4 Practical Examples Of How To Grow Self-Direction In Your Students

In the previous post, we outlined the three selfies — self-managing, self-monitoring, and self-modifying — to develop requisite behaviors for self-directed learning. Let’s now take a look at a few examples. Each example has a short description as well as annotated commentary on its connection to 16 Habits of Mind and 4 Attributes of Personalized Learning.

Example #1: Laying Out a Plan

When students are working on a longer term project, provide and model several calendar layouts to help them organize their workflow. Here is an example (excerpted from the toolkit Coaching for Self-Directed Learning):

Key features are not just a list of things to do, but helping them learn to clarify and prioritize the list. In addition, there is a spot for students to jot down notes to discuss with the teacher during a checkpoint or conference as well as questions on their mind so that the teacher can track how they are thinking and feeling. Finally, the reflection on organizational strategies or tools continue to help students curate examples that work for them. When you model, observe, and provide feedback on students using the prompts with one another, you are focusing on HOM: Thinking about Your Thinking; Managing Impulsivity and 4 Attributes: Self-Discovery.

Example #2: Accountable talk prompts.

These sentence starters provide a frame for self-monitoring behavior in student-student discourse. Here is a math example:

  • I solved the problem by …
  • I checked my answer by doing …
  • The strategy I used was …
  • I showed my understanding of _______ by …
  • Based on the illustration (graph, set of manipulatives, etc.), I noticed …
  • When I studied/examined the problems or the pattern, I noticed …
  • I agree / disagree with your answer because …

When you model, observe, and provide feedback on students using the prompts with one another, you are focusing on HOM: Thinking Interdependently and 4 Attributes: Voice, Social Construction.

Example #3: Growing Persistent Problem Solvers

When students are stuck on a mathematics problem, the following flow chart clarifies strategic moves that they can use.

Developed in conjunction with a high school math teacher, note the accessible and invitational language as well as the anchoring on Mathematical Practice Standards.

When you model, observe, and provide feedback on students using the flow chart, you are focusing on HOM: Thinking about Your Thinking; Persisting and 4 Attributes: Self-Discovery.

Example #4: Examining a Piece of Writing

As students grow their self-modifying behaviors, they examine work and begin to ask for feedback when needed. They actively participate with the teacher by raising questions, clarifying challenges, and identifying next steps. The following example was developed by a group of 6-12 English Language Arts Teachers to guide student examination with their teacher on a piece of writing.

The reflective prompts could be adapted to address other major demonstrations of learning such as a lab investigation, speech, video game design, or performance.

About Allison and Bena

Allison Zmuda and Bena Kallick joined forces in 2014, bringing together personalized learning with Habits of Mind. Their mission is to use what they’re learning to help educators navigate the often messy, challenging, and — at times — discouraging transition from an outdated learning process to one that’s relevant to the teacher and student. Explore their toolkits, which map out a transformative model of personalization that puts students at the center.


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