Saturday, 20 October 2012

Independent Learning: how I intend to achieve it.

As part of my ongoing professional development, and following on from an earlier post, I am determined to encourage independence in my students.

In the end, my Year 10 class showed themselves to be capable of writing their controlled assessments without too much flapping. However, I had to give them the basic tools to encourage their slight increase in independence. Arguably, as teachers, that is what we ought to be doing. I feel like I want to 'set them free' more though. So, I've set about doing some research of methods which can help to promote further independence in students. Since we have one more week of 'The Half Term That WILL NEVER END', I'm going to use this week to put them into practice and see how it affects the kids.

Group Work

I already use a lot of group work in most of my lessons. Last year, I spent a lot of time conducting my lessons by asking direct questions and getting the response from the same seven or eight kids in the class. After Ofsted visited us and said I was doing too much talking (moi?!), I realised that I had to shift my game plan. Now, my lessons revolve around the students having a set length of time to discuss their ideas and answers to a question, followed by feedback from each group. I usually record their answers on the board and get the kids to copy it down into their books. So, in the end, it feels like a team effort, led by the kids. It also enables me to see exactly who gets it and who doesn't, and allows me to ask harder questions to the brighter kids.


Looking around, many sites and experts suggest giving students a choice of activities. Up until now, I've done things such as give them sentence starters for PEE paragraphs and said that if they feel capable of not using them, then don't. Or, I've said that those aiming for the higher level should attempt it on their own etc. But, what I've never done is give them a choice of 'Activity A' or 'Activity B.' It would promote independence, allow them to take responsibility for their learning, and would open up opportunities for 'Ask the Expert' type activities. However, the immediate problem I see with it is how to assess it; whilst one class is reviewing one activity, what are the others doing? Perhaps it should involve some sort of swap over/peer assessment work. Some sites suggest doing it as homework. I think I'll try it in class first and then with homework next half term, now that my department have scrapped the irrelevant IET booklets.

Learning Goals

We spend so much time setting targets for students - levels, grades, AFs - but how can students really attain independence if they aren't setting their own goals? When I set myself goals, if I don't achieve them, I feel like I'm letting myself down. If someone else tells me what they want me to do, I feel significantly less attached to them and a lot less motivated. It's like that great feeling you have when you achieve something for yourself, by yourself. So, why do we take that away from the kids? This week, I'm going to spend time with all of my classes and allow them to create their own targets. We had book monitoring this week and the feedback I had said that I need to let the kids have time to respond to my feedback because I'm putting in a load of work and it ends up being ignored. So, my plan is to let them have ten minutes to go through and review my feedback and then spend some time setting their own goals. We can have review lessons every few weeks.

Self Learning Facility

An interesting idea which I read on one website is the idea of having a 'Self Learning Facility' which is a space full of resources, activities, quizzes and ideas for students to access and/or add to. The idea being that as students become more self-aware as learners, they will recognise their weak areas and by accessing a store of extra resources, they can actively work to improve their skills in their own time, or, if they complete an activity faster than their peers during lessons. This will take quite a lot of time to develop and implement. I'm thinking it could work by dividing resources up between AFs and then encouraging the kids to develop their skills, based on their learning goals. This facility could even take up part of the learning goals lessons - I can't think of a better way to encourage students to immediately engage with their goals and to also maintain the independent feel of a lesson. Again, the only issue would be assessing their progress. Short of giving myself hours upon hours of disjointed extra marking, it would need to be peer or self-assessment again.

In short, all of these things would need to be practised, trialed, and adapted. It's not going to be a quick fix solution, but rather something which will take a lot of time and effort. I'm excited though and, with Ofsted due back in January, it gives me a couple of months to get started. Game on!

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