How To Push Students To Be Self-Directed

How To Push Students To Be Self-Directed - FREEBIE by A Word On Third

Hi, Teachers!

With spring break about to start, I have to admit... some of my kiddos are acting a bit goofy. I know it's time to teach into what it means to be a self-directed learner again. Are you experiencing the same thing? I always seem to notice that my classes go through phases. I usually feel a bit of this in November, in March, and of course in June when school is about to end too!

In my room, I let it get pretty loud during math time. It's productive noise (usually), but it's harder for students to self-monitor because there are so many more distractions in the room. There's manipulatives, partner work, choices... the list goes on. I've been reflecting on how to push my students to be self directed, and I've come up with something I'm pretty proud of after discussing some issues my class is having with a really talented colleague who knows my class. Let me share what I'm going to be doing with my class to push them to the next level in math! This will be my first math lesson when we return from spring break. I'm treating it like a "first day of school" kind of lesson.

1. Start off with compliments.

I think it's important to recognize all of the amazing growth students have made when introducing something like this. It's easy for teachers to be negative in situations that are frustrating, but that doesn't set anyone up for success!

2. Set the stage for your new expectations.

What are the new expectations that you will have in class? Make sure to be REALLY explicit during this portion of the discussion. Your students should know exactly what class will look like, sound like, feel like, what to do when they have a problem or something doesn't go as planned, etc. This is something you really can't rush if you want this to work.

3. Introduce a tool to keep students accountable.

In my case, I will be using a rubric. Here's the rubric I'm using in math if you'd like to grab it! Click the picture below. (Hint: YOU SHOULD GRAB IT. IT'S FREE!)

If you decide to make your own rubric, decide what needs to be pushed to the next level for your students to be more self-directed. My rubric is focusing on these skills during math:

  • Staying on task. 
  • Using math manipulatives when needed. 
  • Attempting to solve problems independently. 
  • Being honest when reflecting without teacher prompting. (This will prevent students from saying they are "always on task" when they aren't when it's combined with step #4!)
How To Push Students To Be Self-Directed - FREEBIE by A Word On Third

If you want to make this more exciting for your students, add some flair. My rubric is superhero themed. Just be mindful that you want your rubric to be positive. My "excellent" category on the rubric is named "superhero." It would be easy for me to name the "needs more work" category something like "villian" because it's fun and it fits with the theme, but is that the message you want to send to your kids? Think about how to put a positive spin on things. It's OK to admit we have a goal because we are all growing, so make sure you let kids express that in a way that feels safe.
4. Help students stay accountable at first.

Gradually release the responsibility. I'll be collecting all rubrics every day for at least a week. I'm sure some students will need daily check-ins more than that. Some will need less, but everyone will get at LEAST a week of daily supervision. Afterwards, maybe collect the rubric 2 or 3 times a week. Every class and every student will be different. Of course, you could use this in small groups too! 

Consistently make sure to use reinforcing, reminding, and redirecting language so students get some feedback in the moment. Are they making the best choices for their learning? They need your input!

5. Gradually eliminate the use of the tool.

I feel like this is the piece we often neglect as teachers. If we truly want kids to be more self-directed, they can't lean on tools as crutches forever! They need to gradually phase them out and revisit them only when needed. If you try this rubric, feel your students out. When are they mostly following your expectations? That's when you have a class discussion about doing these things without the rubric and phase it out.

So, that's what I'll be up to after I return from break! I'm really pumped. I might tell my students a few secrets about this rubric. I've got a few die-hard superhero fans, and I know they'll be dying to know what this is all about! Go download my rubric for free and leave some feedback! I actually read it and make adjustments if they are requested. What do you do to keep students on task?


  1. I find sometimes we don't give step 5 enough time to take hold. We start off strong with a tool, then get quite lax when referring or redirecting back to it and before you know it, you have removed it from the toolbox. It can be hard to be intentional in the slow, gradual release. Do you find that to be an issue?

    1. Hi, Dan! I agree... We have so much to do that step five is easily forgotten about. I'm guilty of it sometimes too! I have been working really hard on giving myself permission to slow down lately. It's always a work in progress!