self-directed learners

The Learner in Charge

Learning is scalable.

The fractal of how we learn transfers into smaller versions of the full design—such as the specific process of learning how to write from personal significance, with a personalized process, seeking our own audiences and feedback to get better at writing. These patterns also transfer into larger-scale systems predicated on assumptions that people have the capacity for self-directedness. Approaches to learning, for example, could be a system-wide approach to using metacognitive strategies.

By Jon Sullivan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Romanesco broccoli fractals By Jon Sullivan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Because learning is scalable, we can infer patterns in the larger expression of a fractal, say a culture of self-directedness, from the iterations of behavior in smaller sections of the fractal, like individual self-directedness. In other words, individuals together behaving in certain ways make up the concerted behavior of a whole community.

So how do we enact a culture of self-directed learning?

We might begin with what’s happening with the individual learner.

In their collaborative work The Art and Science of Portraiture, Sara Lawrence- Lightfoot and Jessica Hoffman Davis (1997) engage in a dialog on the value of a self-portrait as a form of learning process and product.

They suggest that the creation of a self-portrait “is an intentionally generous and eclectic process that begins by searching for what is good and healthy and assumes that the expression of goodness will always be laced with imperfections.” If we ask ‘what is good?’ we are “likely to absorb a very different reality than one who is on a mission to discover the sources of failure” (Laurence-Lightfoot & Davis, 1997, p. 9).

The generosity of this developmental self-portrait hinges, it seems, upon the assumptions that people want to seek what is good and start this inquiry from a stance of positive intentions and aspirations. Considering assumptions about self-development consider that “Not only do portraits seek to capture the origins and expression of goodness, they are also concerned with documenting how the subjects or actors in the setting define goodness” (Laurence-Lightfoot & Davis, 1997, p. 9).

The process might be more concrete if we thought about the self-portrait as a portfolio.

In developing a documentation of learning and achievement, which is the basis for a portfolio, the learner becomes participant in this inquiry and dialog on What is good, how do we find it, and what expressions might be exemplars of this search and its discoveries?

The portfolio becomes an ever-transforming map of growth. As the learner curates his or her own documentation of growth, the reflective nature of constructing this self-portrait facilitates and sustains the inquiry. This is a pattern of the self-directness that we consider a significant cornerstone of transformational learning.

How does this individual pattern influence the larger patterns in the places where we facilitate learning?

Lawrence-Lightfoot and Davis (1997) suggest that the self-portrait is a conversation. In this sense they are also “acts of intervention” (Laurence-Lightfoot & Davis, 1997, p. 11) in that within the process of creating self-portraits we engage others in conversations about what is good; we engage in acts of transformation; we provoke thinking and reflection. “This is provocative work that can disturb the natural rhythms of social reality and encounter” (Laurence-Lightfoot & Davis, 1997, p. 11).

In her book The Good High School; Portraits of Character and Culture Lawrence-Lightfoot (1983) suggests that the actors within a school context “create conversations and find shared meanings, the significance of the voice of teachers, and the crucial importance of local context as well as the commitment of a scholar to truth and solidarity” (in Laurence-Lightfoot & Davis, 1997, p. 11).

The conversations about what is good propels our inquiries into constructions of criteria for best practice within the contexts of our schools. In these co-constructions; we seek our mentors and teachers in our peers and in our networks; and we revisit again and again a common ownership of learning.

We influence the story of our school’s focus on learning.

From conversations and patterns of self-directedness emerges a narrative. The resulting narrative tells the story of the landscape of transformation for the individual as well as the group. Together, our portraits of growth collectively “document the human behavior and experience in context.” (Laurence-Lightfoot & Davis, 1997, p. 11).

So it may follow that culture is influenced by individuals creating portraits of best practice.

In the conversation between practitioners, we find a similar idea to Eudora Welty’s distinction between the storyteller and the one who listens to a story. Lawrence-Lightfoot and Davis (1997, p. 12) suggest that “The latter is a much more active, engaged position in which one searches for the story, seeks it out, is central to its creation.”

In this inductive inquiry, we may recognize the “persistent irony” that “as one moves closer to the unique characteristic of a person or a place, one discovers the universal” (Lawrence-Lightfoot and Davis, 1997, p. 14).

Discoveries of the universal within the personal suggest that learning is scalable. Individuals in self-directedness make up the human landscape of a self-directed organization. By putting the learner in charge of his or her learning, we cultivate resonance within our selves and our organizations.

 

References

Lawrence-Lightfoot S. & Hoffman Davis, J. (1997). The Art and Science of Portraiture. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Lawrence-Lightfoot, S. (1983). The Good High School; Portraits of Character and Culture. NY: Basic Books.

Photo By Becks – Windvane, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25740347

Photo Romanesco broccoli fractals By Jon Sullivan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Summative Season and the Self-Directed Learner

It is summative season once again. IB Exams are in progress. Summative teacher evaluations are due. Report cards are on the horizon, and schools are scrambling to get the last bits of data that will inform the next academic year’s instructional goals, both for children and adults.

During this summative season, when we are reflecting on the actions that have been enacted and continue to be until the last day of school, do we ever consider how much of what we do actually builds a culture of self-directedness?

In the Twitter chat on self-directed learning, collaborating minds raised the following points.

Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 07.21.13 Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 07.21.35 Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 07.22.36

The views from the Twitterchat on Self-Directed Learning suggest what Costa, Garmston and Zimmerman pose as a guiding principle of self-directed learning, that “the gates of learning are only opened from within and that motivation to learn or change cannot be externally coerced” (2014, p. xvi in Powell & Kusuma-Powell, 2015).

I left the Twitterchat with more questions.

If schools want self-directed individuals, how do we reconcile the reliance on external assessments of learning with our aim to promote self-directed learning? When the assessments of learning are significantly anchored to someone outside of the self, how do we shift learners toward internal motivation?

Asking these questions in their latest book Teacher Self-Supervision; Why teacher evaluation has failed and what we can do about it (John Catt, 2015), Powell and Kusuma-Powell present schools with the task of examining our assumptions about self-directedness and how the adult learning structures as they exist might use a lot more reflection.

Assumptions guiding teacher evaluation

Powell and Kusuma-Powell (2015) suggest the following assumptions guiding current practices in teacher evaluation:

  1. External feedback systems gives teachers ways to improve instruction and hence student learning.
  2. Student learning is like an algebraic algorithm and deficits can be addressed technically as in the equation, if x then y must follow.
  3. Schools can be operated like factories.
  4. Relationships, especially trusting relationships, are not significant aspects of schools as learning organizations.
  5. External rewards and punishments are necessary to coerce teachers to be better at facilitating learning.
  6. Teachers need to be praised and affirmed by someone else all the time.
  7. Principals and supervisors are the best source of knowledge about teaching and learning.
  8. One principal can mentor 40 or 50 teachers at a time and be effective at it.
  9. Compliance is more important than personal investment.
  10. If you cannot reduce something to an algorithm or a quantity, it does not exist.

The above assumptions, if they guide teacher evaluation, direct us to a culture wherein:

  • Teachers are infantilized.
  • Internal motivation is not a resource for school development.
  • We waste a lot of time, and we do not guarantee that teachers learn how to facilitate learning better for our students.

Patterns are the best teacher, suggests Wellman (2013). If school patterns of behavior hinge upon the premise that the adults in the school learn best with external coercion, how will those adults facilitate self-directedness in themselves and in their students?

We need a new set of assumptions if our schools are to create cultures of self-directedness. What if we created our schools based on these assumptions?

  • That each person, including teachers, learn best when they are motivated internally.
  • That each person has the capacity to self-assess, self-monitor and self-modify.

And what if we created systems in our schools, which honor and respect the learner within each individual?

References

Garmston, R. & Wellman, B. (2013). The Adaptive School: A sourcebook for developing collaborative groups. NY: Rowman and Littlefield.

Powell, W. & Kusuma-Powell, O. (2015). Teacher Self-Supervision; Why teacher evaluation has failed and what we can do about it. Melton, Woodbridge: John Catt.

Photo Credit: Toutes direction By Dyon Joël (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

An Inquiry into Time, Thought and Identity

Metacognition within perceptions of time and self mediates attention. As an approach to learning skill, metacognition involves knowledge of cognition, which allows a person to actively control thinking during the thinking process. Hence it is often defined as “thinking about thinking.” Approaches to learning such as ways to monitor understanding, evaluating process and progress of learning, and making decisions about use of time are metacognitive approaches (Livingston, 1997). When a learner is able to control thinking using different strategies or approaches, he or she is able to adjust, evaluate and readjust a myriad of factors surrounding the environment and process of learning he or she uses to improve learning. Metacognition supports self-regulation by allowing the learner to practice targeted attention (Goleman, 2013) to factors such as the learning environment, process, time, and personal investments in these.

Strategies allow for the abstraction of metacognition to become concrete, practical approaches. An example would be while reading actively, the reader uses questions as self-tests for comprehension and monitors the effectiveness of the strategy in terms of the learning objective (comprehension). The strategy of using questions is a cognitive move, while the strategy of monitoring its effectiveness is metacognitive (Livingston, 1997). Learners practicing metacognition while learning develop and use feedback systems to self-direct learning.

Cognitive Strategy Instruction (CSI) is a tool that is worth mentioning in instruction about thinking. A simple way of expressing this tool is to ask students to think of “How do I do this and why am I doing it this way?” The how is the cognitive move, while the why involves finding approaches to monitoring the thinking. CSI is based on the Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) model used in teaching writing. In the SRSD model, students who are producing text are asked to perform the following explicit cognitive and metacognitive moves (Council for Exceptional Children, 2009):

  • Self-monitoring as a goal is set and a process designed for students to make the process visible
  • Self-instruction as the students discuss the process and decisions made, use a checklist, use a visible guide for the writing process
  • Self-reinforcement can involve self-talk, use of additional reading or research to keep the flow of the process going
  • Metacognition through modeling think- or read-alouds
  • Self-assessment through a checklist or cue cards, or ways to use questions to evaluate own performance, such as developing a rationale for writer’s choices

An interesting idea in the inquiry towards nurturing agile thinkers is the effects on perceptions of time on how learners learn. Time to think is a requirement for effective self-directed learning.

Being busy without time for reflection creates a mental environment of ceaseless action without deep thought. With this condition, how might we allow for insight, solution design, and making connections?

Photo By Brocken Inaglory. The image was edited by user: Alvesgaspar - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Photo By Brocken Inaglory. The image was edited by user: Alvesgaspar – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

We know that engagement in immediate tasks at hand allow for the possibility of flow: concentration which stretches thinking and capacity. Time for self-reflection is crucial for tasks that ask students to find personal relevance through metacognition. When we think about our thinking, the expansion of our awareness involves knowing how much time to invest in a task and why. Because we become more aware of time constraints, we might also become more aware of changing craftsmanship –whether it is allowing more time or less time—as a function of what we know, understand and can do.

Time is a perception that can change the ways we know, understand and can do. It is a moment of optimistic intersections between all the things we are and the significance of our aspirations for what we must inquire into and rehearse. As time becomes less an external construct and more of an internal one for the learner, he or she allows for time to engage the self, binding identity to the task at hand.

Because the perception of time makes it relative to self, time can protract or extend as necessary within the perceptions of the learner. Challenges like open-ended tasks then allow us to perceive how we have significantly crafted use of time, and how we learn through strategies including metacognition.

Using Reflection

In lesson design involving approaches to learning like metacognitive strategies and use of time during tasks, it might be useful to use reflection as opportunities to develop both. When we stop to record a moment of learning, we step out of engagement in cognition to think about it and how it affects the time available.

This is the ‘trick’ of metacognition—to be able to step out of engagement to reflect on it, to integrate the moment itself and its experience with the reflective thinking as we take action and document its significance.

References
Council for Exceptional Children (2009). A focus on self-regulated strategy development for writing. Retrieved from http://s3.amazonaws.com/cmi-teaching-ld/alerts/3/uploaded_files/original_alert17writingSSRD.pdf?1301000388 on May 7, 2016.

Goleman, D. (2013). Focus; The hidden driver of excellence. NY: Harper Collins.

Livingston, J. A. (1997). “Metacognition; An overview.” Retrieved from http://gse.buffalo.edu/fas/shuell/cep564/metacog.htm on May 6, 2016.


Thank you for reading The Learner’s Toolbox. We are passionate about self-directed learning. Join us on Twitter for a chat on Self-Directed Learning on May 12 1600 UTC by following the hashtag #sdlchat. Co-hosted by @alohalavina and @EricDemore.SDL_graphic_small

Changing where Learning Lives

A quote that caught my attention on Twitter the other day is “So much school reform, and so few results.” What are our hunches why?

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Granted, there are a lot of moving parts to change leadership. Change is a layered, complex set of needs, thinking, action, assessment feedback, and iterations.

As we reflect on the shifts in the ways we think and work in schools, we might notice that there is a relationship between the complexity of the facets of changing schools and the ways educators need to respond. Our responses need to be framed within the complexity of the problems we face as we work toward coherent, aligned systems in which people –whether they are students, teachers, administrators, parents and the communities in which schools are situated—respond to the shifts we aim to enact.

At the Thinking Collaborative conference at Hong Kong Academy last month, a takeaway that resonates with me is that in the complex work of change management, there is a constant guiding principle of education that educators and school systems seem to seek: to be self-directed. To convey individuals and groups into becoming self-managing, self-monitoring, and self-modifying people.

If we aim to develop self-directed learners, how might the following support that aim:

  • If students are always told by adults what they have learned, how they have learned, and why they have learned and do not become invested in these facets of learning themselves through self-management, self-monitoring and self-modification, how will students learn how to be self-directed?
  • If teachers are always evaluated by someone else, in a process in which assessment of practice is something done to them instead of something they manage, monitor and modify, how will these teachers become self-directed?
  • If teachers and students both are assessed through mainly external processes on their learning and practice, how will they develop growth mindsets?
  • How might change leadership in schools allow for a change in the narratives of these schools, if the systems and processes in place do not allow for self-management, self-monitoring and self-modification?

Bob Garmston’s session on Adaptive Leadership mentioned the four facets of adaptive leaders: character, courage, compassion and capacity. Of these, we reflect on what might become an inception of systemic change so that schools can enact a culture of self-directedness. Courage stands out as a prime need.

Courage in change leadership might include some of these considerations:

  • How might we lead students to become self-managing, self-monitoring and self-modifying individuals through a stubborn and explicit embedding of approaches to learning skills in our programs?
  • How might we allow teachers to become self-directed learners through a practice driven self-assessment process in which teachers plan, monitor, and assess their own growth instead of relying on external evaluation?
  • How might we launch a culture of growth through structures and processes, which honor individual learning diversity, and how might this diversity in our communities fuel our own inclusive approaches to learning?
  • How can we align our school missions, in which “life-long learning,” “reflective,” “independent inquirers,” and other attributes populate our words, so that these words become the actions that populate our day to day results?

Alan Bowring [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Alan Bowring [CC via Wikimedia Commons]

It seems that when we change pedagogy or process, whether it is the approach to learning or the approach to teacher growth and other learning processes in schools, we change where authority or ownership lives.

By changing to more student-driven pedagogy, we transfer ownership of learning from teachers to the students.

By honoring teachers as developing learners themselves through a self-directed, self-monitored and self-modified process of assessment of practice, we transfer ownership of the art of facilitating learning into teachers’ hands.

By building an environment that values inquiry and intellectual risk-taking rather than just ‘the right answer,’ we transfer the improvement of a school into the hands of those who learn, and we bring to the forefront of our day to day actions the value of learning, which is a process enriched by mistakes and iterations.

Results are mere by-products of purposeful engagement and cyclical learning. In well-supported cycles of learning, we get better at what we know, understand and do. As we master the approaches to learning that we meet as cycles of learning increase knowledge, deepen understanding and strengthen skills, we gain the confidence to approach complexity –those open-ended, non-linear, dynamic problems that are usually unfamiliar.

By changing the conditions of places where learning lives for young and adult learners in our communities, we become self-directed organizations. And in these brave spaces, learning lives.

 

 

 

 

Portrait of a self-directed learner

As we develop Approaches to Learning skills in our students, we are essentially presenting them with this question (rephrased from Costa & Kallick, 2014) to ask themselves:

When the solution to this unfamiliar problem is not readily apparent, what do I do to learn?

For MYP Year 5, we ask the question of our students through the Personal Project. Students respond ideally through deliberate use of ATL skills to construct a process by which they inquire, plan, take action and evaluate a self-conceptualized idea.

How do we take them there? This question is answered by how we scaffold the process by which students experience and repeatedly co-construct processes through which they learn, rehearse, and actualize the deliberate choice and use of ATL skills. As students progress through the MYP, explicit instruction in the choice and use of ATL skills facilitates internalization of these skills.

Costa and Kallick’s Dispositions: Reframing Teaching and Learning (2014) presents a model for the planning, teaching and assessment of ATL skills, termed dispositions in the book.

Costa and Kallick’s model (2014) transposed to the MYP gives us layers of ATL skills development.

Figure 1. Layers of ATL skills use

Figure 1. Layers of ATL skills use

The value of this model to MYP practitioners is the direct correspondence of the layers to our own process of planning learning. The MYP framework holds conceptual understanding as the core of planning; our key concepts and related concepts give us an interdisciplinary (key concepts) and disciplinary framework (related concepts) upon which to design learning experiences for students.

Through the conceptual framework, students construct understanding through subject specific cognitive processes, represented by the command terms in subject objectives and criteria. Implicit in these cognitive processes are discrete patterns of thinking demanded by subject disciplines, culminating in transfer, a cognitive skill students must necessarily engage when thinking in interdisciplinary contexts.

These skills manifest in the summative assessments, designed for students to deliberately choose and use ATL skills in increasing complexity as they progress through the MYP.

Finally, the outer layer of Costa and Kallick’s framework (2014) call upon the communication, affective and social skills, which students intentionally draw upon in performances of understanding.

How does this framework of ATL use relate to the ATL self-assessment model?

The Dreyfus Model of skill acquisition presents self-directedness as the ultimate achievement of skills. Self-assessment means that students internalize the ATL skills. Internalization of skills is indicated by eight dimensions (Costa & Kallick, 2014).

These dimensions are named using Costa and Kallick’s terms, and described below.

  1. Meaning – Students understand the skill, what it looks like/sounds like/feels like. They are able to explain examples of the skill as well as non-examples. Students might use similar categories or descriptions when describing the skill and how it might apply to different situations.
  2. Capacity – Students are able to deliberately perform the skill confidently. Students have a repertoire of strategies, tools and techniques to perform a skill cluster.
  3. Situational awareness – Students are able to draw upon different skill clusters in a variety of situations. Students recognize situational parameters, which indicate which skills to draw out in familiar and unfamiliar contexts.
  4. Spontaneity – Students do not need someone else to prompt them to use the skill. They are motivated internally to choose and use skills to take action or perform understanding.
  5. Benefits – Students recognize the value of a skill. They are able to predict outcomes of use or non-use of specific skills.
  6. Reflection – Students are aware of their own thinking, choices, and performances of skills. They might also convince others to use the skill in situations demanding this persuasion.
  7. Intentionality – Students do not perform skills without thought, but deliberately call upon skills when these best-fit a situation or problem.
  8. Action – Students manifest internal drive and self-direction in the performance of a skill. They might also advise others to act upon a task using a skill and are able to articulate why it suits a context.
Figure 2. Portrait of a self-directed learner

Figure 2. Portrait of a self-directed learner

Figure 2.  A synthesis of the indicators for internalization and the Dreyfus model.

You can access a PDF version of this portrait of a self-directed learner here.

What can we do to collaborate on our ATL skills development?

Costa and Kallick (2014) suggest some ways ATL skills development might achieve coherence in our MYP.

Use a common language for the ATL skills. This language is available to us and to our students through the documents guiding MYP implementation. How might we use command terms consistently? What words might we use to help our students conceptualize skills? Assess skills?

Repeat frequently. How might our students repeatedly hear about and focus on skills as they progress through the MYP?

Draw attention to skills in different contexts. How might we guide students to find the ATL skills in various problem settings? How might we help students to make connections between the problems they are learning to solve, and the language with which they can express understanding of their learning?

Discuss the meaning and relevance of skills. How might we help students to make connections between Learner Profile attributes and the ATL skills? How might we allow students to form concepts of what the skill looks like/sounds like/feels like?

Pose questions to engage cognition on skills choice and use. How might we ask students to think of performances of understanding through concrete processes embedded in the ATL skills clusters?

Reflect on the choice and use of skills. Might we ask our students, What is going on in your mind when you transfer a skill from a disciplinary context to an interdisciplinary problem?

Establish clear expectations. Expectations can be given prior to performance tasks, and they can also be implicit in the types of feedback we give to our students. Descriptive feedback, a type of feedback, which articulates a cognitive process, seems to nurture a growth mindset. When a student succeeds, and the feedback consists of a description of the skills chosen and used to create a successful outcome, the student learns the expectation inherent in the skill being described. This drives future choice and use of the skill in connection with context.

As we co-construct our MYP: Current Chapter, we see that there are many possible ways by which we can evolve a coherent framework of ATL skills development for our students.

What might be ways you can develop integration of skills choice and use by students and adults in your school? What might be some challenges? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Join our community on Twitter! We hold #MYPChat, an informal gathering of MYP educators on Twitter held fortnightly. Our next MYPChat is on October 30, when we will be dialoging on Standard C1 Collaboration and reflection, in action!

MYPChat on Oct 30: Standard C1 in action

MYPChat on Oct 30: Standard C1 in action