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Aurora Institute

New Year’s Resolution: Student Directed Individualized Learning for All

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Dan Joseph

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, How to Get Started, Learn Lessons from the Field

This article was originally published in the Reinventing Schools Coalition January newsletter. The RISC newsletter is designed to give you practices and opportunities to move students from compliance into engagement, an essential element for building a personal mastery system.

New Year'sAs stated in the book Delivering on the Promise, “a RISC system is where students themselves are encouraged, taught, and empowered to be accountable for their learning. This is not a back-and-white, step-by step, to-do list through which students become leaders of the learning process overnight. It is an evolutionary process in which students move from being dependent to independent learners…. Once students own the system and they understand the direction they are headed in their education, they become advocates who begin to insist that teachers help them accomplish their goals.”

This type of change requires a shift in the roles of the teacher and the learner. Teachers and students will unpack the standard, determine the rigor of the learning (cognitive and content knowledge), and build a transparent learning progression with clear and timely feedback. The student, when given an unpacked standard and learning progression, will be required not just to understand their own capacity, but to make decisions about the ways in which they will learn and prove mastery. When setting goals and direction, students become engaged leaders of their own learning.

Goal setting and monitoring are essential components of learning. “On average, the practice of having students track their own progress was associated with a 32 percentile gain in their achievement” (Marzano, 2009).

The idea of goal setting and monitoring progress is relatively common knowledge. Creating this learning opportunity for every student is the challenge. Delivering on the promise continues on to an important design feature of a true student directed learning system. “Learning is a dynamic process of students talking about, thinking about, analyzing, applying, and otherwise interacting with concepts, themes, facts and skills they are learning….. individualized to students’ needs, and every strategy possible is used to ensure that learning is maximized.”

Given this compelling vision of learning, let’s review the essential components of the RISC system:

  • Shared Visioning and Code of Cooperation – building student understanding, engagement and leadership of the learning system.
  • Transparency of Learning – through procedures and clarity, students are giv- en authority and direction to navigate their learning. (i.e. flow charts, rubrics, capacity matrices)
  • Continuous Improvement – given clear targets and feedback, students are engaged in self-monitoring, goal setting and strategizing.

As an instructional leader, who is modeling the model by promoting and supporting the engagement of your staff? In what ways are you supporting the shared vision of learning? Are you being clear and transparent with the instructional processes and learner outcomes currently employed in your system? Do you create an environment where staff feel they are empowered to continuously improve based on timely and accurate achievement data?

A checklist for school leadership to support and create a student-directed learning system:

  • Collect data about your school’s current assessment practices; let the data drive the instruction.
  • Have teachers complete a gap analysis survey regarding current use of student self-assessment.
  • Conduct an audit of assessment tools used by teachers, and then develop a school-wide assessment plan with common assessments for various grades.
  • Facilitate the sharing of assessments where teachers come together and compare assessment tools and strategies.
  • Ask the question: Can your students articulate (to teachers, parents) their own strengths and areas for improvement needed in reading, writing, mathematics and all other content areas?
  • Build on the expertise of teachers in your school who are currently utilizing student self-assessment, have them share ideas through mentoring, coaching, divisional meetings or other professional development opportunities.


Marzano, Robert J. 2009. When students track their progress. Educational Leadership (67)4. 86-87.

Daniel Joseph is an Education Specialist with the Reinventing Schools Coalition (RISC) and an educational leader in the State of Maine. He has worked with his local school district, the State Department of Education, and a variety of other partnerships to transform the educational system. You can read a full biography here.