Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

How Can Schools Develop Self-Directed Learners? Schools Must Take Deliberate Actions to Teach Students How to Become Responsible for Their Own Learning

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

How Can Schools Develop Self-Directed Learners? Schools Must Take Deliberate Actions to Teach Students How to Become Responsible for Their Own Learning

Article excerpt

The capacity for self-direction is the foundation for learning. Students who develop a sense of responsibility for their own learning are prepared to master rigorous academic content, think critically and analytically, communicate effectively, and collaborate productively.

That is the view of teachers and principals we interviewed and observed in action for our forthcoming book, Deeper Learning: A Blueprint for Schools in the 21st Century (New Press, 2014). Supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation as part of its Deeper Learning Initiative, we developed case studies of eight schools committed to deeper learning. The schools we examined (see p. 26 for a list of schools) develop students as self-directed learners through three common practices: experiences that disrupt traditional expectations of teaching and learning; socializing students into a school culture rich with messages and rituals signaling the expectations for learners; and using a consistent pedagogical approach in which students manage complex projects and assignments, seek feedback, revise work, and reflect on what they've learned.

Education leaders and educators can benefit from examining how the schools we visited have enabled students to assume responsibility for their own learning.

PRACTICE #1. Disrupting student expectations

Because incoming students have been shaped by passive rote learning, the principals and teachers at the schools we visited have developed disruptive socializing experiences to teach the attitudes and behavior required for self-directed learning. As a teacher from Science Leadership Academy (SLA) in Philadelphia, Penn., said, "New students need to understand that this school is not about where learning just happens... but where responsibility for learning is expected from everyone."

Orientation at SLA, Avalon Charter School in Saint Paul, Minn., and MC2 STEM High School in Cleveland, Ohio, socializes students into the respective school's expectations through similar activities. Incoming students are immediately immersed in a learning experience that reflects what learning will be like at the school, including working in groups to conduct research or develop a product and ending with a presentation. SLA introduces incoming students to project-based learning and scientific inquiry as a foundation for learning. MC2 introduces project-based learning and design thinking, and Avalon helps students understand how to connect their interests to academics through group or independent projects.

Incoming SLA students form small groups led by a teacher and an upperclassman and then fan out across the city to develop questions, observe how people use urban space, and record their observations. The upperclassmen and teachers then help each team analyze their findings and develop a presentation to the entire freshman class.

At [MC.sup.2], seniors use orientation to introduce freshmen to the school's language and core elements. The seniors explain project-based learning and design thinking, share examples of their products, and describe Capstones (cross-subject projects) and mastery learning. On the second day of orientation, 10th and 11th graders immerse freshmen in the design process with a Penny Launcher Competition. The seniors give each freshmen team broad directions and common materials to design a penny launcher. By the time the teams compete, incoming students have a significant experience of what the prototyping and design processes entail.

Because Avalon's curriculum is built around individualized learning plans, student-initiated projects, and a multidisciplinary senior thesis project, orientation helps students understand their interests and strengths. Teachers lead exercises where students identify what they want to learn and what they wish they were better at and then what they're already good at and what they already know. Upperclassmen help by sharing how they turned their own interests into independent projects such as writing a play, developing a community service project, or writing a paper based on a family vacation. …

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