How to sustain self-directed learning

This week at my secondary school of 1450 students, the department heads and the directions team and the administrators got together and started examining the feedback from our School Effectiveness Framework (SEF) visit in December.

Of course, we’re doing lots of things well.  Yet the same criticism kept arising in the next steps category:  The in-class teaching is too teacher directed, and students aren’t yet directing their own learning.

This lead to a great discussion about our multi-year focus on redesigning our courses and assessments on big ideas, using a backwards design model. If our learning targets are teacher-created and the classes are each teacher-directed from the targets, then how can students possibly allowed to direct themselves.

It’s my feeling that in order to truly create self-directed life-long learners of our students, that they must learn how to reflect on their learning processes using metacognition strategies.  Reflecting on previous work will assist students in directing themselves.

Something I’ve noticed in my work as a teacher-librarian is that students can be working very well in their zone, that the work is actually flowing, and then the bell will ring signalling a change in class, and the flow will be broken.  It is my wish that we could create systemic conditions for students to earn the privilege of directing their own learning.  Perhaps we could even develop a series of conditions, or a pyramid of interventions for sustaining self-directed learning.

Of course the problem then becomes, how can we tie them back to a course of study?  How can we measure students who are self-directed?  Who creates the big ideas?  I’ve been daydreaming about students pursuing a train of thought, like how Escher prepared for his art pieces.  The students, of course, spend time with the visual arts teacher, learning some etching technique.  They perhaps go over and work with the tech teacher on building plates, and getting advice on materials and tools.  Then eventually they’d need some math in order to predict the perspective and the line that Escher makes.  The bells wouldn’t be interfering.  But I’m not sure how we’d actually administrate this fantastic freedom of focus.

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