment seems important ways to create challenging tasks and assignments (Bormans, 2015;…..).”
Offering students trust and guidance
Trusting students and giving them the confirmation that they are doing well is important for students as is one of the outcomes of interviews with Dutch honors teachers (Kingma et al., in preparation; Kingma et al., 2017 (abstract)). Trust include one or more of the following attributes: vulnerability, benevolence in motivation, reliability, competence, honesty and openness (Tschannen-Moran and Hoy, 2000).” The teacher, as the one who trusts, has to believe that the student shares mutual goals with him and has the capacity to meet expectations. If teachers build relationships with students and earn their trust by “showing them respect in the form of meaningful, challenging, and rewarding learning activities that are worthy of their time and best efforts,” students engage and become independent learners (http://www.edudemic.com/how-developing-trust-is-problematic-but-essential-for-independent-learning/), and academic performance improves (Goddard, Tschannen-Moran & Hoy, 2001 in https://www.edutopia.org/blog/how-to-trust-your-students-todd-finley).
Offering students trust can be done by given student special duties and responsibilities and second chances (Ennis & McCaulay, 2002; https://www.edutopia.org/blog/how-to-trust-your-students-todd-finley), get to know their students, seek student input about content and how this can be learned try not to punish (Herman & Marlow, 2005) and adjust the learning environment by not arrange desks in rows for example, be open and honest yourself.
Also guidance is a crucial term in this behavior. A teacher can guide students by performing feedback, asking reflective questions and making expectations and learning goals explicit.
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