How to Use the Ask-Try-Do Framework for Self-Directed Learning

Nov 15, 2016

The Ask-Try-Do Framework involves three deceptively simple steps for dealing with challenges and change. Though I’d used this framework in my life prior to homeschooling, it became a critical tool for planning the transition from public school to homeschooling my son Dale.

The Ask-Try-Do Framework involves a commitment to three interrelated processes:

  1. Ask hard questions
  2. Try new things
  3. Do what matters

So how do you apply this framework? And when should you use it?

This framework, like the process of self-directed learning, is a cycle to be used again and again. You can use it to deepen learning in an area you are already familiar with, or to figure out how to approach a topic that is new or uncomfortable for you.

Following are two examples of how we used the Ask-Try-Do Framework when we began to homeschool in 2002, just after Dale completed the 5th grade.

Reclaiming the Joy of Writing

Do you know anyone who struggles with writing?

My son, during 5th grade: “I HATE WRITING!!!!”
My son, when we attempted writing at home in a school-like way: “I HATE WRITING!!!!!”

I was getting tired of the refrain; it was time to ask, try and do.

ASK: Question Purpose as well as Path

We asked the following questions:

  • What is most important to me about how my child learns to approach writing? What is the end goal?
  • Why do you think knowing how to write well is useful?
  • What ideas do you have to make writing easier and more fun?

After about ten minutes of brainstorming, Dale said:

“I want writing to be more fun. I want it to feel easy. I want to share my ideas. But when you and dad read my writing you always tell me everything that’s wrong. Then I feel like I can’t do anything right. I get frustrated when you don’t show me what to do to make my writing better.”

Ouch. He was right. We were still stuck in the school-like mindset that focusing on deficits would turn them into strengths. Not so.

TRY: Engage the Learner’s Ideas Whenever Possible

We asked Dale for his ideas. He wanted to:

  • Make a newspaper about what he’s learning each month that we both write.
  • Publish something a photo book or illustrated story with Dad’s photos.
  • Plan a writing camp like one he attended and write stories with other people.
  • Find people to give him feedback on his writing.

DO:  Decide on Details and Make a Plan to Follow Through

After our discussion we decided to:

  • Produce a monthly newsletter called the Creekside Courier.
  • Hold a week-long writer's camp in our backyard with interested friends.
  • Ask 3 friends with great writing skills to give Dale feedback on his writing.
  • Find a writing tutor, coach, or group.
  • Develop a system to use to improve our writing, even without a teacher.
  • Change our method for giving feedback. When reviewing a piece of writing we asked Dale what kind of feedback he wanted and then zipped our lips about anything else we saw.

We began separating the creating, editing, and skill building phases of writing. We paid attention to common mistakes, or skills he needed to develop, and worked on them at a different time. Most importantly, we paid attention to feelings. We wanted interactions to strengthen his sense of self just as much as his skills as a writer and independent learner.

2: Bringing Learning History Back to Life

One challenge you face when you homeschool is how to help your children learn topics or skills where you lack expertise. For me, this was world history.

We wanted Dale to understand history to help make sense of current events and have context for learning in other areas of life. We also knew history would be included in the annual exams Pierre and I had agreed that Dale would take.

Since history isn’t my strong suit, we began exploring history using a traditional curriculum.  Quickly we became frustrated, stressed, and bored. Here again we drew on the foundation of Ask-Try-Do and came up with a plan that worked for us.

ASK: Know Why Before You Choose How

Why is our approach not working and why?

  • My bad attitude about my lack of expertise.
  • I had not put much effort into choosing our curriculum and our resources weren’t making history come alive and deepening understanding or critical thinking.
  • Random activities were fun but didn’t feel meaningful.
  • Dale was missing interaction with other kids and an expert.

TRY: New Attitudes as well as Activities

We wanted to:

  • Adopt an attitude of enthusiasm for what I could learn with my child.
  • Do more research on evaluating resources and accessing primary documents.
  • Find a group or class working on history topics.
  • Plan a vacation to areas to study history where it happened.
  • Interview someone about their experience with the event/time period being studied.

DO: Decide and Commit

We decided to:

  • Enroll in a small homeschool history class recommended by a friend.
  • Research costs for travel, schedule vacation time with work, start a savings/earning plan for travel expenses, accept an airline rewards credit card offer to earn enough points for one free flight.
  • Invite our 90-year-old neighbor for tea and to ask if she would be willing to talk about her experiences in the Japanese internment camps during the 1940’s.

You can choose to use Ask-Try-Do for any topics that interest or concern you. I hope the three-step-framework will ease your path as you help your children become confident, happy, and successful lifelong learners.

Lisa Nalbone

Lisa loves learning. She unschooled her son, author & founder of Her LifeSPARKS Workbook has A-Z strategies and tips to make self-directed learning easy and fun.