Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Are you encouraging self-directed learning?

I am a little different than some other teachers.  Not that this bad; I just have a different perspective than some, I think.  My differences seem at the same time practical and exciting to me: I get to be myself, and I am free to take risks with my thinking.

I am very interested in changing education.  I want my students to be independent, self-directed, confident learners.  And isn't this what everyone wants?  I mean, do you know any teachers that claim they want their students to be dependent, self-conscious followers who wait for the teacher's instruction and guiding hand on everything they do?  Probably not.

Yet, isn't that what happens sometimes?  I see many teachers who are guiding so much that the kids have all but left the room while their work is being done for them.  How can this be changed?  How can I make sure I am facilitating - not doing - the work?

Facilitating, not doing!

I spend very little time in my classroom doing direct-teaching.  My classroom is effectively (mostly) run by my 3rd grade students, with my assistance.  I am present to facilitate their learning, designing lessons that meet both student needs and interests, as well as grade-level standards.  My methods can be described as mostly Socratic.

For example, during literature circles, my students each play a role (discussion director, vocabulary enricher, literary luminary, plot checker).  I assign the readings, the roles, and the discussion schedule weekly.  Then I just let the students do the work.  I visit each group numerous times during the discussions, but mostly just to monitor.  My voice is rarely heard other than to ask for clarification or a timely question, or to steer the group back on topic if they are off track.  Sometimes, the students choose the topic for the books, organize themselves into groups, and we do 'information circles': same as literature circles, but the roles are a bit different .  There is a discussion director, fact checker, vocabulary enricher, and information extender.

Generally, I don't read the texts the students are reading, which totally freaks out some people.  My reasoning is simple: my role is not to tell my students what the book means; my role is to help them make sense of the book themselves.  I do this by introducing and encouraging the use of necessary skills like making comparisons, understanding cause and effect relationships, identifying character traits, etc.  I also question, question, question!   I attempt to elicit responses, then encourage others to respond to those responses.  I myself never respond with an answer.

Example of self-directed learning

My hands-off approach has turned my students into confident, happy, risk-takers who find a challenge in nearly everything I present to them.  An example of their ability to self-direct is the weekly podcast my students produce.  The Chat with Mrs. Burns's Third Grade focuses on local and global events and ideas, and starts with an essential question that the podcast team creates themselves.  It is always a topic that they have agreed upon, find interesting, and are curious about.
The students design the layout for the show; deciding interviews, storylines, questions, and divvying up jobs for each team member.  Then, the team contacts potential interviewees by writing letters or by contacting them through Twitter to book an interview.  They create and produce the entire podcast, and my role is just to advise and facilitate communication (for example, I will email or tweet the letters the team writes to potential interview subjects).  It is amazing to watch, and they are extraordinarily proud of their venture and take great ownership of the podcast.  I am so proud of them, as well.

What are your thoughts?  How do you encourage self-directed learning?

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