Independent before learning?

The whole term ‘Independent Learning’ has always sounded exciting: the teacher stepping away, the students doing it all by themselves. I heard an anecdote about a teacher coming into a room and writing ‘Red’ on the board, and leaving the classroom, then the most incredible response occurred from the students in terms of what they produced from this single stimulus.

This intrigued me, but on closer consideration, students would surely have been taught the following beforehand: how to analyse language carefully; how to make links between images; how to write developed analysis; and a whole host of independent skills , to keep them focused whilst their teacher is out the room.

I fear this would have gone less well with my lower set Yr 10s and there may have been a different interpretation of the word ‘red’!

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Andy Tharby and Shaun Allison , in their book ‘Making every lesson Count’ talk about ‘independent learning often being misunderstood. Independence is a desirable outcome of teaching, not a teaching strategy in its own right.’ We cannot just set up an activity and hope that learning will just kind of happen for everyone. They need to be taught many elements first. We are also reminded that evolution has led us to learn more effectively from others, rather than on our own.

I don’t want to talk about what these elements are necessarily for establishing a climate for independent learning. Rather, I want to try and look at things we can encourage next year to ensure independent characteristics are nurtured in the first instance.

For me, Book/Brain/Buddy/Boss was a nice idea, but doesn’t really go far enough. What should you ask your buddy about? Should you only ask your buddy when you’re stuck? Nah! The best time to speak to him/her, in my opinion, is when neither of you are stuck, and you’re both firing with ideas! Magpie time !

Therefore we are going to look to trial the following next year. (I hope to have colourful, more exciting posters designed by September)

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Then get students to assess themselves at various points during the year to see whether they are developing their use of some of the elements.

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Hopefully we will be able to promote independent traits, and help our young people become better learners. Over the course of the year, I want to gather in some data on what I find so will share our findings.

This is not the finished article by any means, and I would welcome feedback/ideas for improvement/implementation.

Thanks for reading!

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