The Strength of Weak Ties

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Directions Needed

Every school has a mission statement. Chances are that your school district has one too, and that it contains something about life-long learning, the creation of critical thinkers, and the development of high-quality citizens.

I’ve seen Guy Kawasaki speak several times and he never fails to talk about mission statements, why they are not worth much, and how you can develop one quickly and easily with the use of the Dilbert Mission Statement Generator. Here is one, developed with a single click:

We exist to globally network principle-centered data while continuing to proactively simplify high standards in benefits to exceed customer expectations.

So, when I was driving through the town I live in, my eye instantly caught this mission statement on a school's billboard:

Educating Students to Be Self-Directed Learners.

That’s a fine goal, and a worthy mission for any school. But what are the characteristics of self-directed learning? What kind of climate and culture must be present in a school to pull that off? Here is my take on what I think those students should be capable of and what that school should be like, if that mission is indeed actualized. My Twitter network also weighs in, with comments in italics….

Self-directed learners are capable of asking great questions, essential questions.

Self-directed learners have internalized a problem-solving approach, typically some inquiry-based methodology that provides a framework for learning.

Self-directed learners are capable of developing a direction for their learning, and are comfortable and capable of exploring their own path, and can set short and long-term goals for their learning.

Self-directed learners are equally capable of working independently, collaboratively, locally and globally.

From Quentin D’Souza via Twitter: one who perpetually asks questions, explores different opinions, and strives toward answers.

From Tom Turner, via Twitter: self-directed learners are….not afraid to take risks and ask questions to learn.

From pjhiggins, no fear of failure. Self-directed learning is all about being willing to fall down.

From John Howell, via Twitter: a self-directed learner is one who asks questions, seeks answers, and then realizes that it leads to more questions.

Self-directed learners continually engage in metacognitive processes that promote reflective thinking about learning.

Self-directed learners are capable of expressing the outcomes of their learning in multiple media and formats.

Self-directed learners have internalized strategies for self-assessment of their learning and for the representations of their learning. This self-assessment data is used to redirect and refocus their learning.

Self-directed learners are capable of using a variety of tools to drive learning, from paper and pencil to the cell phone and mp3 player they bring to school.

From Arthus, via Twitter: a self-directed learner is a leader of themselves, finding knowledge as its own reward and continually searching for more.

From Dean Shareski, via Twitter: Learning when you want, how you want, with whom you want.

What about the climate and culture of the self-directed learner’s school?

Self-directed learners develop in learning climates where a professional teacher is a catalyst for learning, a connector for learners, and a passionate champion for student learning. No facilitators, no guides-on-the-side, no-sage-on-the-stage or any other 1990 representation of teacher roles are present in these schools.

Self-directed learners develop in a structured and safe school environment, where the responsibility for one’s own learning is gradually increased over time.

Self-directed learners develop in learning climates where their teachers and administrators are self-directed learners.

Self-directed learners develop in learning climates that are permeable and permit students to explore learning connections beyond the four walls of the typical classroom. Self-directed learners form networks of learners.

OK, so how does all of this translate to actual practice? Go no further than Christian Long’s English class in Texas. Take a look at their study of Frankenstein to see what self-directed learning looks like under the tutelage of a master practitioner. From Christian:

Instead of being 'English students' dutifully following my syllabus and daily plan as is so tempting from the teacher's side of the desk, each of my 4 classes will become real-time archeologists, detectives, and futurists in an effort to co-develop a strategic plan for mastering this literary masterpiece. The standards will be blatantly put forward: become an expert. By any means necessary.

And on his role:

I'll offer myself as a 'free' consultant for a specific # of days that they can 'hire' when they feel that they have exhausted their own instincts/research.

Please read the rest of the post, it's well worth it.

From Marie Coleman, via Twitter: a self-directed learner… initiates growth and "stretching" - constantly seeking new skills, knowledge, interactions to improve self amd hopefully impact others.

From Mark Wagner, via Twitter: a self-directed learner can set his or her own objectives, choose learning strategies and resources, self-check for understanding, adjust, and self-assess.

From Glovely, via Twitter, a self-directed learner follows their wonder with purposeful wandering...

Finally, from Chris Lehmann, his description of a self-directed learner:

Someone who wants to be better tomorrow than they were today.

Now that’s a great vision statement.

What's your vision of self-directed learning?


  • At 11:16 AM , Blogger Ann Oro said...

    A self-directed learner has an excitement about their learning. I am much more self-directed in learning about my interests in computer lessons and math lessons than I would in physics or building a better dam. My fifth grade son is absolutely taken with the Scratch programming langugae. He is self-directed in playing with the coding and making his project work. There is no lesson plan, no requirement, but he is tenaciously building his project for pleasure. He's learning so much more than if someone told him to write a report on computer programming. I believe being excited about what your learning is very important.

  • At 7:53 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Great fodder for my master's class. That is what we are talking about now. All statements are pretty much the same, but is there the structure and the will to pull it off? Was it thought up in an ivory tower, or was it really the statement of the stakeholders?

  • At 10:04 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I wonder what would happen if every classroom crafted a mission statement for the year. I wonder what would happen if the students were invited into such a process.

    Or there too much Dilbertian irony spinning in that premise to warrant anything but a snicker?

    David, I'll be in Chicago in a week (arriving this coming Friday) for 10 days or so. Any interest in grabbing coffee downtown...and using a decidedly 'olde skool' conversational technique? We can call it an EduCon if you'd like? Me, I'm game with Coffee Talk!

    Cheers to you, brother!

    P.S. I'm not sure I deserve as much credit as you just offered in terms of my "Frankenstein Creation" unit, but I'm appreciative of the link nonetheless.

  • At 8:34 AM , Blogger JMJK1 said...

    In order for our students to be self-directed learners, it's imperative that we give them the resources and opportunities to be just that. Educators must allow them to set their own paths and encourage them to set goals for themselves. They have to be open to engaging their students and help answer their questions. It is easy to have a mission statement. The difficulty is taking what it says seriously and applying it to each and every student. By making them responsible for their learning and by holding them accountable, students begin to feel ownership in what they do.


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