Sunday, September 20, 2015

Tools, Practices, + Structures, to Guide Self-Directed Learning

Want a community that embraces self-directed learning? These tools, practices, and structures are used to support such a community as part of The Agile Learning Model. They can be used anywhere and modified to best support learning in your environment.

To follow you will read about the following structures, tools, and practices:

  • Set-the-week Meeting
  • Offerings Board
  • Scrum
  • Morning Intentions / Stand-up Meeting
  • Spawn Points
  • Personal Kanban
  • Gratitude Circle / Community Rituals
  • Closing Meeting / Afternoon Reflections
  • Change-up meetings
  • Community Mastery Board (CMB)
  • GameShifting

Take a look. Think about what you like. Consider what may be successful to put in place where you work.

Set-the-week Meeting

Set-the-week is the first meeting of the week, which includes introducing and creating the schedule for any opportunities that week. If resource people are coming in to the school at a particular time to hold a class, it is important that this make it onto the schedule so other more flexible activities can be planned around the special offerings.  

This is also the time when we identify projects that are going to take multiple days to accomplish, and set weekly intentions. We might set time aside each day to work toward that goal. This is sometimes referred to as a “weekly sprint.” For example, the students may want to perform a play at the end of the week. At the set-the-week meeting, they might decide that every day at 10am, they will hold rehearsal until lunchtime. Milestones can be set so we can track progress toward the goal, ie. on Tuesday we will do blocking, by Thursday everyone must know their lines. At the end of the week, we assess the progress that was made and document it.  

Offerings Board

The Offerings Board lists available class offerings, opportunities, and resources. Facilitators, resource people in the community, and the children themselves can contribute offerings. A resource person in the community may offer to teach their craft or host a field trip to allow children to experience it. The offerings board may be its own board or integrated into the Set-the-Week board.
Set the week.jpg


A scrum is a period of about five to ten minutes before a group scheduling meeting in which people lay the groundwork for setting the schedule by coordinating individual or small-group connections. This prepares them to announce intentions and have working time slots for when the larger group scheduling is happening. Scrum is a good time to make requests of others pertaining to activities for the day. Scrum is usually noisy and a bit chaotic as everyone zips around quickly to prepare for the group meeting.  

Morning Intentions / Stand-up Meeting

The daily stand-up meetings happen in the morning and are conducted, not surprisingly, while participants stand.  Standing keeps the energy up at the beginning of the day and gets everyone in the mode to do. In this meeting, each group member states their intentions for the day and makes any requests for support they may need. A whole-group kanban board is often used at this meeting. This simple process takes only about ten to fifteen minutes, but serves an important purpose of starting each day with intention and accountability. By continually engaging in this practice, students are cultivating highly useful skills in time-management, teamwork, self-awareness and self-assessment.  

Spawn Points

Once an ALC grows beyond a handful of students, it becomes essential to break certain meetings into smaller groups for efficiency, and to maintain spaces where communication and sharing can be authentic. Spawn points are comprised of a group of 7 (+/- 2) students and one facilitator that gather in the morning and afternoon to encompass the morning and closing meeting patterns.
Spawn point meetings usually last 5-10 minutes.

This is a space for connections between facilitators and students to develop and where information is shared that can inform what kind of support students are needing. It’s best to have your full-time (lead) facilitators be responsible for holding spawn points (or at least consistently participating in them if students wind up taking over ownership over running them). This ensures that certain students aren’t falling through the cracks and that each of them feel heard, acknowledged and supported by the facilitators. Spawn point groupings can also support the documentation of work, in that, each spawn point has a leader whose role is to make sure Trello boards are updated.  

Personal Kanban

Kanban is Japanese for “card signal.”  A basic Kanban is divided into Backlog, Ready, Doing, and Done columns and utilizes sticky notes to populate the board with ideas, intentions, work in progress (WIP), and items that have been done. The Backlog consists of things students want to do, explore, or create.  On a daily basis, each person’s list of possibilities are evaluated, prioritized, visualized, and eventually pulled into the “Doing” column. The kanban board is a flexible tool that can be adjusted according to what works best for its user.

Two guidelines of Kanban are Visualize Your Work and Limit Your Work In Progress (WIP).  When we visualize our work, it creates a path for actually completing what we intend. It helps us to stay focused and creates accountability for ourselves. We limit our work in progress in order to deeply engage in what we are doing. Using the Kanban teaches us how to effectively prioritize and honor our time by making conscious choices about what we are engaging in.
Here is a simple sample Kanban board:  

Gratitude Circle / Community Rituals

Some ALCs have added a group ritual to end the day. The agreements and process around the ritual are iterated through the Change-UP meeting. One example of this type of ritual looks like this:
Each student and facilitator has their own candle. A different candle is selected each day and placed in the center of the circle. The student who’s candle is chosen gets to “hold the meeting”, which may mean they get to choose certain aspects of the process, structure, and desired outcome.

The ritual typically involves some period of silence, followed by sharing of gratitudes, acknowledgements, or general reflections. The ritual is designed to bring the whole group together and to give ourselves the power to write a positive record of the day, while overtime creating a positive culture that emphasizes joy, play, gratitude, and a healthy relationship to failure/success.

Closing Meeting / Afternoon Reflections

The learning cycle that begins with Morning Intentions comes full circle at the end of the day with a sit-down meeting for reflection. We take this time to ask, "Did we accomplish what we intended to?" If so, how? If not, why not? This creates space for daily reflection on individual and group productivity. This feedback cycle stimulates a growing sense of self-awareness in each learner, allowing them to move forward more powerfully.

Change-up meetings

Change-up meetings are attended by the whole community at a frequency determined by the individual community. They are characterized by the use of the Community Mastery Board to initiate, implement, and evaluate issues or problems that affect the community. Issues (called “awarenesses”) are brought up, solutions are brainstormed, and an action is decided upon (using “sense of the meeting”). This isn’t a time to flesh out all the reasons why a solution may be a good idea or not, just a quick brainstorm and a decision to try something for a week. It is suggested that any change-up meeting cover only a manageable number of awarenesses - three is a good rule of thumb.

Community Mastery Board (CMB)

A CMB is a tool by which culture is created.  It is divided into 4 columns: Awareness (community-wide problems that need resolution), Implementation (the decided-upon action for each awareness), Practicing (the changes we are currently practicing), and Mastery, which means the change has then become the new established norm, and a bit of culture has been created.
Keep meetings to less than 30 minutes (15-20 is ideal)
Limit your work in progress. Just like a personal workflow, a community can only implement so many new solutions or practices at once. Stay tuned in to what feels like a manageable number of new agreements to implement each cycle, and notice when too many agreements in the practicing column causes collective attention to those agreements to breakdown.

Find a way to make sure “mastered” agreements are visible to visitors and new students. Everyone in your ALC may know that you only eat in the food room because that practice made its way through your CMB months ago and has not come up since, but people entering your space for the first time won’t have a clue. Make sure you give newbies the information they need to operate effectively in your community.


GameShifting is a tool that allows a community to better facilitate meetings.  Part of its purpose is to make the implicit social rules explicit, and thus give permission to change them. It can help the group alter its dynamic so it can function more efficiently to accomplish different sorts of tasks. The fancy word for this is “polymorphism”: taking many forms. Groups often get stuck in singular patterns: the teacher is in charge, the boss must be pleased, tip toe around the executive secretary, some people talk and others listen. When groups get stuck in those patterns, creativity and the ability to adapt are impaired. While a singular existing pattern might be usable for one type of outcome, it limits the group to that one kind of outcome. Being able to intentionally change the patterns helps groups engage polymorphically: they can take many forms, and achieve many kinds of outcomes.

The GameShifting process takes the individual cycle of intention, creation, reflection, and applies it to group dynamics. Students learn how groups can rapidly change forms to accomplish different things, and can apply these skills to resolve conflicts and create and explore together.  

The GameShifting Board is a visual aid to assist in GameShifting. They are adaptable to many different kinds of groups and meetings.  A sample whiteboard is divided into categories like:
  • Mode
  • Interaction style
  • Body arrangement
  • Body energy
  • Roles
  • Start/End

A good example of what each category might mean is the Start/End section, which says Start: on time, threshold, attendance. A marker (a small magnet works well) is placed beside the convention we decide to follow, whether the meeting will start on time at 9am, or when we feel we have enough people to start, or when the required attendees show up.

If we decide to follow a different convention, we can move the marker. This helps make intentional culture, makes group dynamics smarter, and helps us alter the dynamics as needed. For example, are we jumping in, or are we raising our hands? The Gameshifting Board both asks and answers that question as we make use of it, and helps us be intentional about the dynamics we are working in.  

For more information about GameShifting, see

Learn more about Agile Learning at

What do you think? Have you tried any of these ideas? Are there some you want to incorporate into your environment? Do you have routines to share that support self-directed learning?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

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