How to promote student autonomy

I remember this student I had, Claudia. She was a woman in her early fifties, elementary level, the kind of student who passed with flying colors, except she passed the same level over and over. As strange as it may sound, Claudia always and only took the beginner course. She’d always have an excuse why she had to stop studying and an even better excuse why she should start again from the very beginning. She was a legend at the English Institute I worked at. She did not seem to have any cognitive issues that would affect her learning.

It was the middle of the semester when there was this torrential rain. All students were absent but Claudia. I was ready to (try to) go home, as this would be my last class that day, when Claudia arrived soaking wet. I was not happy to see her.

She was a nice student, don’t get me wrong, but the idea of taking two more hours to get home on a rainy day was definitely not a good one. I was quick to put a smile back on my face to make sure she didn’t notice my dissatisfaction.

It was revision day, so I decided to go over her notes and see what she had problems with. Not that I expected any, after all, she was taking that course for the 100th time. ‘Well, Claudia, you don’t have any questions, so let’s do some exercises that revise units 1-4.’ ‘It’s not necessary, I have the exercises from the teacher from last year.’ I explained to her that the exercises were not the same, as I had prepared them based on the mistakes the group had made in the last quiz.

After 10 minutes, Claudia had finished the exercises and, no surprise, it was all correct. ‘Why are you here?’. There, I said it. I never meant to sound deliberately rude, so I rephrased my question, with nicer words, emphasizing how great she was.

We spent the rest of the lesson talking about her issues. Claudia had always been very insecure and she did not think she was ready to move on to the next level, despite having good exam results and positive feedback from previous teachers. I managed to convince Claudia that, if she had good results, she should take the next course. That’s what she did.

Claudia is one of those students who lack confidence and need the teacher’s attention 100% of the time. During that term, Claudia managed to be a bit more autonomous.

In today’s episode, I share some tips for you to give your students some autonomy and hopefully they will not turn into a Claudia.

Now I am curious to hear from you: have you ever had a student (or students) that were too dependent on you? If so, what did you do?


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