What is Student-Directed Learning?

Student-Directed Learning is a strategy that sets students up to be activated as learners. This approach to learning emphasizes children’s active participation in the planning, development, and assessment of their own learning.

Listen to our podcast episode with Coop School on Student-Directed Learning HERE!

Student-Directed Learning:

  • Develops student agency
  • Empowers learners of all ages
  • Allows for creative thinking and problem solving
  • Develops social-emotional understandings in and out of school
  • Allows for a deeper investment in lessons (and school in general)
  • Builds self-awareness and metacognition in students
  • Allows teachers to get away from bland, boring curriculum
  • Creates connection between teacher-student and student-student
  • Gives students a voice and choice in their learning

What does it look like in a classroom?

student directed learning

1. Start with empty walls– let the students design the room. It’s important for to feel like they have a say. Then the space is truly shared.

2. Let students monitor personal projects and goals.– Let students contribute to projects and be immersed in the learning process.

3. Allow students to vote on a unit that sparks interest.– If you have differing ideas in the classroom, allow for the students to choose. Sometimes it can be hard for teachers to allow a “train unit” over and “outer-space unit”. This is part of the process. Teachers should allow themselves to be open to this journey.

student directed learning

4. Facilitate students collaboration on projects and allow time to discuss findings.- Students should be the given time to share their thoughts with classmates. Open ended discussions are what makes learning engaging.

5. Teachers work to create and develop lesson plans during each unit.– Teachers should provide students with applicable books, experiences and materials. Studying tigers? Take a trip to the zoo. Make art with stripes. Talk to a wildlife expert. There are so many ways to engage students on a topic.

student directed learning

6. Teachers support student growth and serve as mentors through each study.- As teachers we can feel like we need to control every moment. We may plan curriculum years in advance. Instead, teachers should be open to student ideas and guide them to new understandings.

Our interview this week…

This week, I learned how to engage young students in this process. I visited Co-op School and sat down with the director of the pre-school, Christie. At Co-op School, “Teachers guide students in the dynamic, life-long process of questioning and making connections.”

Stating in pre-school, students are provoked to think creatively about how and why systems work. “Why is the truck driving that way?” “Why did the artist pick those colors?” Answers aren’t handed out. Therefore, students begin thinking critically about systems, relationships and complex concepts at a very early age. As early problem solvers, students evolve into life-long lovers of learning.

Children at Co-op school engage in long-term “deep dive” projects. This allows students to grapple with complex ideas and allows teachers to be faciliators in each project.

“Long-term projects provide contexts where innate curiosity can be expressed purposefully. This enables children to experience the joy of self-motivated learning. They read, construct, research, interview, and recreate in various mediums. They go on trips, interview experts, and have lively debates and conversations. Our teachers are observers and facilitators to the students’ interests. They step back and listen. “

-Coop School

Read more about Co-op Schools educational philosophy HERE.

Ready to listen to our interview with Co-op School? Check it out on Spotify!

Best Practices in Student-Directed Learning!

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