‘Most magnificent’

Self-directed learning and Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Teacher-librarian Kim Klein explains how Stamford American International School blends self-directed learning with UDL to structure student development while freeing up teachers’ time.

A lesson about perseverance

In her book, ‘The Most Magnificent Thing’, for three – seven year olds, award-winning author Ashley Spires tells the story of a young girl and her very best friend, a dog. The girl, who loves making things comes up with a wonderful idea to make ‘the most magnificent thing.’ After using her own initiative to try and fail time and time again, she gets so angry she wants to give up but her dog convinces her to take a break and then continue . . . and of course, this time round, her perseverance and creativity results in her getting it just right!

Click on the image to follow the link to Amazon.

Developing inner drive

At Stamford American International School Singapore, we love to see our students develop this inner drive to succeed and do this through a self-directed learning environment. It’s an environment where all our children, regardless of their level of development are given the tools, learning content and support so they can also use their perseverance, creativity and curiosity to achieve magnificent things!

We are a school of children from two months of age to 18 years old, and our vision is to inspire them to create their own unique future both academically and socially. We focus on pointing each of our students towards the best education pathway to help them to realize their academic ambitions. Over recent years this has been achieved by focusing on self-directed learning blended with UDL (Universal Design for Learning).

We all recognise that teaching isn’t just about the transfer of facts and information. The main mission of our educational system is to create thinking opportunities, develop students’ curiosity and enhance their social abilities. Ingenuity and courage are two of our school’s core values so we have been working to give our students the strategies to source the appropriate learning content to enjoy a more self-directed approach to learning; ultimately developing the children into autonomous learners and freeing up valuable teacher time.

Self-directed learning

Whatever the individual child’s educational needs, their preferred way of learning, or even what interests them, self-directed learning certainly offers them a broader range of opportunities to thrive. It is more than an approach to education. It teaches children life-long skills by giving them the autonomy to follow their own pathways to learning, and in turn we value, respect and build upon their individual interpretation of the information they find.

Preparing students to strategically use the Internet

One challenge with students, particularly younger ones, is balancing the desire to let their curiosity drive their exploration of information, with the fact that in addition to highly valuable content, the internet also contains a great deal of potentially dangerous misinformation and harmful content.

It is because of this that our library team started building a range of ‘pathfinders’: links to appropriate websites to direct students to a range of sources of credible content. A lot of this comes from Britannica School with its 130 thousand curriculum-aligned and fact checked articles, 60,000 images and video files; something we’ve used for the past 12 years.

By giving them access to all this information, we are opening up opportunities to explore learning from a wider angle, even taking into account perspectives that teachers may not have considered. Any topic introduced by the teacher can be explored to greater depth, and in a more meaningful way, through self-directed learning.

The additional beauty of giving the students access to curriculum aligned, trusted learning content is that it also frees up the teachers’ time.

Universal Design, SDL and language development

In blending our self-directed learning methodologies with UDL we are devloping more ‘rounded’ students using a really effective approach to pedagogy, offering real flexibility in the ways students access material. When setting up our pathfinder links, we paid particular attention to the different levels of each child’s development, providing our learners with multiple means of representation.

At Stamford we have a large number of students who are multilingual language learners, where English is their second language. What has been particularly powerful when we take into account UDL principles is that all articles and excerpts of information can be selected by a student at the appropriate level of language development. If the written information is a little hard for them to understand, they can access the same information at various levels of readability and font sizes or through videos or audio files. The teacher can also access any piece of information in English while the students can access it in their own traditional language.

The beauty of blending self-directed learning with UDL is that it gives everyone a starting point no matter where they are on their learning pathway. Like the unnamed girl and her ‘most magnificent thing’, once they’ve started, they can scaffold their learning and take it wherever they want to.

As a dynamic and progressive school this approach to learning has certainly resulted in our children developing more enquiring minds. Once the pathfinder links have been set up, our teachers are freed up to give the students the autonomy they love and pride that they experience from their accomplishments. This ‘thing’ is truly ‘most magnificent’!


An experienced teacher-librarian, Kim Klein joined Stamford American International School in 2009, when it first opened.

  • Starting out with one library and a collection of 1500 books, the school now has three libraries, seven library staff and a collection of over 60,000 volumes, which include both print and eBooks.



Feature Image by: niekverlaan on Pixabay

All support images kindly provided by Stamford American International School.