A Roadmap for Student Self-Direction: Building Essential Skills for the Future

The BEST Self-Direction Toolkit is a collection of resources for teachers to use in the classroom for instruction and assessment that focuses on self-direction. The toolkit includes the self-direction rubric, self-direction activities and targeted resources for teachers. All tools are designed by teachers and tested in the classroom.

Who is the toolkit for?

It’s for educators looking to increase student agency in their classrooms and schools. Building and district leadership will also find the research and additional resources in the toolkit helpful as they implement student-centered practices in their schools.

What will it achieve? 

Using the BEST Self-Direction Toolkit will elevate teaching, learning and assessment of self-direction, a critical driver of learners’ motivation and engagement. Teachers and students can use the tools to both inspire and assess growth in self-direction skills. The rubrics and accompanying tools facilitate the creation of a strong body of evidence to support student learning and growth in self-direction. Students who experience these activities in their learning environment will be supported to develop essential skills that will serve them well academically, behaviorally, and in college and career.

Why now?

Teaching and learning that is focused on developing self-direction promotes student ownership of the learning process, positions learners as the drivers of their interests and achievement, and helps them to become goal-oriented lifelong learners. These outcomes have great utility in classroom-based learning as well as in remote or hybrid contexts.

What is Deeper Learning?

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation defines deeper learning as an umbrella term for the skills and knowledge that students must possess to succeed in 21st-century jobs and civic life. Deeper learning focuses on a set of competencies that seeks mastery of academic domains that are then applied to real-world situations. The deeper learning framework includes six core competencies:

  1. Master core academic content
  2. Think critically and solve complex problems
  3. Work collaboratively
  4. Communicate effectively
  5. Learn how to learn
  6. Develop academic mindsets.

Research tells us and both employers and colleges confirm that communication, collaboration, creativity and self-direction are crucial for success in post-secondary learning and careers. Every student deserves to have the skills to succeed.

As a building leader if you are seeking to develop teachers’ capacity to provide opportunities and experiences for students in developing the essential skill of self-direction, the basis for student agency, and for teachers to create a culture of collaboration within the classroom check out these resources:

Professional Development

Instructional and Assessment Resources

Start here to find the tools designed by teachers and vetted by researchers. Because of the rigorous development and alignment process, the tools and rubric have both construct and face validity. What that means for you is that they work in the classroom and for students.

Research Deep Dive

Take a deep dive into the research and processes used to design the BEST Self-Direction Toolkit. The rubrics and tools went through a rigorous alignment and review process resulting in both construct and face validity. The tools are teacher-developed and teacher-tested.

Call to Action

Form a team to investigate how the deeper learning competencies are embedded in curriculum and assessment in your school and develop professional learning opportunities for the teachers in your school. Read Investing in Teachers as Agents of Scale where Dr. Sullivan shares the importance of placing teachers at the center of the work in order to scale change, conduct a text rendering protocol and pose the question How might we scale this work in our school?

Are you a district leader who needs concrete system-wide strategies to ensure your graduates are prepared for college and career? The following resources will guide you in scaling deeper learning practices:

  • If you need compelling stories from teachers and students to share with school leaders look at the Teacher & Student voices videos. You’ll find great testimonials here on why the move to deeper learning is worth it!
  • If you want to see the BEST Self-Direction Toolkit and resources go to Best-Future.org website and you will find the research, tools, and resources on the deeper learning competencies including the self-direction toolkit.
  • Read the brief by Lench, Leather and Poon to understand the impetus for the Essential Skills & Dispositions Framework and how it is continuing to develop based on the work of school systems.
  • Take the deep dive into the Essential Skills & Disposition Framework a research-based developmental continua on the essentials skills and dispositions – self-direction, collaboration, communication, and creativity.

If you want the context and stories of how districts have implemented the deeper learning competencies here are some additional resources to explore when you have the time!

New Hampshire’s Work Study Practices – A Five-Year Journey to Understand, Share, Scale, Deepen, and Meaningfully Assess These Critical Competencies

  • It goes back in time to share New Hampshire’s initial approach to supporting teachers in embedding skills and dispositions like communication, collaboration, creativity, and self-direction into curriculum, instruction and assessment in meaningful ways.

Recognizing the Critical Importance of Metacognition

  • This article explores the foundational role of metacognition in developing and deepening work study practices.

New Hampshire’s Work Study Practices – Equity and Assessing For Growth

  • This is the third in a series of blog posts about New Hampshire’s work study practices—essential competencies such as communication, collaboration, and self-direction.

Silver Linings: Observations of Self-Directed Behavior in an Online Environment

  • Jon Vander Els shares the reflections of teachers, leaders and students on the importance of self-direction skills in the remote learning environment

Articles by Dr. Felicia Sullivan on elements of a successful scaling effort

Call to Action

Print this article and distribute it at your next leadership meeting, use a text protocol such as the 4 A’s protocol and pose the following questions:

  • Are we committed to the importance of deeper learning competencies?
  • If we have a shared commitment then how might we move toward a clear articulation of implementation steps?
  • Who will be responsible for reporting progress by the next gathering?

For systemic change, research the Portrait of a Graduate process and commit to developing a portrait that includes deeper learning competencies. This will serve as the north star for your work.

The BEST Self-Direction Toolkit contains a variety of resources and instructional strategies for teaching and learning on the essential skills and dispositions competencies.

Why Deeper Learning?

If you are just beginning the journey to integrate the deeper learning competencies into your classroom, then select from the videos listed below to hear from students, employers, and teachers about the importance of self-direction in the classroom, in teaching and learning, and in life. The videos are 1 – 4 minutes in length.

Look here to find the tools designed by teachers and vetted by researchers. These tools may be used during instruction and to gather evidence for assessment.

What does this mean to students?

Deep Dive into the Research

Take a deep dive into the research and processes used to design the BEST Self-Direction Toolkit with the following resources:

Call to Action

In your PLC, use the Making Meaning Protocol to work through the texts. Read the teacher instructions for the rubric, the Student Self-Assessment Tool and the My Self-Direction Roadmap Gr 6-8 and/or My Self-Direction Road Map Grades 9-12. Pose the question: How might we use these tools with our students?

Self-direction is an essential skill for success in post-secondary opportunities, career and in life! Employers often share that they need employees who can communicate, are creative problem solvers, are able to collaborate and are self-directed. Teachers are now including instruction on these skills in their classroom. The BEST Self-Direction Toolkit contains a variety of resources on teaching and learning of these essential skills.

 If you would like an overview of the deeper learning competencies then watch the Self-Direction Overview video and the BEST project videos to hear from students, employers, and teachers about the importance of student self-direction for their learning, and in their life.

Teachers report seeing an increased level of confidence in students who develop self-direction because they can set goals and manage their work. The tools listed below help students to set goals, identify where they may need help and how to access that help to complete their work. The tools are designed by teachers and students and are being used in classrooms.

Call to Action

Talk with your child’s teacher about the opportunities in the classroom for students to build the interpersonal and intrapersonal skills of communication, self-direction, collaboration, and creativity.

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