Our school has a strong focus on technology to facilitate learning in both the physical and digital environments, with our aim being able to prepare life-ready students who learn how to learn, and achieve.
The self directed learning model inspired by the work of Parkhurst (1922) is at the centre of the students’ educative experience. Teachers aim to partner with students in their learning and act as a support rather than being at the centre of learning.
Many of our students have been speaking with me about their upcoming course selections. My advice during these conversations is to select subjects in which you have demonstrated potential and are curious or passionate. While discipline-based subjects in the senior secondary years should provide some level of vocational application the reality is that students will most likely work across many professional domains and the notion of a one-industry career is outdated in today’s society. This means that subject knowledge is secondary to the learning dispositions and habits that are developed as students undertake a rigorous and challenging study program. More than anything we want our graduates to be agile with critical thinking skills which can be applied to a variety of complex and interrelated problems. We want our students to be self directed and self regulated in their learning.
So, what does this look like and what are we doing to develop the self-directed skills of our students? While there are many examples, I’ll provide 3 situations in which students are given the opportunity to develop their self-directed skills.
- Firstly, MAP testing, reflection and goal setting. At the end of the MAP testing period, students conduct a learning conversation with their mentor or class teacher. This conversation involves monitoring their performance and progress; setting short term goals; identifying and using strategies to achieve their goals and, reflecting on progress and making adaptions for future learning.
- Secondly, the use of ‘The Study’ throughout the school. The study is a time where students conduct their own learning, making decisions about the work they will complete and the environment is which to complete it. Coached by a range of staff and able to join a Tutorial with a specialist subject teacher where needed. While The Study may look slightly different across the grades, ultimately students are making decisions to adapt their physical and social environment to achieve their learning goals. This is supported through the physical learning spaces that are in place in our learning centre. I often walk through the space and witness students engaged in individual focused work, semi-collaborative group work, collaborative group work, peer-tutoring, and staff tutoring.
Along with students adapting their physical and social environment, they are also required to exercise effective time management. Time management takes many forms, such as paper diaries and to-do lists, Outlook integration, and tasks assigned through Canvas assignments. Ultimately, students are making decisions in every study lesson about what they will study, how they will study and the best time management techniques to achieve their learning goals.
- My final example of students developing their self directed skills is the dialogue that occurs between the students and teacher. Students who are actively engaged in learning and have a desire to improve their understanding, ask challenging ‘why’ questions in The Lesson and The Study. But most importantly self directed learners seek assistance when required. This proactive, dialogic approach to learning is embed within The Lesson, The Study and Tutorials, occurring in both face to face and Zoom lessons.
This happens to be one of the most challenging aspects for some learners, they view asking questions as a sign of weakness, an indication that they don’t know something. In contrast, students who are confident self directed learners view questions as a tool to assist their learning and an opportunity to discover more.
The points listed above are just a few examples but they are all characteristics of a self directed learner. Ultimately, students who use these strategies have been shown to perform better academically.
I’m often asked about our approach to self directed learning by colleagues in other schools, they are intrigued and in some cases scared of placing so much responsibility on the learners. In most cases I point them to how self directed learning is defined in the educational research:
Self Directed learning is broad and can be defined in many ways, a popular definition relates to the student’s preparedness to engage in learning activities that they define, as opposed to teacher-defined tasks (Loyens, Magda & Rikers, 2008). Candy (1991) further defines Self Directed Learning to consist of four dimensions: personal autonomy, self-management in learning, the independent pursuit of learning, and the learner control of instruction. Learners need to assess their own learning needs, plan effectively, use time management, critically evaluate literature and their skills (Loyens, Magda & Rikers, 2008). Self Directed Learning includes giving the students a broad role in selecting what will be learnt and the learning materials to assist in developing this learning (Candy, 1991).
This often leads to additional questions with the most common one being Self Directed Learning must be problematic with both the Australian Curriculum and TASC as they require specific outputs and areas of study. This is certainly true and does present some challenges but this is where Curated Autonomy comes into play. Curated autonomy involves giving the student some choice but not too much, this notion is supported by studies in motivational research. Through well crafted Assignments, differentiated for the students unique learning journey, teachers create an environment in which students have higher levels of motivation. Teachers also play a pivotal role in developing the learning dispositions that allow individuals to be empowered and make decisions about their learning. They also coach students through challenging learning activities not by giving the right answer but by providing the right question.
In the first week of Term, I was able to speak with the Tasmania Education Minster, Sarah Courtney, about our approach and the recent results we have been achieving.
Our approach to learning is grounded in solid educational research and our results are demonstrating that we are achieving in line and ahead of some of the best schools in the world. And our Community Businesses are providing feedback that our graduates are life and career ready. OneSchool Global Tasmania is a truly exciting place to learn.
Mr Patrick Coleman, District Principal, Tasmania
Candy, P. C. (1991). Self-direction for lifelong learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Loyens, S. M. M., Magda, J., & Rikers, R. M. J. P. (2008). Self-Directed Learning in Problem-Based Learning and its Relationships with Self-Regulated Learning. Educational Psychology Review, 20(4), 411–427. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-008-9082-7
Parkhurst, H. (1922). Education on the Dalton Plan. Hardpress publishing: Miami.