Carnegie Mellon University

Director’s Corner: Self-Directed, Engaged Learning

The final skill on Ellen Galinsky’s list of “seven essential life skills every child needs” (Mind in the Making, 2010) is self-directed, engaged learning. All of parents’ and teachers’ educational efforts are geared toward children becoming motivated, lifelong learners who have mastered the other six life skills that support effective learning (focus and self-control, perspective taking, communicating, making connections, critical thinking, and taking on challenges).

Galinsky offers seven principles necessary for self-directed, engaged learning, each of which both parents and teachers can intentionally foster and collaboratively support.

In the context of environments where young children experience safety, security, and appropriate structure, they are highly motivated to imitate adults and learn from their conversations, both of which accelerate their learning.

  • Children are most engaged and self-directed when they are encouraged to identify goals that are meaningful to them and then to plan ways to meet those goals via exploration and discovery.
  • Children cannot learn without remembering, and memory is best when young children have multiple direct experiences with concepts, both in verbal and visual forms, in real-world contexts.
  • Memory, language, and understanding all benefit from adult support to elaborate and extend children’s experiences in ways that challenge them to appropriately stretch their capabilities.
  • Long-term retention and application of what children learn depends on their practicing and explaining new concepts and skills in ways that help them consolidate and generalize them.
  • In order to focus their learning, children need clear expectations, guidance in utilizing their strengths to improve weaknesses, and affirmation for effort rather than innate intelligence.
  • Finally, children learn best from parents and teachers who are themselves learning more about children and about learning, from adults who are practicing what they are preaching, and from leaders who involve children in contributing to the learning community from the beginning.

may-19-directors-corner.jpgAs we prepare to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Day, I share my gratitude for the amazing team of lifelong learners who create the warm and caring learning environment that we offer to researchers, university students, children, families, practicing and pre-service teachers. I appreciate the opportunity to share the learning journey with you all, value the ways that you support and challenge my learning, and eagerly anticipate the new adventures ahead.

Though the school year ends for our students in mid-May, our educators have 9 days of professional development time to reflect on their progress and document their program characteristics according to the NAEYC standards of excellence, as well as explore the themes for the upcoming school year. The educators also begin working two weeks before the students return in the fall. We spend time in seminars targeted to areas flagged for improvement, in refresher courses related to health and safety, and in collaborative groups planning thematic units and other program enhancements. The summer months offer the opportunity for both educators and parents to read more about children’s development, perhaps starting with Mind in the Making. Feel free to share interesting resources with me as you discover them!