Self-Directed Learning in the Classroom? Yes please 100x!

crossroads for self-directed learning in the classroom featured image

One thing that is largely missing from education is self-directed learning in the classroom. This is a form of education that encourages students to take control of their own learning. By giving students the opportunity to explore topics and tasks that interest them, self-directed learning helps to boost engagement and enthusiasm in the classroom.

I am a big believer in developing our students’ ability to be self-directed learners. Far too often, for example, are we dictating every detail of a project when our students need to decide what details should be kept.

Self-directed learning in the classroom is a valuable tool for teachers to use in middle school. It allows students to take control of their own learning, fostering independence and critical thinking skills. In this blog post, we’ll go over some examples of self-directed learning activities that can be used in the middle school classroom. 

Setting Goals and Objectives 

One way to encourage self-directed learning in the middle school classroom is to have students set individual goals and objectives. This can be done as part of an end-of-unit activity or as part of a semester-long project. For example, after studying a unit on Ancient Rome, have each student create their own personal project related to the topic (e.g., creating a model of the Colosseum or researching lesser known aspects of Roman life). This allows students to explore topics that interest them and gives them ownership over their own learning. 

In Innovative Arts class, students start to direct themselves down 6 different creator types. I believe that we need to develop out students’ ability to follow their curiosity. When our student know how many opportunities and creative pathways are available to them, self-directed learning in the classroom is much easier. More information on this is at the bottom of this post.

Independent Research Projects 

Another example of self-directed learning in the classroom is having students conduct independent research projects. This encourages students to think critically about what they’re researching and how it relates to course content. This type of project also provides an opportunity for students to learn from each other through peer review sessions in which they share feedback on their research topics with one another. 

Research projects are a great way to get your students engaged with self-directed learning. Start by assigning an overarching topic, such as “the history of video games” or “the science behind climate change”. Then, give your students the freedom to research the topic and create their own unique project on it. This could include anything from a PowerPoint presentation to a poster board display or even a podcast! Research projects give students the chance to dive deep into topics they find interesting while also building critical thinking skills. 

For instance, you could assign groups of 3–5 students a research project related to your course content and ask them work together on it over the course of several weeks or months. This allows them not only to practice independent research skills but also collaboration and communication skills as they work together towards a common goal.

I when I have students who want to complete a partner project, I have them make corresponding projects. If one student is making a duck glowbox, the other student will make their big sister/brother. Here are some example projects my students work on:

Group projects are a great way to incorporate self-directed learning in the classroom. Here is one option: assign each group a broad theme—such as “environmental sustainability” or “cultural diversity”—and let them come up with their own ideas for how best to tackle it. Give students the opportunity to brainstorm solutions together, then let them work together to create something more tangible, such as an infographic or short film. Group projects provide an excellent forum for collaboration and critical thinking skills development. 

Exploratory Assignments 

Exploratory assignments are another type of self-directed activity that can be used in middle school classrooms. Instead of assigning specific tasks or activities, give your students open-ended assignments with questions like “how can we make our community better?” or “what would you do if you were in charge of this company?” Exploratory assignments allow your students to think critically about real world problems without being constrained by specific instructions or outcomes. They also help foster creativity and innovation among your middle schoolers!  


 Self-directed learning is an important part of any successful education program. By allowing students to explore topics that interest them, self-directed learning activities can help boost student engagement and enthusiasm in the classroom while also teaching valuable problem solving skills such as critical thinking and collaboration. With a little bit of creativity (and careful guidance!), you can easily incorporate self-directed learning into your classroom curriculum!

This site has resources to encourage self-directed learning in the classroom

My dream is to train students in mindsets, leveraging technology, and the joy of creating. Here are the three categories of resources on this site:

Self-directed learning can be an effective teaching tool in any middle school classroom setting because it encourages critical thinking skills, independence, and collaboration among peers. By incorporating activities such as setting goals and objectives, conducting independent research projects, and collaborating with peers on group projects, you can give your students ownership over their own education while still providing guidance when needed. With these strategies for self-directed learning in mind, you can help your middle schoolers master course content in a meaningful way!


I am creating this site to advance student creativity and help students to take ownership of their learning. The resources on this site are intentionally open-ended and a part of my Innovative Arts curriculum.

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