Back to Back Issues Page
Schools Of Conscience, Issue #003 -- IndieGoGo Campaign for Every Parent's Dilemma Book plus 4 Q&A
January 19, 2015

A Word From Don

I am thrilled to share with you the news that I will be launching an IndieGoGo Campaign to support my new book Every Parent's Dilemma: Why Do We Ignore Schools That Nurture Children? on January 21st, which is also my 47th birthday!!

In celebration of this momentous day I will be giving out free hugs from 1-2PM at Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland, teaching a free Motivation Hacks Workshop at the Lucky Horseshoe Lounge from 6:30-8PM, and then sharing good times in the lounge after that (wine is $1 off for my birthday!).

Schools of Conscience Newsletter Contents

A Word From Don

How to Help with the IndieGoGo Crowdfunding Campaign for the book Every Parent's Dilemma

Schools of Conscience Q&A

#1 Q: What are your thoughts on how children learn?

#2 Q: What if we taught in schools where students were allowed to program themselves like in college and more than one choice fulfilled their credit requirements?

#3 Q: How can I create my own curriculum for teaching myself?

#4 Q: What are some arguments for or against self directed learning as a teaching style?

Back to top link

How to Help with the IndieGoGo Campaign for the book Every Parent's Dilemma

  1. Watch the video- You can see it on YouTube until the campaign goes live:
  2. Contribute $$ to the campaign after it goes live on Wednesday, January 21st:

    I will be sending out a special annonuncement to let you know when the IndieGoGo Campaign has become live on Wednesday with the link to make contributing easy.

    I hope you will join in with over a dozen of my other friends who have already pledged to contribute on the first day of the campaign in order to give it a quick burst of early momentum.

    The goal is $3,800 and the pledges so far range from $10 up to $100.

  3. Share the campaign with home schoolers, teachers, school staff, and parents.

    I will also be sending out two issues of the newsletter during the campaign, around the middle and just before the end.

Back to top link

Schools of Conscience Q&A

#1 Q: What are your thoughts on how children learn?

There are three diverse ways children (we learn). Seeing (visual), hearing (auditory), and doing (kinesthetic).

I am a strong combination of two styles of learning however, I am able to add the other style as well. What are your thoughts on how children learn?

Do your children use a mixture of two or more of these learning styles?

Are assessments necessary? How important is it to use diverse assessments instead of just one?

What are your thoughts?
(Source: Group Discussion)

Kimberly V. Porter,
Chief Editor at eLATION magazine/ Author of Inspirations from the Heart

Don Berg's Answer (115 words):

I suggest you question the idea of "learning styles." Here is a very insightful, yet relatively concise, take on the idea by Harvard's Howard Gardner:

The foundation for effective and efficient learning is well-being, both physiological and psychological.

Providing support for the primary physiological needs for air, water, food, sleep, and shelter are obvious to most people.

Providing support for the primary psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness is not.

In fact, too many schools are hemmed in by policies that dictate or lead to practices that thwart or neglect the psychological needs.

I have a new book coming out soon that proposes a policy that can help change this unfortunate situation: Every Parent's Dilemma: Why Do We Ignore Schools That Nurture Children?

Back to top link

#2 Q: What if we taught in schools where students were allowed to program themselves like in college and more than one choice fulfilled their credit requirements?


Starr Sackstein,
Innovative educator, blogger and author

Don Berg's Answer (187 words):

There is a school here in Portland, Oregon, that operates like a community college for K-12.

I did research on the patterns of motivation there; a study that was published in the peer-reviewed journal Other Education in 2013.

What I found is that in contrast to all the studies of mainstream schools for the past thirty years showing declines in intrinsic motivation, this school maintains intrinsic motivation.

And this is particularly important because maintaining intrinsic motivation is created by supporting primary psychological needs.

We need more schools that provide that kind of support.

So I can say with complete confidence that if "students were allowed to program themselves like in college" it would be very good for everyone involved.

BTW, the school is called the Village Home Education Resource Center.

And I also studied the Village Free School, a democratic school, in the same study and found the same result.

There are also some studies of Edvisions Charter Schools and five democratic schools in Israel that show similar results.

These schools all operate in very different ways, but they all share the characteristic of facilitating self-directed learning.

Back to top link

#3Q: How can I create my own curriculum for teaching myself?



Don Berg's Answer (243 words):

I would suggest you focus on two things: cultivating passion and structuring your life to sustain the passions you cultivate.

Cultivating passion is critical because your motivation to learn will determine the quality of the results you achieve.

The process involves paying close attention to what interests and excites you.

As you follow-up on interests and exciting opportunities you will refine both your understanding and your approaches to developing more understanding.

In psychological terms this is the pursuit of autonomy.

Structuring your life to sustain your passions is important because you need support in order to achieve high levels of attainment.

As human beings we need others to contribute to our success. We support or undermine each other through economic arrangements, political organizations, and social norms.

Structuring your life to sustain your passions must take economic, political, and social factors into account.

In psychological terms this is the pursuit of relatedness.

The third psychological term that is crucial to creating your curriculum is the pursuit of competence.

This is where the other two come together.

Discerning your competence can only be done within the context of a community of practitioners of whatever discipline you are pursuing.

Another way of saying it is that this where you deepest passion meets the needs of the world.

You will discover the development of your own competence in that crucible.

Without knowing more about what it is you want to learn I can't offer more specific advice.

Back to top link

#4Q: What are some arguments for or against self directed learning as a teaching style?

One of my teachers believes that by letting her students do their own research during class time they will learn more than if she were to lecture.

I'm not convinced.

Feel free to quote any research you may find.


1st Answer by Martin van der Neut:

Education is most effective when an optimal learning environment is achieved.

How that comes to pass is less important. In other words, the teaching style is secondary to the learning process.

If a teacher can achieve an optimal learning environment by empowering his/her students and making the material more meaningful to them in the process, it can be very effective.

We know that kids are often bored at school and that the drop-out rate is dangerously high. The focus is too much on the (often poor) teaching style than on the learning process.

Don Berg's Answer (811 words):

Martin is correct to focus on learning and the environment as opposed to the particular strategies the teacher is employing.

However, that does not address important concerns that usually arise when self-directed learning is mentioned.

For instance, there is the concern that the students may not have the skills and attitudes necessary for self-direction, thus abandoning them to their own devices would be a recipe for failure.

This question was clearly addressed in a paper by Hyungshim Jang, Johnmarshall Reeve, & Edward Deci in the Journal of Educational Psychology in 2010.

They noted that autonomous self-direction is sometimes placed in opposition to teacher provided structure.

It is often assumed that either the teacher provides structure or the students self-direct; as if the two are mutually exclusive.

What they found was that the idea of mutual exclusion is wrong.

BOTH structure AND autonomy support are necessary.

Let me explain a little more about Self-Determination Theory (SDT) and how it can inform proper relationships between teachers and students.

Then I will finally answer your question directly.

First, SDT is a long standing tradition in psychology with decades of very productive research supporting its basic tenets and providing valuable insights into how to create the optimal learning environment that is crucial to student success.

One of the basic tenets is that human beings have three primary psychological needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy.

"Primary" means that these needs are on the same level as the physiological needs for air, water, food, sleep, and shelter.

They are not derived from any other needs, they are universal amongst humans, and they are not neutral in regards to well-being.

This means that autonomy is necessary to psychological well-being. What the research also found is that "autonomy" as a human need refers to the perception by the person, not to a set of circumstances in the environment.

In the context of education this means that both teachers and students need to perceive that they have autonomy in order to experience psychological well-being.

The research has also been clear that psychological well-being is necessary for optimally effective and efficient learning.

If autonomy is a perception instead of a circumstance, then what is a teacher to do?

The answer is that a teacher needs to provide autonomy support and avoid being controlling when conflicts with students arise.

Controlling behaviors are the literal opposite of autonomy supportive behaviors.

In the Reeve (2009) paper listed in the sources below you can read about the difference between controlling behaviors and autonomy supportive ones.

How does this enlighten us with regards to teaching and the proper role of structure in student success?

The key to understanding the mutually reinforcing roles of autonomy support and structure you have to realize that there is an important distinction between providing structure and being controlling.

The researchers were not interested in teacher's giving directions and then punishing disobedience which might be confused with providing structure.

To quote the paper, "Structure refers to the amount and clarity of information that teachers provide to students about expectations and ways of effectively achieving desired educational outcomes.

Its opposite is chaos in which teachers are confusing or contradictory, fail to communicate clear expectations and directions, and ask for outcomes without articulating the means to attain them.

Teacher-provided structure has been studied extensively within the classroom management literature as establishing order, introducing procedures, communicating policies about how to get things done (e.g., how to give completed work to the teacher), and minimizing misbehavior while encouraging engagement and achievement."

Notice that what the researchers mean by "structure" does not require what is popularly referred to as "discipline" with connotations of punishment, reward, and maintaining control of student behavior.

So now I will address your original question directly: the effectiveness of "letting her students do their own research during class time" is entirely dependent on how well she has structured that time.

If she has communicated effectively her expectations within the context of meaningful learning goals and knows that her students will respond to her encouragements of engagement and achievement, then she may be right.

If, on the other hand, she has not structured the time well, then she is wrong.

In the sources below I've included another research paper on the subject from the British Journal of Educational Psychology in 2009 which essentially found the same results.

And just one final note, I have entirely neglected to address the context of the school and how well she is supported in her autonomy as a teacher.

It turns out that those who do not have their autonomy supported do a poor job of supporting the autonomy of others.

So, additional factors to consider are the school climate, how the school has structured the time and space in which the class takes place, and what expectations from the school and/or district impinge on the self-directed learning.


Don Berg


Jang, H., Reeve, J., & Deci, E. L. (2010). Engaging students in learning activities: It is not autonomy support or structure but autonomy support and structure. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102, 588-600. DOI: 10.1037/a0019682

Reeve, J. (2009). Why teachers adopt a controlling motivating style toward students and how they can become more autonomy supportive. Educational Psychologist, 44(3), 159-175. DOI: 10.1080/00461520903028990

Sierens, E., Vansteenkiste, M., Goossens, L., Soenens, B., & Dochy, F. (2009). The synergistic relationship of perceived autonomy support and structure in the prediction of self-regulated learning. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 79, 57-68. DOI: 10.1348/000709908X304398

Back to top link
Back to Back Issues Page