Independent Learning

KEEP CALM 3INDEPENDENT LEARNING…hmmmm sounds great in practice. But what about all of these exams students have to sit? What about these targets I have to help students to meet? Surely there’s a inherent conflict in pursuing a strategy of independent learning and the far narrower requirement for students to transmit their learning in an examination?

dont go back

I have recently finished reading a very interesting book entitled ‘Don’t Go Back To School’ by Kio Stark.

The central premise developed by the author is that today’s education system is not designed to teach young people how to learn and is far more concerned with jamming their heads full of facts, figures and knowledge that can then be regurgitated at the appropriate time. Whilst this may provide students with a set of qualification certificates it does not provide them with something far more valuable – a set of skills that allow them to learn and acquire new skills in the future.

Knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do

independenceAs I read the authors words I realised their relevance. I consider myself to be pretty good at learning things. I have an inquisitive mind and also possess the skills to be able to find out new information. I also realised that I possess something much more valuable – resilience. If I don’t quite understand something I will stick at it and find a way to make sure that I do. I then realised that I only developed these skills in adulthood. Upon leaving school and, to a lesser extent, through my time at university I was pretty inconsistent in my approach to learning. It would seem that I had to actually leave education in order to learn how to learn! I’m certain many reading this will have had a similar experience. Most of us spend out lives refining our own learning processes through a kind of ‘trail-and-error’ process – what works for us we continue to use and what doesn’t work we discard. But is there anything we can do as teachers to speed this process along? How can we help you people to develop more effective learning skills and a degree of resilience that will allow them to become effective lifelong learners?

It would seem that I actually had to leave education to learn how to learn

I have recently been thinking about independent learning strategies in preparation for a presentation I am due to deliver at a national subject conference. I have made a list of potential independent learning strategies for delegates to discuss and have included this list below.

Please feel free to add any strategies that you have employed successfully with your students

Silent lessons – divide them into groups and put all of the lesson instructions onto the board. Students have to follow the instructions and solve problems themselves

Silent debate – give each group/pair a large sheet of paper. Teacher poses a question and students have a written debate on the sheet of paper.

Fish Bowl – a small group of students demonstrates or explains something to a larger group of students

Think Aloud – students are grouped and given a piece of text alongside some questions. One student reads the text whilst the others stop them to discuss as the answers to the questions become apparent from the text

Group Presentations – ask students to conduct some research on a topic and then feed this back to the rest of the class by presenting their findings

Give them a choice – provide students with a choice about how or what they complete in a lesson.

Problem Based Learning – provide students with a problem to solve. Students work in groups to establish what they already know, what they need to know and how they will access this new information

Go beyond the classroom – develop a culture where students willingly engage with your subject outside of their lessons (in addition/conjunction with homework). This could be through the use of news articles, books, video clips etc…..

Learning Tokens – students are given 3 tokens at the start of each lesson. Each time they ask a their teacher a question they have to hand over one of their tokens

Students set lesson objectives– encourage students to set their own lesson objectives. If possible require them to use learning language (describe, analyse, evaluate). Give students a list of verbs, adjectives and key words as prompts

Reflective culture – develop a culture where students are encouraged to reflect on their learning throughout the lesson. Develop strategies to support this

Embrace social media – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, – amongst many others!

Use technology for collaboration –, Wikispaces, Go Animate, Wordle, Proboards, Popplet, your schools VLE

Peer and self-assessment –     enough said! But how do we make this more effective?

Students develop success criteria-  ask your students work as a group to develop a mark scheme for a question you have set

Think-Pair-Share – teacher poses a question, students think about the questions, pair up with a classmate to discuss and then share their discussion with the class

Critiquing – teacher poses an idea or an argument from a particular point of view. The class then work together to find flaws in the argument presented by the teacher

Carousel questions – place large pieces of sugar paper round the room each containing a question. Students divided into small groups and spend a few minutes at each question adding their own ideas to the piece of paper

Exam rubrics – develop students understanding of assessment criteria. What strategies can we employ to support students?

Videos – create your own videos for use as a learning aid. Make this available to students so that they may access these at their own convenience

Flipped Classroom – deliver core content to students prior to the taught lesson. Students assimilate this content independently. This should allow the lesson focus to be switched towards the application and discussion of the content

Diagnostic assessments – students complete a self-diagnostic assessment of their progress. They can then develop their own learning plans to address areas of weakness

Writing mnemonics – develop class or individual writing mnemonics. These can then be used by students when self or peer assessing work. Particularly powerful if students develop their own versions

Group Research Project – students work collaboratively to research a topic and then present their findings to the rest of the class

Reflective Journal – encourage students to keep a record of what they have learnt this week in your lessons. Students could set up a blog to record this information

Students write starters – as a plenary get students to create a starter based on that lessons learning that could be used to recap next lesson

Slow writing – ask students to pause every few minutes (time set at your discretion) and review what they have just written, making an necessary corrections and adjustments


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