Dr. Sara Kleeman established and directed a resource center for assisting students in their academic and pedagogic tasks at Oranim Academic College of Education. Today she is consultant for international programs and pedagogic coordinator at The MOFET Institute in Israel.
The paper will present a case study that investigates the experience of student teachers who simultaneously experience the role of the learner, who requires self-direction, and the role of the teacher, who expands his tool kit so that his students will become self-directed learners.
The case study is based on an experiment conducted with students studying for a master’s degree in teaching the sciences. These students, who are also teachers, were offered a course whose content is about cultivating independent learners. There were several face-to-face sessions; however, most of the course was studied through distance education. The experimental program was based on a number of principles:
1. A self-directed learner. The working assumption while building this course was that an independent learner is a learner who is responsible for his own learning, aware of his ability and of the direction of his development, and is someone who acts independently, without relying on others. This is a self-directed learner who has the ability to be a self-regulated learner. Independent learning is an active process in which the leaner sets goals for himself and accordingly, directs and regulates himself in terms of motivation and behavior, as well as cognitively—all within a given learning environment.
2. The adult learner. The students in the course are experienced teachers. In adult learners, experience comprises a component of their identity. Ignoring this component means ignoring a rich learning resource.
3. Providing skills. A methodical process of providing skills includes a number of stages. Recognizing the skill, understanding the need for it, and practicing the skill under laboratory conditions are the first stages in this process. Without these preliminary steps, the learners will have difficulty reaching the stage of independent use of the skill they intended to acquire. Learning based on self-direction requires several abilities: command of the skills of setting goals, adopting appropriate strategies for achieving goals, supervision of the stages of progress, finding a suitable learning environment, effective time management, self-evaluation of the learning methods that were chosen, adopting suitable methods that will aid the learner in the future, and the ability to make a connection between cause and effect.
4. Personal experience. Teachers expect their students to demonstrate mastery of many fields of knowledge and multiple learning skills. If they themselves have not had the experience of self-directed learning, it will be difficult for them to construct a learning environment for their students which cultivates self-direction.
The experiment was carried out on 25 teachers who are graduate students in a program for teaching the sciences and mathematics. Within the framework of the experiment, they were given three face-to-face sessions of five hours each. Between the sessions and after them, the participants were given tasks. They were required to execute the tasks and in parallel, to document their work process. At the end of the process, each participant submitted a portfolio, which included all of the work he prepared after the correspondence process with the instructor, revision and correction, personal documentation of the process he underwent, and the reflections he wrote during the work process.
The documentation and reflections that the participants wrote were analyzed using categorical analysis. The participants’ statements were sorted into two main categories: statements relating to the perception of the student’s role and statements relating to the perception of the teacher’s role. In each group of categories, sub-categories were formulated.
In order to augment the findings, five participants were interviewed in a semi-structured interview.
Analysis of all the teachers’ statements (in the interview and texts they wrote) related to a theoretical perception of the concept of self-direction and in this context, to their experience both as teachers and as students. The analysis shows a gap between the recognition of the importance of self-direction in learning and its expression with regard to them as learners and teachers. From the analysis it emerges that most of the participants did not perceive the process of cultivating self-direction in their students as part of their role. Furthermore, the perception of their role as science and mathematics teachers in a high school also did not include working on learning skills. The course directed them to a different kind of encounter with their students, and in the process, they identified difficulty in their own self-direction in the learning process.
As learners, many of them reported an experience of a student who finds it difficult to plan the stages of his own learning and cannot successfully manage the tasks that he sets for himself, and who is dependent on the lecturer both in planning his paper and in evaluating his work. As teachers, they were required to plan for their students, a process in which students will develop the skills of independent learners. In this process, they included components which they found difficult to apply in their own learning process.