Self-Directed Learning

I have been having a lot of success with self-directed learning recently and wanted to share some of the strategies that have led to my Year 12 Media Studies classroom being such a brilliant space to be part of. There was a moment last week, where there was a part of the period where I got a bit emotional. I had been helping a couple of students in the corner and had my back to the class for a couple of minutes. When I turned around it was that perfect sound of learning. I just stood and watched for a few minutes, incredibly proud of the culture that had developed. Then I did what felt right, which was I went round and took photos of it happening. No one was off task, no one was doing the same thing, some were doing and activity I had set them, some had found their own learning opportunity within the instructions.

To achieve this culture, it took a lot to set up. The management and guidance of a substantial group of students for whom making positive decision about  their learning was a challenge. But more of a challenge was learning just what I needed to do – learning when to remove myself and when to involve myself was a significant part of this journey, and it is ongoing.

I have done a lot of reading on creating a self-directed culture – many useful links that I have now lost, but helped shape my ideas around it. There are lots of sites out there like @teachthought‘s: ’20 Tips to Promote a Self Directed Classroom’ with a range of good suggestions. Some of them made a big impact on my classroom practice:

  • Encourage Curiosity – responding to questions is a positive way but not taking responsibility for the answer. This doesn’t mean responding with ‘google it’ which I found kids were frustrated by. Instead a more open question like “how can we find that out?” was more useful in positively reinforcing the research process and curiosity around the range of other questions that are related. Removing ‘no’ from my vocabulary was also part of this journey.
  • Natural Consequences – I found myself less and less managing off-task decisions, or at the very most using low-level strategies to guide students back to a task like using my proximity to the behaviour I felt was off-task. As a result the responsibility on making positive learning decisions was back on the students. Promoting reflective conversations after these incidents and looking at the outcomes of their learning for that day was another useful strategy.
  • Believe in their Abilities – a significant shift for me was around this idea of believing that they do have the knowledge and the tools that in the past I would have made assumptions around and perhaps directly taught. The invitation to a learning journey has been far more powerful experience, creating more authentic learning opportunities, greater engagement and a happier space to be part of.

To manage this self-directed learning journey I have been indebted to google apps, and particularly a trial of google classroom. I plan to unpack how I’m using ICT tools to create a self-directed learning culture in a future post.


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