Monday, October 15, 2018

Self-Directed Learning in the Classroom and Beyond

Shrimad Bhagwat Geeta is a great lesson on education. In this epic, Arjuna is the pupil whom Shri Krishna educates. He gives Arjuna no set of predefined directions but asks him to know himself and direct himself towards his duty. We all know that education is a holistic process. It is not confined to just securing elite ranks and getting high grades. It aims towards making pupils self-sufficient. Many a times we come across cases where a student gives 100% to a particular subject or concept but is unable to get desired results. The major problem students go through is shortcomings in the existing strategies and failure in developing a new approach of learning.
Problems in learning arise when students fail to assess the complexity of a concept and keep on applying the same old approach every time. The book, ‘How Learning Works’ discusses a very important principle of learning, “To become self directed learners, students must learn to access the demands of the task, evaluate their own knowledge and skills, plan their approach, monitor their progress, and adjust their strategies as needed.” Here, it is quite significant to mention Metacognition. It refers to the process of reflecting on and directing one’s own thinking. “Helping students to improve their metacognitive skills can hold enormous benefits. The benefits include not only intellectual habits that are valuable across disciplines but also more flexible and usable discipline-specific knowledge.”
From ensuring success in any field to understanding any concept, we need to first assess the task at hand. For example, students are given an assignment in writing skill, i.e., to write a short story. The teacher gives instructions as to how to proceed with the task. The purpose of the task is to enhance their creative skills. As the first step, it is imperative for the students to develop a rough framework of the story. The second step in this case would be evaluating one’s own strengths and weaknesses. But remember this should be in context to the task or the problem at hand. Here I take an example from subject of English. The students would have to then analyze their strong areas, for example, whether they have an upper hand in vocabulary or creating an original plot. In this aspect, a problem often arises that the students tend to overestimate their capabilities. As in this case some students might just cram few phrases and words and try to forcefully incorporate that into a simple storyline instead of framing an original plot. So, it is important for the students to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. If the students have a flair for original plot they should work on their grammatical skills and if they are confident about their language they should read more often to enhance their creativity.
Once the students have a plan and begin to apply strategies that implement their plan, they need to monitor their performance. Now, coming back to the example, the students will have to practice writing stories based on various question types. For example one strategy could be reading a short story and then trying to recreate it. Then they should check the difference in language and expression. Through regular practice of this strategy they could monitor their performance effectively. “Research on the effects of students’ self-monitoring activities has highlighted two important findings. First, students who monitor their own progress and try to explain to themselves what they are learning along the way generally show greater learning gains as compared to students who engage less often in self-monitoring and self-explanation activities. Second, when students are taught to ask each other a series of comprehension-monitoring questions during reading and practicing, they learn to self-monitor more often and hence learn more from what they read and write.
Research has shown that good problem solvers will try new strategies if their current strategy is not working, whereas poor problem solvers will continue to use a strategy even after it has failed (National Research Council, 2001, p.78). Similarly, good writers will evaluate their writing from their reader’s or in this case the teacher’s or examiner’s perspective and revise the parts of their work that do not convey the desired result. This is nothing but reflecting on and adjusting one’s approach as needed.
Now, the question arises that how can we apply these strategies in the classroom (source: How Learning Works):
For helping the students assess the task successfully, teachers will have to be more explicit in explaining what they seek from the students. The instructions must be given articulately and comprehensively. Teachers must also tell the students what objectives they are going to accomplish with the given assignment. Also, instead of emphasizing on what is wanted, clarify at the onset, what is not required. For instance, in the example discussed above, teachers can clearly ask the students not to portray the story as a narrative. Teachers must also check, ‘student’s understanding’ of the task. They can ask them to jot down a framework of the story before they begin. It is also very important to provide the performance criteria with the assignment. In this case you can tell the students that they would be evaluated on the basis on content, expression, fluency and accuracy.
For helping the students evaluate their strengths and weaknesses the teacher will have to provide the students with ample practice and timely feedback. Another important thing here would be providing opportunities for self assessment of assessment of the peers. This will not only increase their confidence but also help them enjoy the assignment.
To help the students plan an appropriate approach, teachers will have to encourage the students to implement a plan provided by them. Students can be given cues or an entire framework of the story to start with and later the teacher can have students create their own plan.
Teachers can follow certain simple steps to help students apply strategies and monitor their performance. They can provide simple heuristics for self correction. For example, help the students pick out the spelling errors and making them do the corrections. The students can be further guided towards self assessment and peer review or reader response. This could be done by dividing the class in pairs and asking each of them to evaluate each other’s stories.
The book emphasizes that the teachers need to show students how they themselves would approach an assignment and walk them through the various phases of their own metacognitive process. Let them hear the teacher “talk out loud” as they describe the way they would assess the task, their strengths and weaknesses, plan their approach, monitor their progress, and adjust their strategies as needed.
“A strong learning community is one that is built by self-directed learners who contribute powerfully to supporting, elevating, and empowering each other. In order to create this level of inclusion and innovation, all learners (students and teachers alike) need to know how to learn and how to collaborate effectively by taking ownership of their own contributions. Self-directed learning will always exist without our trying to force it into the curriculum, but a curriculum that illuminates and seeks intention through self-directed learning will take our communities to the transformative level.”
It is important to note here that once the approach of self direction is inculcated in the students, it will surely help them beyond the periphery of the classroom. They will be able to use the same principle while choosing their career and solving any personal problem. This approach will bring stability and poise in their personality which will further help them deal with difficult situations in life.
As mentioned somewhere above, I clearly understand, what has been suggested for the students apply to the teachers and for that matter any adult in their approach to solving problems related to any area of life. Because Math or English problem solving is real life experience of approaching to handle any issue in life and that should be the real purpose of education.


  1. Very true sir so many things compelled us to think are we actually following all these in our teaching or just touching the outline of it."Self assessment of the assessment of peer " I gone through this sentence thrice to understand the depth of its meaning.Nothing can be better ,If one can bring it in practice.

  2. What a splendid read Sir. Truly a facilitator's delight.

    The article began with an essential building block of learning- metacognition, and then beautifully captures the insights of development of cognition, ensuring effective learning. It realises instructions as one of the important tools and explicitly demonstrates how a lesson can be strategised in a way which not only aims at getting the assignment completed but even translates into sustainable learning thereafter.
    While reading I was trying to figure out how the examples could be applied in my class and the modifications in it's implementation which could be made.
    The article would certainly serve as an instant reference guide for instructionally planning any lesson.