Monday, 15 October 2012

Secret Independent Thinkers

One of the biggest questions that seems to face modern teaching is how we can encourage students to be more independent in their learning.

I remember, once, very smugly talking to my brother about college and the expectations my tutors held in me. He had been ill and was telling me how his teacher hadn't remembered to collect in his homework, which he hadn't completed. I, being all 'I'm 16 and doing AS levels and know everything', told him that he should have gone out of his way to make sure it was done and handed in. He was a bit cross with me and, on reflection, probably rightly so, but still, he wasn't showing independence in his studies and nor are my students.

Last academic year, I was only teaching KS3 and it worked well because they're still quite malleable. Lots of my lessons are now geared up with a focus to develop independent learning and group work and whilst students are in the lower school, it's still reasonably easy to help them form good learning habits. At least, it is, once they're past the incessantly, irritatingly needy stage the Year 7s are currently in anyway..!

However, I realised today that my Year 10s are not going to be quite so easy.

This week, they're sitting their first controlled assessment, discussing the play Whose Life Is It Anyway by Brian Clark. We've spent six weeks studying this play, during which time I have built in independence-encouraging activities to every lesson. They haven't always been quite as enthusiastic as my younger students but I had hoped that their engagement with the text was one based on their independent exploration of it. Alas, I was wrong.

Today, they were supposed to be planning their essay for the assessment. Put simply, they couldn't do it. I should clarify that they are one of the top sets in the year and their understanding of the play, its characters, and the question is excellent. They have understood everything through our study of it. The question is a broad, excellent topic which gives them the opportunity to really go into detail. In short, it is an easy question, in my opinion. And not just because I'm an English teacher... (which is what they claimed when I was a bit exasperated earlier).

So the question is: how can I encourage them to be more independent?

I had intended to try and answer this question here but since it's been about 20 minutes since I typed the last sentence, it seems clear that I won't be doing that. Arguably, if I was able to answer it then I should probably avoid publishing it on the internet and begin talks with the TES for quite a lucrative publishing career. However, tomorrow, I will endeavour to build their independence and I shall report back then. Wish me luck... *whispers* I'm going to need it!!

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