As a new teacher or a teacher with many years experience, you hear about the importance of planning for student-directed learning in the classroom. Keeping this approach in mind as you plan in all subject areas benefits student learning and also benefits the teacher. Benefits include:
- Engaged students – most students want the opportunity to talk as they learn, not just listen. When made to only listen, they look for distractions and classroom management issues often arise. If students are provided time to collaborate on a topic that interests them, they are engaged in the process and positive learning outcomes are the result.
- Student interest – this leads to the content. Provide students with choice and select topics within the curriculum expectations that are of interest to your group of students. Students will demonstrate more initiative and take more responsibility for their own learning if they have choice of relevant topics. For example, in my grade 6/7 class, I modelled writing a monologue from the perspective of a character. Then, the students were all provided with a rubric to create their own dramatic monologue based on a character of their choice from a book from their choice.
- Differentiated instruction – allowing choice of topic or type of presentation/project differentiates for the range of learners. Again, as an example from the monologue assignment, struggling readers selected books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, while others selected more challenging texts like Journey to Jo’burg. Similarly, students will select an option for a project on what they are comfortable with (creating a slideshow vs. a video). By allowing students choice, you are more inclusive, not lowering your expectations for those who can surpass them, or challenging your lower level students to frustration. And as a result, the students who select the more accessible choice, often learn from the students who are demonstrating success with a more challenging topic or type of presentation.
- Assessment – student-directed learning allows time for ongoing assessment. I have spoken to teachers who plan detailed lessons and present to the class in a lecture style format with little time for collaboration or independent research. These teachers lament that student’s aren’t “listening” enough. They also wait until the end of unit to assess students with a paper/pencil task. By facilitating students in a more self-directed approach, teachers can support student where they are at with resources and mini-lessons for those who need it. Why provide the same lesson to the whole class if they do not all need it? When students are working in small groups or pairs, or even independently, the teacher is provided the time to interact with students, find out where they are in their understanding and provide the necessary support (assessment for learning).