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November 1, 2022
Vol. 80
No. 3
Tell Us About

Tell Us About

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What is a change you recently implemented in your classroom or school to give students more autonomy?

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Photo of a middle-school student wearing a yellow backpack
Credit: FG TRADE / iSTOCK

Let Them GO and Grow

We have a program at our grade 3–5 school called GO (Grow Ourselves) Time. Four days a week, from 3:00 to 3:30 p.m., every student travels throughout the building for an extension or wellness opportunity. Classes range from bridge building, chess, coding, book vs. movie, nature exploration to broadcasting, drones, yoga, and beyond. When we began the program, teachers selected where students would spend their time. As our GO Time has evolved, so has our understanding of autonomy and student agency. We now administer a survey to students four times a year, allowing them to self select their GO Time course. We have even had a student lead his own GO Time!
Betsy Henning, instructional coach, Indian Hill Exempted Village Schools, Cincinnati, Ohio

Choose Your Own Adventure

I had students select their own novels for the entire year.
Stephanie Farley, English teacher and educational consultant, Los Angeles, California

Six Degrees of Science

Eighth grade science students in Pennsylvania demonstrated their learning at the end of a unit on moon phases, tides, and eclipses through hexagonal thinking. In this kinesthetic approach to concept mapping, students connect key concepts and vocabulary terms written on hexagon shapes to form a web of associations. As new words are acquired throughout a unit, students add them to their collection and are given many opportunities to physically move the shapes based on their associations to one another. Once all hexagons are connected in some way, students are given opportunities to explain their connections in verbal and written form. For larger webs, students are given arrows to explain specific connections. Students or teachers can choose where to put the arrows on the webs or, even better, there can be a combination of teacher selection and student choice.
The final use of the hexagons was for the summative assessment. In lieu of a traditional paper and pencil test, students created a web of unit terms on their desks. They used arrows to take a "deep dive" into certain intersections on their webs. As students wrote about why they connected certain concepts the way they did, the teacher walked around the room and placed a final arrow on their webs. In all, every student had a total of three written explanations, but no two students wrote about the terms in the same way.
By the end of the unit, it was clear that hexagonal thinking helped students acquire a rich understanding of key terms and concepts in their science unit. This multi-modal activity was easily scaffolded for all readiness levels.
Hexagonal thinking gave learners the opportunity to "show what they know" throughout the unit. Since there are no "right" answers, the possibilities of this low-stakes opportunity to deepen and enrich learning are many. In English, for instance, hexagons could be color-coordinated by character, setting, and plot. Whatever the case, hexagonal thinking allows students to take charge of the way that they process and demonstrate their learning in unique and powerful ways.
Michele Myers, staff developer, Central Bucks School District, Doylestown, Pennsylvania

Learning from the BEST

In New Hampshire, educators incorporate one or more work study practices of self-direction, collaboration, creativity, and communication into their performance-based assessments. To support teachers in developing these competencies with students, the New Hampshire Learning Initiative worked with assessment experts and teacher leaders to develop research-based rubrics and teacher tools for these four essential skills. Middle and high school teachers then piloted the rubrics and tools, now known as the BEST Toolkit (Building Essential Skills Today for the Future).
To support her students in developing specific self-direction skills, Nicole Woulfe, an 8th-grade teacher at Sanborn Regional Middle School, says she always starts by using the BEST self-direction rubric as the foundation for a mini lesson. She "zooms in" on one rubric criteria (such as self-awareness, initiative and ownership, goal setting and planning, engaging and managing, or monitoring and adapting) and uses the lesson to help students think about ways to grow as self-directed learners. After the lesson, students use sticky notes to set and post a goal to reflect on. The teacher and students often practice working on that strand of the rubric so students can adapt and make changes as they develop their self-direction skills.
Karin Hess, consultant and author, Underhill, Vermont

Leading a Committee

Our students selected and led class committees. We have committees ranging from kindness to STEM where the students develop their mission, agendas, and community outreach projects.
Amanda Sopko, gifted intervention specialist, Indian Hill Exempted Village Schools, Cincinnati, Ohio

EL’s experienced team of writers and editors produces Educational Leadership magazine, an award-winning publication that reaches hundreds of thousands of K-12 educators and leaders each year. Our work directly supports the mission of ASCD: To empower educators to achieve excellence in learning, teaching, and leading so that every child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. 

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The Self-Directed Learner
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