Empowering Middle School Students: Why Autonomy in Course Selection Matters

  • 2022
  • Middle School
Patrick DeFazio, Middle School Social Studies Teacher & Earth Floor Mentor

Middle school is a crucial time in a student's academic journey, as it serves as a transitional period between elementary and high school. It's the time where students start to develop their interests, passions, and abilities. The traditional approach to the middle-school curriculum often fails to cater to the diverse needs or interests of students, hindering their engagement, growth, and development. That's why empowering middle school students with autonomy in course selection can be an impactful choice. At THS, our approach to the science and social studies curriculum accomplishes this in the form of our  “Decisions, Decisions” program. 

At THS, in lieu of traditional course structures, students select 6 courses for science and 6 courses for social studies from a broad selection of potential course topics. These courses focus on the major concepts of science and social studies, with focused and engaging topics. For instance, instead of a year’s worth of biology courses, students have the opportunity to take “Veterinary Science” or “Ecology of Hong Kong”, instead of traditional geography or social science courses students can choose from options like “Human Movement” or “Culinary Anthropology”. 

We believe that when students have the opportunity to choose their courses, they become more engaged and motivated to learn. Autonomy fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility for their own education, leading to better academic performance and higher retention rates. According to a study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, students who had greater control over their education had significantly higher levels of intrinsic motivation. One of the other main benefits of autonomy in course selection for middle school students is the opportunity to pursue their passions. This can aid them in developing purpose, direction, and sense of identity as learners.

Course selection allows the students the ability to customize their educational experience. Every student has a unique learning style and pace, and taking control allows them to select topics which they feel align with their strengths and weaknesses. This helps develop important life skills such as time management, decision-making, and accountability. These skills are essential for success in high school, college, and beyond.

Seeing students develop their interests into a genuine passion for learning is one of the most satisfying aspects of being a teacher. Through our approach to the science and social studies curriculum at THS we believe we create a more student-centered and inclusive learning environment, enhancing student growth and development.

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