5 Easy Ways to Make Students Self-Directed Learners


Help your students become self-directed learners with these five easy tips that ANY teacher can implement!

If you’re like me, you love the students in your classroom that constantly chase knowledge. Many years ago, I had zero students like this. In fact, my students just wanted to rush through and get things done simply because they just wanted to be finished. I knew I needed to make some changes to my classroom environment to change their attitude towards learning.

I can tell you that taking students that don’t inquire at all, and turning them into self-directed learners that ask and answer questions about everything we learn, is no small feat. Over the years, I’ve learned some key ways to do this that are actually pretty easy.

I hope that these 5 easy tips help you make a change in your classroom!

#1 Give them freedom, then scaffold, scaffold, scaffold!

In order to actually get your students to complete their own inquiry, you have to give them the freedom to do so. Change one of your lessons each week to make it more open-ended. Most importantly, scaffold like crazy during that lesson. Teach your students what they should be doing when they have more freedom in their learning.

My favorite way to give them the freedom to inquire is project based learning. This lets me teach the standards in a more flexible environment, where students can inquire into a real-life problem or scenario.

#2 Teach & Model Confidence

A large part of the reason students aren’t self-directed learners is confidence. We put such a heavy weight on grades that students are trained to think they are “good” and “bad” at certain subjects or tasks. You won’t have a lot of luck getting a student to inquire on a topic they’ve already decided they’re “bad” at. You need to teach students to be confident in themselves, even when they fail. You also need to model this yourself. I don’t know how many times I told my students, “Wow, I did NOT do a great job with __________. Time to reflect and try it again tomorrow!”

#3 Help Students Find Their Strengths

I noticed that in my classroom, I had many students that thought they had NO strengths when it came to school work. These were kids who struggled with tests, homework, etc. When you constantly fail in school, it’s really hard to feel like you have any strengths at all.

My favorite way to help students find their strengths is to use self-reflection forms. You can download one I use for free (with some additional grading ideas) by clicking here. We also do character building activities where students write about their successes each week, and share compliments.

#4 Give Students a Stake in Your Classroom

When students are able to make decisions about their classroom, they become more comfortable expressing their opinions. The ability to safely make decisions as a group in your classroom will help students learn to make decisions independently about their learning.

Flexible seating is also a great way to achieve this. Give students more freedom to choose where they work, and who they work with, while putting procedures into place to help them make responsible decisions.

#5 Incorporate 21st Century Competencies

This was by far the biggest change in my classroom environment. By incorporating 21st century competencies, I was providing my students with more real-life skills that related to their actual lives.

The label ’21st century competencies’ has a pretty broad definition. They are any skills that prepare students for the challenge of life in our present society. The “4 Cs” are the most widely known competencies. These are:

  • Critical Thinking
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity

All four of these competencies will encourage your students to be self-directed learners. The more you incorporate them into your lessons, the more your students will feel confident with inquiring about their learning and solving problems. You can find out more about 21st century competencies (and how to implement them) in this blog post.

If you implement these easy changes to your classroom, you’ll be surprised at how quickly your students become self-directed learners!


April Smith

Curriculum Writer and Online Professional Development Coach. 


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