Independent Learning By Lisa Holbrook
‘A lot of people never use their initiative because no one told them to’ Banksy
Independent learning is not a new thing, but in the days of league tables and deadlines it is hard to find time to allow students the opportunity to find things out for themselves. A strict scheme of work/medium term plan makes creativity and fun in the classroom seem a distant memory sometimes; but with this new focus on independence we can now facilitate our students’ abilities to learn, rather than just teach them.
A number of years ago I watched a video called ‘shift happens’, it highlighted how fast the world we are currently living in is changing; how quickly things become out dated; how standards are being raised due to worldwide competition. Giving our students the ability to learn allows them to step into the world, not only with of strong exam results, but with the ability to evolve and keep up with the ever changing pathways that will form in front of them.
Independent learning does not simply mean that students should learn alone, that the teacher sets a task and leaves the pupils to get on with it, the role of the teacher is still incredibly important in the enabling and supporting of the pupils. Tasks should encourage cognitive thinking such as problem solving, memory and attention; learning what went wrong is just as important as getting something right. What Independent Learning does mean is that a wider range of activities can be taking place in a classroom, rather than every student doing the same thing.
The ability for students to work independently takes time to develop, clear expectations must be set to guide them towards the end result. Teachers can facilitate learning through the surrendering of certain prerogatives.
My first experience of allowing pupils to work independently was to simply give them choice. The GCSE English exam requires pupils to study how an author presents a particular character in a novel, in the past I have made the decision which character should be studied as it allows me the opportunity to teach the pupils about the character in detail; for my class I decided that they should be allowed to choose their favorite character to write about. They would need to research the character, choose the chapters they wanted to include, after they had chosen and planned they created a presentation which was then given to a small group from the class allowing questions and ideas to be shared. The range of characters chosen was wonderful, small groups bonded and the final essays were incredibly strong due to the fact the pupils were writing about a character they liked and knew well. My guidelines were clear and targets and deadlines were adhered to, this allowed me time to sit down with individual pupils and help them to develop their research without telling them what to do; it also encouraged self/peer assessment.
The fact that I started small gave me the courage to try other topics with my class.
Ideas for introducing Independence into your classroom
Key questions to consider when planning a lesson:
- Do the pupils understand what it is they are being expected to learn?
- Is there a choice in how they learn?
- What decisions/choices do they have to make?
- What strategies are they developing?
- What research skills do they need?
- What are they accountable for? (Deadlines, responsibilities)
‘How’ questions are a great place to start as it encourages pupils to look at a process, taking a topic and converting it into a problem requires pupils to look for a solution.
- Avoid tightly planned lessons where there is no room for flexibilty
- Encourage questioning and dialogue
- Make success criteria clear so that pupils know what they need to do to achieve
- Exemplar work will help students understand what they need to do so they can just get on
- Chunk tasks and set clear deadlines
- Encourage students to evaluate
- Encourage students to share references, resources, ideas
- Encourage movement in the classroom- students can teach each other/ share their way of working
- Set collaborative/ project based home works
- Model your own learning process
- Encourage students to lead the learning