Session 45 – Thursday 12th May 2011

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Session Title:

How do we help children become truly independent learners? Is it really possible?

Summary of Session:

Well, it was certainly a fast and furious discussion this week. Lots of interest in the session was generated earlier in the week by a supportive report on The Guardian website and this was clearly evident as additional people joined in the ’fun’.
We started by discussing what we felt was meant by the term independent learners and almost immediately a number of contributors commented that pupils come to school with independence and that the current system can then stifle it. There was also the thought that independence was, possibly, the most desirable skill to develop; with collaboration and cooperation mentioned as more important qualities. In truth, as one contributor noted, a combination of all three is best.
There was much talk about continuous provision and child initiated learning at Foundation stage level and how this could be moved into Key stage 1, with a number of contributors feeling that the good groundwork seen at Early Years level needed to continue into further age groups. This has already happened in Wales with the implementation of the Foundation Phase, which encompasses pupils from three to seven years. It became apparent very quickly that there were many strategies being used by teachers in Key Stage 1 classrooms, and beyond, which borrowed or followed on from child initiated learning and were effective when used with older pupils. Techniques and strategies mentioned included allowing for thinking or reflection time, letting pupils decide what they wanted or needed to know, giving pupils different options for presenting their work and encouraging them to evaluate their own work and that of others. All of these suggestions were worthwhile and some teachers shared how they had implemented different ideas within their own classrooms.
It’s worth mentioning a couple of things that, it seems, everyone found essential when looking at building independent learners. First and foremost of these was that it is important for pupils to realise that failure, or making mistakes, is part of the learning process and nothing to be afraid or ashamed of. Secondly: we are all learners and it is as important for us to have an open mind as it is for the children we interact with. This led directly back to the initial point about teachers stifling pupils: with some contributors admitting that it can be very difficult to stand back sometimes.
Closing out the session it became clear that, while the process of developing independent learners differed from class to class and key stage to key stage, learning was a lifelong process and that pupils need the chance to discover in their own way. This may take a cultural shift in the way our curriculum develops which, we have to admit, is likely to take some time. But as long as this means progress then that has to be a good thing.

Eye-Catching Tweets from Session:

@hairysporran: we need to start showing pupils how to learn not what to learn the rest will follow – lots of staff at my school forget this

@ElKel99: @colport totally agree with that one, target led education doesn’t leave room for pupils to think for themselves

@mbrayford:  I would define independent does mean giving children options, tackling a task applying skills. Success and learning from failure

@jonburdon: Independent Learning means learning without a teacher. If we have failed to teach children to learn independently we have failed to teach them.

@ICTMagic: Must make sure independent learning is central throughout the whole school or there is a lot of things to un-teach.

@frogphilip: Independence is key to collaboration. You’ve got to have a sense of identity and purpose to collaborate effectively

@mummynotyummy:  A child can only organise and develop their own learning (ie independent learner) if their environment allows them to do so.

@wjputt:  Independent isn’t about learning alone – maybe it is about being self-motivated & not dependent..maybe

@hairysporran: Are some teachers afraid of independent learning because it means the teacher has less control of the classroom environment?

@rjpritchard: Independent learning  Discovering not regurgitating…. That has to be it in a nutshell

@stuckonhomework: when children start to learn independently they become more confident, and therefore enjoy the learning process more

@hairbyslice: Less teacher talk, More open questions. Children thinking, discussing and listening to each other

@rogerbilling: We also need to ask the children to be involved in curriculum planning, get their ideas and find out where to start.

Tweet of the Week:

@MrAColley: Model the fact that learning does not go from zero to perfect instantly. Don’t be afraid not to know the answer

Useful Links Highlighted During the Session:

Video clips were highlighted that are well worth watching: http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_the_child_driven_education.html
http://blog.ted.com/2011/03/09/lets-use-video-to-reinvent-education-salman-kh…

About you host:

I work in a large Welsh Primary school with pupils ageing from 4 to 11 years.  I love using technology to enhance learning and have a particular interest in creating an inclusive and inviting environment that all children can access and benefit from. I also enjoy creating digital art and run the educational resource site Communication 4 All in my spare time.

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