If Students Are Progressively More Self-Directed, Then What Am I Here To Do?

Bena Kallick and Allison Zmuda

Bena Kallick and Allison Zmuda are authors, friends, and colleagues. They co-authored the 2017 book, Students at the Center: Personalized Learning with Habits of Mind.

Three Interrelated Roles of the Contemporary Teacher

One of the common questions we often are asked about personalized learning is, “Am I doing ‘it’ right?” To personalize a lesson or personalize an assignment is grounded in a mindset shift — how are we elevating the role of the student to have a larger stake in the design, ownership, and responsibility of his or her learning? And if we are encouraging this increased level of self-direction and self-management, how does that impact the role of the teacher? The seminal work of Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins started this journey with learning focus on acquisition, meaning-making, and transfer.

Three Interrelated Roles: Lead Learner, Facilitator, Coach

Contemporary learners need teachers to play these timeless roles in fresh, invitational ways. We contend that the teacher needs to know their students and their content well to be able to move fluently and nimbly from one role to another.

Teacher as Lead Learner

  • Identifies and provides models for what to learn, how to learn, and how to demonstrate learning
  • Uses direct instruction and modeling as primary teaching mode
  • Provides immediate intervention to point out errors and redirect the learning

When designing lead learner experiences, the goal is always growing independence as you lead students to their own thinking as they engage with the material.

Teacher as Facilitator

  • Designs tasks that invite inquiry, analysis, and/or revision
  • Invites students to engage in conversation to facilitate connections, prior knowledge, areas of interest
  • Probes students to deepen thinking

When designing facilitation experiences, examine ways you open conversations about the material under consideration to create a safe space in which all students can voice their perspectives as well as benefit from the active listening to others.

Teacher as Coach

  • Actively coaches thinking with learners through modeling, strategic use of teaching strategies, and observing
  • Provides feedback and guidance to improve performance
  • Troubleshoots with learners by identifying areas of growth and creates next steps
  • Uses assessment information to improve learning

When you are moving around to check in with learning you have decisions to make:

Intervention: When do you intervene? For example, are they moving in the wrong direction? If so, how might you ask some questions that help them to redirect their thinking?

Elevation of thinking: When you see that they are on track, what kinds of questions or descriptive summaries of what they are doing that could elevate their thinking?

Communication with accuracy and clarity: When you think they need to be striving for greater accuracy, what kinds of questions might move them to check their work once again, such as: read this aloud and see if your partner finds you are communicating with clarity or I noticed that you have used two sources but I am wondering how you see the difference in each of these sources.

What implications does considering the roles of the teacher shape your approach to personalizing for the students? We would love to hear from you.

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