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Research Ramblings on Self-direction

I have been working on finishing the first book in our series on 21st Century Skills, which happens to deal with self-directed or self-regulated learning. We really haven’t done a comprehensive update of that research since we did enGauge back in 2000. I was really surprised at the amount of new research and theory related to what is arguably the most important learning skill and the skill most predictive of success in college and beyond.

The other thing that constantly surprises me is how few school districts are doing anything serious to promote self-direction in their students.

A sample of some of the new findings would include:

  • Self-direction is a set of habits. They are relatively easy to instill in students who don’t have them.
  • The best time to start actively building these habits seems to be in elementary school.
  • There is an excellent training program that has been around since 1996 that virtually no one is using. It was updated in 2006 and continues to be ignored by educators! (Specifics on this program will be in the book!)
  • While the impact of homework on student academic achievement appears to be minimal, it may be a key tool to promote self-directed behavior in kids.
  • Parents’ structuring and monitoring of homework time actually contributes to feelings of helplessness and works against self-direction.
  • There is a major issue with underachievement among highly gifted students. I worked in gifted education for about 20 years, so I am fairly familiar with that information. When I taught gifted kids in Kenosha, Wisconsin, we conducted an accidental study (see my next blog entry for details) and found that between kindergarten and third grade almost half of our identified gifted students developed habits of underachievement. Training in self-direction skills has been found to have a significant positive impact on getting gifted kids to achieve to their potential.
  • In recent studies it has been demonstrated that teachers can begin to influence student self-direction with just a couple of days of training.

My partner, Cheryl, used to provoke administrators in workshops by saying, “If we know a great deal about more effective ways to improve lives and learning in students and we don’t implement those strategies, is that malpractice?”

I think that it may be and I would guess many parents of struggling, underachieving kids would feel the same.

[Ed Coughlin, Senior VP]