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The ability of a student to become a self-directed learner relies on the development of their metacognitive skills, or the ability to reflect and assess their own learning and thinking.   Ambrose et al. 2010 states “to become self-directed learners, students must learn to assess the demands of the task, evaluate their own knowledge and skills, plan their approach, monitor their progress, and adjust their strategies as needed” and that this process is cyclical and dependent on the student’s beliefs about intelligence and learning.  Some students may develop these skills on their own but many will benefit from guided (but not forced) instruction geared towards developing these metacognitive skills.  Specifically, Ambrose et al. suggests a number of techniques in the classroom for developing each of the steps within the cyclical metacognitive process:

Assessing the Task at Hand

  • Be More Explicit Than You May Think Necessary
  • Tell Students What you Do Not Want
  • Check Students’ Understanding of the Task
  • Provide Performance Criteria with the Assignment

Evaluating One’s Own Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Give Early, Performance-Based Assessment
  • Provide Opportunities for Self-Assessment

Planning an Appropriate Approach

  • Have Students Implement a Plan That You Provide
  • Have Students Create Their Own Plan
  • Make Planning the Central Goal of the Assignment

Applying Strategies and Monitoring Performance

  • Provide Simple Heuristics for Self-Correction
  • Have Students Do Guided Self-Assessments
  • Require Students to Reflect on and Annotate Their Own Work
  • Use Peer Review/Reader Response

Reflecting on and Adjusting One’s Approach

  • Provide Activities That Require Students to Reflect on Their Performances
  • Prompt Students to Analyze the Effectiveness of Their Study Skills
  • Present Multiple Strategies
  • Create Assignments That Focus on Strategizing Rather Than Implementation

Beliefs About Intelligence and Learning

  • Address Students’ Beliefs About Learning Directly
  • Broaden Students’ Understanding of Learning
  • Help Students Set Realistic Expectations

Interested in learning more about promoting self-directed learning in your classroom?  Consider reading “How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching” by Susan A. Ambrose, Michael W. Bridges, Michele DiPietro, Marsha C. Lovett, and Marie K. Norman available from the Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning Library

*Ambrose, S., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M.C., and M.K. Norman, (2010). How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. John Wiley and Sons, San Francisco CA. *





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