Learner Led
Entrust learners to take ownership of their learning

In a Learner Led environment, learners co-design their learning experiences; articulate their interests, strengths and needs; assess, monitor and reflect on their own progress; partner in setting their learning goals and plans; and advocate for support from teachers, peers, technology and other sources.

41%

increase in skills among children who were taught self-monitoring over children who were not

Schunk, D. H. (1982). Progress Self-Monitoring.
The Journal of Experimental Education, 51(2), 89–93.

How Do Learner Led Experiences Help Students?

When students lead and feel in control, they work harder to learn. This is the case whether or not they meet their goals.

Still, teachers know they must strike a balance between giving students autonomy and supporting them to develop crucial skills and knowledge—because students need to feel confident and competent before taking greater control of their learning.

The Elements of Learner Led

Students co-design their learning experiences.
Collaborate with learners to develop standards-aligned activities that meet their learning goals.
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Example: At the start of the week, learners complete a shared online document that outlines their proposed activities for the week. The teacher reviews the plans and provides guidance as necessary.
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Allow learners to choose their best learning place and medium to work on their goal.
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Example: During an ELA block, two teachers open up their doors and create one quiet and one “active conversation” room that students can choose between for their work.
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Enable learners to choose with whom to work based on goals and needed expertise.
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Example: A class creates a peer working group and identifies adult mentors for their upcoming projects.
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Support learners to use their reflections in the development of their next learning goal.
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Example: A class creates a peer working group and identifies adult mentors for their upcoming projects.
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Empower learners to choose their own approach to learning a new concept.
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Example: A teacher empowers her learners to choose between 10-blocks, tallies and other mediums for learners to practice their math.
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Students articulate their interests, strengths and needs.
Encourage and model articulation of interests, needs and strengths to inform future learning.
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Example: A teacher provides his learners with a “Reflection Binder.” At the end of each day, they reflect on their work, identifying what worked well for them, what they struggled with and what support they need.
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Offer tools to help learners identify their own interests, strengths, needs and preferences (e. g. interest inventories, checklists, reflection exercises).
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Example: Over the course of six weeks (beginning at the start of the school year or when a new learner arrives), teachers and learners complete several inventories to identify learning drivers and gaps.
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Establish a culture that encourages learners to actively share their feelings and experiences while learning.
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Example: A teacher creates a system of small book clubs and public share-outs during independent reading time that helps the community of learners share their excitement for books.
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Provide learners with a systematic method (e.g. learner profiles) for documenting learning needs and preferences.
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Example: A teacher uses a platform for learners to regularly update their interests, needs and strengths in focus areas to inform conferences, interventions and/or upcoming lesson plan design.
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Guide learners to generate questions that lead to further curiosity and self-directed learning.
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Example: A teacher does a KWI (Know, Wonder, Interest) chart to have learners share what they know, wonder and are interested in regarding a theme.
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Students assess, monitor and reflect on their own progress.
Guide learners in ongoing reflection on learning outcomes, products and processes.
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Example: A teacher provides time at the end of every rotation for learners to complete a template for reflection on what they learned and what they find challenging.
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Provide learners with ongoing access to their data to help identify academic and non-academic needs.
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Example: A teacher has learners track their growth in skills (via assessment scores) in a binder, so they can see which of their skills are strong and which skills they need to work on.
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Partner with learners to reflect upon and document their own learning needs and progress.
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Example: A teacher helps learners create a system to track and reflect on their progress in an edtech product.
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Model examining data, discussing progress and identifying challenges as well as needed supports.
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Example: A teacher meets with a learner and models how to look at the learner’s data to identify areas of progress and areas where the learner needs support.
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Help learners reflect upon their learning strategies and efforts, as well as the result of those strategies and efforts in regard to meeting desired learning goals.
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Example: A teacher helps a learner reflect on her use of a reading strategy, and then the learner chooses to try a new strategy from a given list.
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Students partner in setting their learning goals and plans.
Collaborate with learners to set specific, challenging short-term goals and develop learning plans.
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Example: An advisory teacher has learners craft a daily goal at the start of each day that is reviewed among their peers at the end of the day.
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Support learners to imagine a desired future and then think through what challenges they will need to overcome to attain it.
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Example: A teaching team has learners complete a WOOP (Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan) template at the start of each month.
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Offer learners an organized approach to outline and document their learning plan (e.g. template, rubric).
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Example: A teacher provides learners with a template to plan and track their learning activities for the week.
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Partner with learners to establish a timeline and a plan for monitoring progress in meeting goals.
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Example: A teacher meets with a learner to set dates on which the learner will finish key steps toward a long-term project. They also include days that she will get feedback from a peer or teacher.
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Utilize mentor conferences to review progress and determine next steps.
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Example: A classroom has a system of “learning buddies,” or peers that regularly check in with each other on goals and learning plans for reading.
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Students advocate for needed support from teachers, peers, technology and other sources.
Coach and model for learners how to identify and advocate for their needs according to degrees of urgency.
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Example: A teacher works with his class to create anchor charts that give suggestions for how learners can know if they need support and provides prompts for how to ask for help.
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Actively encourage learners to independently problem-solve by seeking help from peers, technology and other sources.
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Example: A teacher establishes a classroom culture of “Three Before Me,” in which learners must seek help from three other sources before consulting the teacher.
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Establish routines for regular learner-led conferences.
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Example: A teacher sets up a rotation of short, five-minute check-ins with learners throughout the week for them to vocalize their progress and needed supports. Experienced learners teach others how to be more effective in learner-led conferences.
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Actively nurture a class culture of self and team advocacy.
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Example: A teacher guides learners to reflect on their rights and identify barriers to their learning. Learners then work individually or as a collective group to advocate to the proper authorities for changes or expanded privileges.
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Provide a system for learners to provide their status and request support.
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Example: A teacher gives each learner a popsicle stick and flag to decorate. When the learner needs assistance, he/she places it in the “up” position to notify the teacher and peers that help is needed.
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Imagining ways to adapt these ideas with your learners? More inspiration and tools are here.

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“Feeling in control is insufficient if learners do not also value the outcome of their learning.”

Wigfield, A., & Cambria, J. (2010)

Students’ achievement values, goal orientations, and interest: Definitions, development, and relations to achievement outcomes. Developmental Review, 30(1), 1–35.

What Does the Research Say?

Studies are mixed on whether students learn more from student-led projects or ones led by teachers. This is largely because few models are purely one or the other; the best classrooms embrace a hybrid where teachers and students collaborate on desired projects, and students get more choice in everyday activities.1

A disconnect between what is taught in school and what interests students drives a decrease in motivation and achievement, notably among boys. Thus, giving students more say in what they learn can play an important role in increasing motivation, attention and learning–even when the material is challenging.2

Student grades, attendance and conduct improve when they practice a learning technique where they imagine a desired future, think through potential challenges and then plot a course to surmount those challenges. However this practice is not widespread, so there have been no systematic reviews of personal development or learning plans.3

1. Learner Led Element #1
Co-design learning experiences

2. Learner Led Element #2
Articulate interests, strengths and needs

3. Learner Led Element #4
Partner in setting learning goals and plans