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Copyright 2006 Julie Shepherd Knapp
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Copyright 2006 Julie Shepherd Knapp.  All rights reserved.
about the book
The Homeschool Diner's Guide to
Self-Directed Learning:
Independent Research for Homeschoolers

by Julie Shepherd Knapp, copyright 2006

In Self-Directed Learning the individual homeschooled student has the
primary responsibility for planning, implementing, and even evaluating his
or her efforts.  At one end of the Self-Directed scale are the Unschoolers
(see the "
Unschooling / Self-Directed Learning" section) who promote a
child-initiated learning environment and place emphasis on the value of
learning thru everyday life experiences.   At the other end of the scale are
Independent Researchers who incorporate a more scholarly view of
self-learning, which often starts out with guided and structured
assignments from their parents.  As a student becomes more adept and
effective at independent learning, the parent provides less and less

Independent Research relies on investigative and analytical skills that are
developed thru hands-on practice in researching information, synthesizing
knowledge, and either expressing that knowledge in new ways or applying
that knowledge in a problem-solving manner.   When students conduct
their own research on a topic they learn where to find the information they
need, and to how to evaluate the quality of that information.  Along the
way, they develop an integrated knowledge base that can be applied to
future studies or projects.    Independent Research promotes skills
students need to become effective,  independent Life-Long Learners.  
Many Unschoolers will naturally become Independent Researchers.

The learning approach used by Independent Researchers is a great
choice for homeschool students who are already interested in learning
and are (by nature) motivated to learn about and explore new topics on
their own.  It may also be a good way to bring a bored or discouraged
student back into action - by assigning research on favorite topics or
investigations into real-world problems.  Most students require
considerable help and coaching with their first projects, but gradually gain
the skills and initiative needed for independent learning.      

This homeschool approach is a particularly good match for students with
goals that will require independent research in their higher education
and/or careers.  Students interested in law, political science, medical and
scientific research, journalism, writing, and technology will all benefit from
incorporating Independent Research into their homeschool curriculum.  

There is a lot of room for individual expression in Research-Based
Learning.  The end products don't have to be written reports - you can
encourage students to be creative and innovative.  Students can show
their new knowledge by creating video montages, power point
presentations, Letters to the Editor, poetry, dramatic readings, plays,
short stories, narration, 3-D models, maps, time lines, unit studies for
younger siblings, blogs, websites, or real-life demonstrations of new skills.

Parents who'd like to help their students to become more motivated and
self-directed in their learning can gradually incorporate Independent
Research learning experiences into their current homeschooling method.  
Following advice in the articles listed below, parents can guide and coach
their students thru the process and help them develop their confidence
and effectiveness at Independent Research.  Parents can lead their
students toward the ultimate goal - that their students will eagerly accept
the responsibility of their own education - the key to Life-Long Learning.   

Before you allow your students to conduct any unsupervised
Internet research -- please read this article!

"Caution:  The Internet is not Rated G"
by Julie Shepherd knapp

If you or your student would like to become more efficient at Internet
How to Search the World Wide Web is a nice online
Here is a special browser
KidsCD that you can put on computers used by
your children -- it is free to download and comes in three age levels

Here are some articles to help parents introduce Independent
Research to their students:

"Teaching Learners to be Self-Directed" by Gerald Growe - discusses how
to bring children thru stages of self-direction and end up with self-directed

"Motivating Students And Teaching Them to Motivate Themselves"
By Maurice Gibbons - how to motivate adolescents in a Self-Directed
Learning environment -


Here are some educational methods that encourage Independent
Research,  plus several free online resources for research projects.  Also
visit the "
Computer-Based Learning" section for other online resources.

A Thomas Jefferson Education - based on a book by Dr. Oliver Van
DeMille of George Wyth College, entitled, "A Thomas Jefferson Education:
Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century".  This approach
advocates a structured learning time that begins with math, ends with
reading/discussing/journaling about classic literature, and has lots of time
for "free study" in between.  It is opposed to the "conveyor-belt"
methodology used in public schools. The homeschool parent acts as
"mentor". The approach strives to create "the leaders of tomorrow" - it is
based on the education methods of George Wythe, who was teacher to
20 of the American Founding Fathers.  Good for self-directed learners
who can work independently.  Promotes depth and breadth of learning.
Purchase the book
here, or from the GWC Bookstore

Center for Integrated Curriculum - History-based, emphasizes
journaling of thoughts/lessons, a "holistic education" which promotes
"transdisciplinarity"and helps students to organize and make sense of
complex reality, offers student-ready activities and course materials for
adolescents (and others) designed to build cognitive skills and unique
analytical tools.   These skills and tools help students find the key
systemic relationships that can link all knowledge

TRISMS - Time-Related Integrated Studies for Mastering Skills - for
middle and high school students, can be student or parent-led, does not
include math, emphasizes critical thinking and analysis, provides structure
but gives student choices, good for multi-level learning or teaching, no
textbooks, emphasizes research skills, students create their own course
book, including a time line, biography questionnaires, worksheets, quizzes
and tests, quite a lot of writing, uses readily available real books (historical
fiction, and biographies) and movies, science does not include

Problem-Based Learning -  In "PBL" complex problems rooted in real
world situations are used to motivate students to conduct research and
learn about various interconnected topics.  The "problems" are developed
by the teacher and are deliberately "ill-structured" or incomplete, to
necessitate the need for student research and information gathering

PBL was originally designed for small groups of medical students working
as teams, but  the method has been used in traditional K - 12 settings,
and can be modified for use by one or more homeschool students.  In the
process of solving the posed problem, students learn to analyze issues,
identify and find needed information, pose and answer questions, share
their research findings, and formulate and evaluate possible solutions.  

The end goal can be a formal project (a model, demonstration, report, or
presentation) dictated by the teacher, or one decided upon with student
input (perhaps a "multimedia scrapbook', a treasure hunt, or a collage).  
Actually, the end goal of PBL may not be a project at all...  but simply a
means to encourage self-directed research-based learning which will lead
the student to further research on related topics.  

These websites explain PBL methodology and have sample Problems:
Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy
University of Delaware

WebQuests - A WebQuest is an inquiry-based learning activity that
leads students thru informational websites on the Internet.  The
WebQuest Model was developed in early 1995 at San Diego State
University by Bernie Dodge and Tom March, and their philosophy is
described here:   "
Some Thoughts About WebQuests" by Bernie

A well-designed WebQuest will expose students to new information,
extend their knowledge base, and, finally, allow them to analyze, transform
and demonstrate that knowledge.  WebQuests should be designed to use
a  student's time well, to focus on using information rather than looking for
it, and to support a student's development in the skills of analysis,
synthesis and evaluation.

Here are several WebQuest resources:

The WebQuest Page - a website by Berie Dodge, the creator of the  

WebQuest Portal by the San Diego State University - over 1500
WebQuests  for K - adult, search by grade level and subject area - the best 194 web quests gleaned from over
1500 found on the Internet

TechTrekers WebQuests - K-12 - hundreds of free ideas for
research-based learning using the Internet

"4 2 Explore" Thematic Pathfinder - a collection of "lists of 4" websites  
useful for exploring over 200 topics, great for creating your own unit
studies and webquests, arranged by subject area

Evaluating Information on the Internet -- can you trust the information
you read? This article has good tips for deciding

Hoax? Scholarly Research? Personal Opinion? You Decide! - a fun
10 minute exercise in objective consideration of the validity and accuracy
of Internet websites, created by the UCLA College Library

A good article by with examples of how to cite Internet resources -
Citing Web Sources MLA Style" by Robert Harris, Virtual Salt,  March
12, 2001

Literature-based WebQuests -- a nice listing from Eduscapes of online
webquests related to specific books, K - 12

Other Resources for Independent Research: - explanations of how various objects, and
processes,and concepts work -

IPL The Internet Public Library -- a free collection of links in a variety of
subject areas, this is a page dedicated to kids resources, they also have
links arranged by subject area, and links to free online books

MIT Open Courseware - free online course materials for actual MIT
classes (no credit given)

Open Educational Resources (OER) Commons -- free online courses
in all subject areas, K - adult - a search tool that helps you find free online expert
presentations and lectures

The Teaching Company - lecture courses available on DVD, video, and
audio tape, "great courses by great professors", all subject areas, some
items may be available thru your public library.

Wikipedia -- explore, research and actually contribute to the largest
reference website on the Internet

Connexions by Rice University  -  contains educational materials in all
subjects for all levels, from children to college students to professional.  
Information is organized in small modules that stand alone or can be  
easily connected into larger courses.  Connexions is an innovative
environment for collaboratively developing, freely sharing, and rapidly
publishing scholarly content on the Web.  All content is free.  

Colleges and Universities that Offer Free Courses Online (Oct 29,
2007) -- a nice compilation from

Check the
Homeschooling by Subject section of the Homeschool Diner
for more great resources for Self-Directed Learning in each subject area
"Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are
giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow
their own plants." --John Gardner  

"Education is about the only thing lying around loose in the world,
and it's about the only thing a fellow can have as much of
as he's willing to haul away."  -- George Lorimer

"Don't ask yourself what the world needs.  Ask what makes you come alive
and go do that, because what the world needs
is people who have come alive." --Howard Thurman