- Using a blend of online classes with traditional instruction, all-boys charter school Vertus High School — located in New York’s Rochester City School District — allows students to go at their own pace and lets them fill in the gaps, according to The Hechinger Report. Students can spend more time in areas where they are struggling, but are not held back in the areas that come easy to them.
- Many students enter Vertus at or below grade level, especially in reading and math, but the system seems to be helping: 71% of its students pass the Regents exams, which are required by the state of New York to graduate. In contrast, Rochester City School District’s average passing rate is 38%.
- Students are given “lab time” for individualized pace learning, which gives them more control over their own learning schedule — in addition to teaching them time management and organization — while still being required to meet certain benchmarks to graduate. At Vertus, students must work on every subject at least once a week, and their progress is checked by mentors.
Self-directed learning is a trend that's becoming increasingly common in schools. Educators are moving from lecturing in the front of a classroom to taking more supportive roles that allow students to take some of their learning into their own hands. But this new model also poses some questions: How much direction do students really need? When should a teacher teach, and when should they step back and just support? And how does a teacher differentiate between students’ various learning styles? Empowering young learners can certainly stand to benefit them for their futures, but in making this model successful, teachers must walk a thin line.
Self-directed learning can take on many forms. If there is a school-wide problem within student learning, a district should seek input from the students themselves in crafting solutions. For example, administrators at Greece Central School District near Rochester realized many students were not graduating because they were missing the required physical education credit. Most were not passing PE because they did not want to get undressed in the locker room. How did the district figure this out? By asking the students. And after that, the solution was simple: The district stopped requiring students to change in the locker room for PE.
When it comes to more individualized progress, technology can help push for progress. One program, itslearning, allows both teachers and students to track progress and use social discussion pages to share ideas. In addition, websites including Kahoot! allow students to create their own reviews and study guides. Technology can help give a voice to any student — especially those who might be shy — and learning how to use these platforms are sure to prepare them for college and a career.
Self-directed learning forces a student to be aware of themselves and the world around them and to develop critical thinking skills. And though it will take some time for educators to find the balance in implementation, and every classroom will be different, students stand to develop deeper learning and retention skills that will assist them throughout the rest of their lives.