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Independent learning in practice - it’s all about brave choices

The term ‘independent learning’ is often used to describe a critical skill for learners to master and an essential element of highly competent teaching practice. But, for a learner to be truly independent, they need to do more than simply receive a task and complete it under their own steam. Independent learning also requires the learner to evaluate the methods available for completing the task and choose the one they feel is most appropriate for their needs. Amongst these methods might be collaboration with others, or the assessment of another’s work and the provision of feedback. None of which are traditionally associated with learners working independently. The need for pupils to develop this type of decision-making in their learning is highlighted by an excellent article released this week by Lord Jim Knight MP  ("Lord Jim Knight: Schools Need to Embrace Google and China." The Memo RSS2. N.p., 09 May 2016. Web. 11 May 2016.)

From the teacher, pupils require a range of methods from which to choose in order to develop independence in their achievements. The conditions need to be set so that pupils can meet a decision point then make an informed decision about which is the right method to choose in order to solve their next problem. Ideally, the method they choose should either suit or challenge their own strengths in how they learn. This type of independent learning requires pupils to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses in how they learn and has its roots in the theory of ‘self-efficacy’, more commonly referred to in practice as ‘self-directed learning’. At the decision point, if pupils can also be encouraged to choose a method that they find more challenging, the teacher can then really start building reflection and resilience into their delivery. However, problems can be encountered when a teacher is faced with trying to make independence happen in a lesson with a mixed ability class and the time constraint of a single lesson.

At 9ine this week, we have been working with teachers to support self-directed learning in the classroom. In a particular lesson, pupils demonstrated this by using a blend of shared laptops, whiteboards, paper-based reference materials and class experts. The class was arranged into ‘stations’ and each student was given a differentiated outcome to achieve for the new topic, based on their ability. They were challenged to use the medium at each station that they would not usually select then check their own understanding by switching to their preferred medium at a different station. Each pupil then made a note of the difference in their learning experience, as well as the areas where they were strongest and weakest with the new topic. The outcome was a room full of pupils who had all moved forward in their understanding of the subject matter and reflected upon the impact of the decisions they’d made about how they would learn best in that lesson.

If you’d like to try this in your own school, or are interested in hearing more about how 9ine integrate pedagogy and technology, please book a free consultation with one of our Consultants below: