Self-Direction and Grief

So far when I’ve introduced self-directed or self-initiated activities to my class, students have reacted with some combination of

  • Shock
  • Denial
  • Strong emotion
  • Resistance
  • Surrender
  • Struggle

If it goes well, and we’re able to make it through the storm, we might get to

  • Confidence
  • Integration

I’ve been thinking a lot of about Navigating the Bumpy Road to Student-Centered Instruction by Richard Felder and Rebbeca Brent.

The list of stages above is the one they use — pulled straight out of psychological research about dealing with trauma and grief.

The rest of the article has precautions and strategies in question and answer format for “smoothing out the bumps.”

If you’ve seen this in your classroom, how have you handled it?  If you are thinking of changing your curriculum toward self-direction, what do you think of the authors’ suggestions?  What exactly is it that students are grieving for?

If you want to know how it’s working for my students so far, check out their most recent test scores in my first post.  I’d score myself at a 3/5 on my own proposed rubric, so far.  But don’t worry — I have plans to reassess myself in the spring.


  1. I think they’re grieving for the opportunity not to think. This totally happened to me my first year teaching, and initially, my reaction was to back off and go back to more traditional structures (to be fair, I probably jumped off the deep end in my idealism before I was ready both on a classroom management front and on a planning front).

    When I tried again, I was much more thoughtful about what I was asking kids to do (and when– so that self-directed learning was always purposeful and not just something to do because I wanted to), better at scaffolding so they felt supported through the struggle, and also had developed better relationships with them so they trusted me even if they didn’t always understand my instructional choices. I wish I’d been more intentional about the process rather than just trying everything that occurred to me, because in reflection, I have a hard time describing how it happened (I just remember a lot of frustration for both me and my students).

    I hadn’t actually seen the full text of this article, btw, so thanks for posting it! Totally going to use it in the future.

    • Thanks Grace — your concrete suggestions and tough questions are, in hindsight, exactly what I (and probably lots of teachers with great intentions) need to think more about. One of these days, another post about this.

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