The Holy Trinity of Self-Direction: Self-Managing, Self-Monitoring, Self-Modifying

By Art Costa, Bena Kallick, and Allison Zmuda

Successful self-directed, continuous learners become “addicted” to feedback. This implies that they eagerly submit their work to the scrutiny of others. They actively gather and interpret feedback:

  • through self-observation by consciously monitoring their own feelings, attitudes, and skills
  • by inviting feedback from teachers, parents and peers
  • through interviews with others
  • by collecting evidence showing the effects of their own efforts

These data are then analyzed, interpreted, and internalized. Thus, students become continually self-managing, self-monitoring, and self-modifying (Costa & Kallick, 1995 p. 27) — a holy trinity of skills to grow self-directed learners.

We must continue to provide opportunities to have students take ownership of their learning or they will never learn how to do so. In their coaching role, teachers can work with students to grow capacity in these skills.


Self-managing learners approach projects with: Examples of questions:
Clarity of outcomes What specifically do you want to accomplish, to know or be able to do as a result of this project?

How clear are you about the assignment? What goals do you have in mind as you begin?

A strategic plan How does this current project contribute to your long-range learning goals or outcomes?

What do you need in order to be successful on this assignment?

Necessary data Given what you know about this topic, what additional data sources will you draw upon?

Where will the information be coming from?

How will you determine the validity and accuracy of the information you incorporate?

Knowledge drawn from past experiences What effective strategies have you used before in projects like this?
Awareness of alternatives for accomplishment What alternative strategies do you have in mind to accomplish your goals?
Anticipation of success indicators What might you hear or see yourself and your group saying or doing that will let you know that you’ve reached your goals?



Self-monitoring learners: Examples of questions
Strive to become spectators of their own thinking and actions What will guide your decisions about . . .?

What will you pay attention to in your own behaviors that you are striving to perfect?

Are alert to perceptions for in-the-moment indicators of whether the strategic plan is working or not, and to assist in the decision-making processes of altering the plan What are some of your predictions about how this project will turn out?

What cues will you be aware of as indicators that your strategy is working or not?

Are aware of their leadership role in promoting interdependence How might you help resolve conflicts when there are differences of opinions of your group members?

How are you encouraging others to persist when the group gets stuck?

How well are you and your group listening to and building upon the ideas of others?

Are aware of their application of the criteria for excellence In what ways are you and your group striving for accuracy and excellence?



Self-modifying learners: Examples of questions
Reflect on the experience As you reflect on this project, what feelings, thoughts, or impressions do you have about it?
Recall critical events and decisions What are you recalling that leads to those impressions?

What important decisions did you make during the construction of this project? What prompted those decisions?

Evaluate the effectiveness of their product and decisions What is your sense of the project’s effectiveness?
Analyze events and compare products with visions and goals What might be some factors that contributed to that success?

How does what happened in the construct of this project compare to what you predicted would happen?

Construct meaning from the experience As a result of working through on this project, what insights or new learnings are you forming?
Apply the learning to future activities tasks and challenges As you anticipate future projects of this type, what new learnings will you carry forth to those situations?

Paramount to all of these considerations is the development of the student to be able to judge one’s own products, actions and performances. We are aiming to move students from “I know” (awareness and meaning) to “I know I can do” (internalization and commitment) to “I can and will do” (taking action).

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