Working with students to help them be self-directed

A colleague sent me the link to this blog by Darcy Moore. Here’s my second instalment. I am working my way through the list, answering each one, in no particular order.

Here’s what Darcy wrote:

I have never had a parent ask me any of the questions listed below, except, perhaps, the one about ‘happiness’ in a number of guises. I wish someone would.

How would your child’s teachers fare if asked these questions:

1. What is your educational philosophy?

2. How are you assisting our child to become a self-directed learner?

3. What professional reading are you undertaking at the moment?

4. What are you reading for fun? Done. 

5. How do you use technology as a tool to leverage learning in the classroom?

6. What online resources have you created for your class?

7. How do you assist students to learn about digital citizenship?

8. What professional networks and associations are you involved with regularly?

9. What observations can you offer about our child’s happiness at school?

10. What reflections can you make about our child’s growth as a learner and citizen this year?

How are you assisting our child to become a self-directed learner?

I am taking ‘self-directed’ to mean a few things – the ability to know your opinions and interests, and the ability to implement a plan.

We work with students ranging in age from 13 to 19, and from completely independent and self-directed to just showing up for the social life.

Here are some of the ways I am working on getting students used to being in charge of themselves as learners:

1. Choice in independent reading, fiction and non-fiction (English and Social Studies)

2. Multigenre Research Projects (English and Social Studies)- These are projects where students get the pick a topic. They have to create 5 to 7 pieces of writing, all of which are related to the topic but deal with different aspects of the topic in each piece. Last year, I also gave students the option of creating one longer writing project (fiction or non-fiction). I have enjoyed some success with this, but I have also had students who did not create a project. I manage that by giving them products to create for a topic they choose, or giving them topic and product.

3. Genius Hour (Humanities 8) – I have blogged about this elsewhere, but basically the students get to pick what they want to learn about. I am not assessing this, although they will get a 100% for doing it, and a 0% for not doing it. They have to report their learning to the class.

4. Product Choice– I give students choices in terms of what they write about, or what they create.

5. Class Website – I am pushing my senior students to use the website to keep themselves organized. They will need this skill if they go on to post-secondary education, but it also puts the ball in their court. In the past, students who had been absent would walk into class and ask, “What have I missed?”. I don’t like to use the beginning of class like this- I am usually set up to launch a lesson. In the past, I reminded them to check the back bulletin board for extra copies and see me later. Managing the paper was endless, and it was always up to me to keep them organized.

Now I can say, “Check the website , and then see me for help”. Every day, I post what happened, provide videos or PowerPoints, and upload any handouts or assignments. After about three years, it is finally starting to take hold. For a while, it felt like I was doing it for nothing. Last week when one of my students responded to a query with, “I got everything from the website”, I was overjoyed.

Added bonuses: Sometimes a year or two can go by with courses I don’t teach regularly. The website is a good reminder of the order in which I did something. I print the site out and refer to it to remind myself what  I used, created, linked to. Also, I can let parents know where to go to help students. Finally, I can upload instructions to the website from home when I am sick.

I use Edublog for all my course and classroom information. You can see it here.

6. Thinking about themselves as learners- I am working hard with a group of students to get them to be actively aware of themselves as learners. About once a month, we work on the skills, attitudes, and routines of successful learners. Here’s a description of one, “Bob, It’s Time to Engage!”.

7. Knowing and Showing Thinking – I spend a lot of time on this, and blogged about it here, and here.

8. The small stuff – I know it sounds ridiculous, but just getting students to get up and get their own pencils (which I provide) rather than waiting for me or an EA to hand them out can take weeks or months. Sometimes we never crack that one, and focus on the learning rather than the getting. We work on baby steps. We are always reminding about school skills and the benefits of staying organized.

I am keen to improve my skills around this. Sometimes I use the work by Carol Dweck to talk about fixed and growth mindsets. I post the qualities, make them into book marks, discuss the idea in the context of a character in a text we were using, and so on. I would sure love to hear what else many of you are doing. I am planning to show this TED talk tomorrow as part of our work on school skills. What other texts do you use?