Growing Self-Direction: A Scaffolding Model

How do we differentiate and scaffold self-directed learning?
How do we meet students where they are, yet, continuously stretch them to become more self-directed?

Empowering Boundaries
You know how you grow a plant. Growing self-direction is like that. At first, you need to plant the seeds in a container. The container provides structure to support the plant with enough freedom for it to grow. At first, it requires a small container to support it. As it grows taller and the roots spread, you need to move it to a larger container. If you do not, the plant will become overly constricted, stunting it’s growth.

Think of each event in the Learning Rhythm (an iterative learning process) as a container for a plant. It provides structure and feedback for students. Like a plant, you need to widen the boundaries of freedom, as the capacity for empowered learning grows. These containers are called empowering boundaries. Without the structure these boundaries give, the foundation will be too weak, and the intention of empowerment quickly breaks into disorder.

Stratified Self-Direction Model
The Stratified Self-Direction Model does this by assigning Levels of Empowerment for each event of the Learning Rhythm. These assignments are organized into a set of 4 scaffolded profiles, (A) Self-Execute, (B) Self-Administer, (C) Self-Regulate, and (D) Self-Direct. This provides clarity on who is doing what for each part of the learning cycle. It offers a much more granular and concrete approach to scaffolding self-direction.

Much like a potted plant is to support the growth of a plant, a goal of an Agile Classroom is to grow the capacity of students to be empowered. The Stratified Self-Direction model provides a roadmap to do this. It provides guard rails for your classroom, staying in the zone of challenge, yet avoiding chaos or overly constriction.

Differentiated Empowerment
The Stratified Self-Directedness Model is just a model. It helps to frame thinking about growing your classroom’s capacity to drive their own learning. It is not always your reality nor does it ask you to fit into these boxes. As George box said, “All models are wrong, but, some are useful”.

One way of differentiating the model to your context is to map your own empowerment levels to the events in the Learning Rhythm (an iterative self-directed learning process). We often use this as one of the first steps in helping teachers design their Agile Classroom.

Step 1: Lay Out the Learning Rhythm and the Empowerment Cards

Each event in the Learning Rhythm is a boundary to grow empowerment within.
You can do this on your own, with students, or with your fellow teachers.

Step 2: Set Initial Levels of Empowerment

Place the empowerment level to the event of the Learning Rhythm. Try to match the capacity of your students to the level of empowerment. I suggest you err on the side of more challenging, since the goal is to grow the capacity. You might be surprised of what they can really do.  In this example, the classroom is tipping their toes into the  Self-Monitoring level in the Stratified Self-Directedness model, differentiating the model to serve where they are.

Step 3: RightShift Empowerment

After the 1st iterations of the Learning Rhythm, inspect and adapt the empowerment levels. The goal is to shift empowerment and grow it, while, ensuring it is at the right level for your classroom. We call this Rightshifting. In this example, the classroom is ready to move up a level in some areas. In this example, the classroom is shifting into the Self-Regulate Level. It may have been the case that they actually decreased empowerment if they felt it was too overwhelming. Repeat this every few iterations.

The model combines several other models and theories.


  1. Ronald L on 08/21/2015 at 4:59 am

    You might want to explore the 4CID model by van Merrienboer too.
    More information here:

  2. Unknown on 11/19/2016 at 11:43 pm

    Nice one Ronald, thank for the link.

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