How to Foster Self-Directed Learning in Your Classroom

Part 2 of a two-part series on self-directed learning

March 3, 2017


In the Classroom, For Admins

Socrates said that “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” It’s an apt metaphor for learning, but how exactly do you go about kindling those flames? Encouraging student agency is a great way to start! Read on for ideas of how to do so, and don’t miss last week’s post on the value of self-directed learning.

In self-directed learning, the role of the teacher shifts from the expert to the guide, but that doesn’t mean you have to overhaul your teaching. Instruction that emphasizes skills, learning strategies, and projects over memorizing content and taking tests helps create a self-directed learning environment (though, of course, tests aren’t going away).

Practically speaking, here are some ways to bring self-directed learning into the classroom.

Cultivate an open-ended classroom environment

Encourage your students to be curious, to ask “why,” to try new things and explore their interests. As much as possible, give your students a voice by letting them choose their research topics or books to read. You may need to set parameters, but students will be more invested if they have a vote.

Make it a habit to set learning goals

Start the year or semester off by having students set goals of what they want to accomplish. Then as the year winds down, have them reflect on what they’ve learned. Even better, have students set micro-goals at the beginning and end of each unit or major project.

Model learning strategies

In order to be successful at self-directed learning, students need good study skills. Model them by exploring a new topic as a class that even you’re not familiar with. By using the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model, you can show students how you approach an unfamiliar concept, then assist students as they explore on their own, and finally let students independently pursue topics.

Help students learn at their own pace

Even with the best intentions, it can be hard to provide the resources that let students jump ahead or go back to review. If you use IXL, check out our Recommendations feature, which shows each student a wall of IXL skill recommendations tailored just for them. Whether it’s mastering a topic, addressing a trouble spot, or just exploring what’s out there, IXL will suggest specific skills that meet each student’s needs. However, the choice of what, and when, to learn is up to them.

How do you help your students develop into self-directed learners? Have you tried IXL’s Recommendations feature, and if so, what do you think?

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