On Enforcing Independence #rhizo14


Photo shared on Flickr by gyst

In nature nothing exists alone.
― Rachel CarsonSilent Spring

Never mind polar vortex…how about a mental vortex created by #rhizo14’s week 2 topic “enforced independence.”

Dave Cormier’s provocation this week was to consider how we get people to be responsible for their learning and more importantly how do we allow for true self-assessment and self-remediation.

Can independence (as it relates to learning) be enforced? How do we as educators demonstrate our enforced independence?

This week as I wrestle with this seemingly paradoxical idea, I had to first self-assess what I did and did not know, think or feel about the topic (not much it would seem). Then I had to make a plan to self-remediate accordingly. As I did not have any significant understandings on enforcing independence to start, I had to create and seek out situations that might help some emerge. I had to track down useful people, who through conversation might help flesh some productive thinking out. I had to search out materials to further inform my thinking on the topic. Finally and most challenging of all, I had to sit down to explain what all these activities had produced…in a clear manner for others to understand.

This independent process demanded a set of skills (competencies, mindsets, literacies). For example, I needed to know where and how to find relevant and useful materials. I also needed to know people who might be helpful towards developing my thinking. Also it took time to examine my own experiences as a teacher and parent, then consider how these guide my thinking. Moreover I had to be motivated to carry it all out. I had to feel I could get somewhere with the topic (i.e. if the topic had been black holes I might have felt no inclination to carry this process out).
But it was completely up to me to choose, how, when, for how long, etc.

Imagine if Dave had demanded we have a final product by Sunday afternoon? Imagine if he said HE would evaluate us on our thinking? I would not have had the freedom or space to be independent. By telling us very little on the topic he enforced my independence. If he had said, he was going to evaluate me…I would have, in that second, lost my independence and become dependent on him to tell me…and I would have wanted to depend more on him…for the best or right answer (i.e. the answer he wanted or would evaluate favorably).
Ahh…so deliciously complicated, I would be lying if I said the process was easy.

As I track this process I wonder: Do our students have these skills?; Do we explicitly nurture these skills?; We say we want independent learners but do our actions support this possibility when students are told what to learn, when to learn it and how they will show their learning?; Can they ever become independent in these conditions?; Are we implicit in their inability to become independent learners when everything is prescribed for them?; Can anyone ever become independent when held accountable?

Have we, in our need to simplify and make efficient, ignored the complexity of conditions that allow independence to develop and thrive? Is “the answer” to enforced independence perhaps, to borrow Tony Wagner’s words, more “ecological than logical?”

Do independence and motivation have an inexplicably complicated relationship? Does each one foster and nurture the other?

Psychologist Edward Deci’s work highlights “that feelings of competence will not enhance intrinsic motivation unless accompanied by a sense of autonomy… people must not only experience competence or efficacy, they must also experience their behavior as self-determined for intrinsic motivation to be in evidence. This requires either immediate contextual supports for autonomy and competence or abiding inner resources that are typically the result of prior developmental supports for perceived autonomy and competence.”

He further explains in Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being, that “teachers who are autonomy supportive (in contrast to controlling) catalyze in their students greater intrinsic motivation, curiosity, and desire for challenge research revealed that not only tangible rewards but also threats, deadlines, directives, pressured evaluations, and imposed goals diminish intrinsic motivation because, like tangible rewards, they conduce toward an external perceived locus of causality. In contrast, choice, acknowledgment of feelings, and opportunities for self direction were found to enhance intrinsic motivation because they allow people a greater feeling of autonomy.”

To feel motivated we need to feel independent, and moreover to feel motivated we need to feel supported as Deci explains: “humans are liberally endowed with intrinsic motivational tendencies, the evidence is now clear that the maintenance and enhancement of this inherent propensity requires supportive conditions, as it can be fairly readily disrupted by various non-supportive conditions.”

So even though Dave has invited us in #rhizo14 to be independent, I felt motivated to do so because I felt supported and have skills that allow a certain degree of competence. There it lies for me…to be independent does not imply we are no longer dependent, but rather it is how we are dependent and on what. Lastly, each of us has a unique formula for independence determined by the skills, connections, networks we do or do not have. Is this not similar to the exquisitely magical interplay of organisms in an ecosystem being simultaneously independent AND dependent on each other?

As I hobble to the end of this week, still feeling at sea, ecologist Eric Berlow’s eloquent words offer a bit of solace:

We’re discovering in nature that often simplicity lies on the other side of complexity. So for any problem, the more you can zoom out and embrace complexity, the better chance you have of zooming in on the simple details that matter most.