I am going to take the liberty of discussing the parental role of this discussion prior to discussing ways of making students “self-directed, social learners” for one reason and one reason alone. Following my first year of teaching, I sat down and asked myself a series of questions. One of which was the following:
What aspects of school this year was I unable to alter or change regardless of what I did?
I only came up with two answers and realized that they could either allow me to rise to a higher level of understanding or doom my outlook on the profession. The answer is simple: the bodies in the seats and the bodies at home. Everything else you can change. The problem is that changing the mindset of parents to become more involved with their students is much harder than changing the mindset of kids towards school. This is especially true by the time students get to high school. The economic situation of the world has only further exacerbated this problem.
Since this realization, I have continued to work to bring parents into the equation, but never consider them part of it. In other words, I act as though they do not exist when the student goes home. Is this pessimistic? I don’t think so. I think it provides an equal opportunity for me to develop strong bonds with every one of my students and take more of a nurturing stance on how I deal with their every day struggles.
I continue to contact parents with praise or problems and continue to send my monthly newsletter and update e-mails while asking them for feedback or questions. I get a number of them normally, but almost always from the same parents every time. I normally get a handful of e-mails from parents throughout the year but only to ask why a student’s grade is not to their liking. The key is that it doesn’t depress me or bother me or make me feel as though I can slack. It makes me work even harder to ensure that students become self-directed, social learners (the first part of the question).
When it comes to developing self-directed learners, I feel that there is only one way to do it. Kids need subtle hints at areas that interest them, and they need to be well-grounded in the skills that are required to aid them in learning on their own. The social component comes in after, and only after, they have been grounded in such skills. No student can be a self-directed learner if they cannot complete basic functions that allow them to search, digest, and interpret material. The utopian adage that “if students are passionate about a topic they will stop at nothing to learn it” is irrational. Not because they can’t teach themselves these skills but because they can’t identify the skills they need in order to fix the deficiency.
My favorite thing in the world is baseball. When I was a kid, I would play baseball all day long for hours at a time and try to mimic what professional players were trying to accomplish. Problem is that I never had the same results. In fact, my results were never even close to what they could do on a baseball field. I couldn’t hit a ball 500 feet or throw 95 MPH. The fact that I was seven never even entered my mind as a factor as to why I couldn’t. What I started to do was read everything I could read about baseball strategy, have discussions with everyone who knew anything about how to play the game, and watch as much baseball as possible. It led me to a long career of all-star teams, high school honors, and college honors.
The key to my success wasn’t mimicking what major league players did. It was learning the basics and how to play the game by understanding the thinking complexities behind the sport. It was also self-directed….but not. I needed those others to tell me what I was doing right and wrong.
Learning is only as self-directed as the quality of the toolset around the learner and the quality of the resources available. If you want to create self-directed learners, you need to advance your tool set first; not theirs.