Monday, July 25, 2016

The Social Compact: Self-Directed Learning

Effective communication and community participation are two elements of a social compact that can be used in classroom.  A third element is self-directed learning.  This is a particularly important component for teachers who want students to think their own thoughts.

Students have a tendency to focus predominantly on what their teachers think and they invest a great deal of time memorizing their teachers’ thoughts instead of developing their own.  Unfortunately, some teachers reinforce this behavior by assigning grades based on how well students regurgitate their ideas.  Students are aware of this and train themselves to give feedback to the teacher.  They need to be redirected; this is the goal of self-directed learning.

Self-directed learners are autodidacts.  They set goals, monitor their progress, and evaluate their results.  They take ownership of their learning and, to that end, manage their time, establish benchmarks, and take risks.

An excellent example of a self-directed learner in fiction is Lyra in The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman.  She is given an “alethiometer” – the golden compass – with no instructions on how to use it.  She is only told that it tells the truth.  Everything else Lyra discovers about the golden compass is from her own initiative.  In her pursuit of understanding, Lyra demonstrates a key characteristic of a self-directed learner:  perseverance.  To an autodidact, failures are not closed doors but redirections to another path.

A community of self-directed learners reveals new pathways and expanded ways of thinking to all of its members.  They all share in the risks, the failures, and the mistakes and, as a result, the entire community benefits from the learning process.  In the classroom, a teacher acts as a guide for the students and provides a safe environment for non-fatal errors.  It’s a challenging process that demands that a teacher also be a self-directed learner.

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