Developing Independent Learners

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January 28, 2012 by Doug Napolitano-Cremin

As part of the work I have been doing as part of my PLC group (see this previous post about PLC’s) I have been thinking a lot recently about different strategies that could be used to help pupils become better independent learners.

The PLC group began our work by discussing what was meant by ‘independent learning’. Could you be an independent learner whilst working in a group? Could you seek help from other people and still be learning independently?

Pupils’ ideas of ‘independent learning’ seemed to very negative. When pupils were involved in discussions about independent learning they saw it as a solitary experience where no help could be sought at all. These views caused the group some concern but were also a stimulus for thinking about what outcomes we wanted to achieve.

After some research we decided to split our PLC group in to two; one group would look at a language that could be developed and used school-wide. This language should facilitate discussion in lessons, and beyond, about the skills needed to be independent learners. Having a universal language to describe these skills should also enable pupils to recognise that these skills can be employed in any subject or any form of learning that they do. The second group would be looking at practical strategies that can be used in the classroom to develop pupils’ learning.

Our ‘language group’ came across Guy Claxton’s ‘Building Learning Power’ model. [more info about BLP can be found here]. We decided that this was a very easy, very succinct model that we would trial with some of our classes. So far, the 5 R’s (adapted from Claxton’s 4 R’s and sourced from Cramlington Learning Village) have been introduced to one class – my Year 8 Maths class. My Year 8’s and I worked together on a lesson designed to introduce them to what the 5R’s meant, and most pupils seemed to have grasped the concept very well. [The lesson we used can be found here] It is still very early days and I don’t really intend on being able to assess any form of impact, significant or otherwise, until the summer term.

Our strategies group have come up with a central theme of ‘C3B4ME’. My colleagues in this group felt that there needed to be a few simple strategies that pupils and teachers could start using in all of their lessons. The idea of ‘C3B4ME’ is one that is familiar to many teachers – pupils need to seek help from 3 pupils before they speak to the teacher. This idea ties in with the ‘Resourceful’ section of the 5R’s as pupils have to develop their ability to utilise the resources, including the people, around. My colleagues have added a few twists to the ‘C3B4ME’ idea that are going to be trialled:

  • One pupil in the class will be chosen by the teacher to wear the ‘C3B4ME’ badge. This pupil will have a ‘teacher’ role during the lesson and pupils can work with that pupil on particular problems they may have during the lesson.
  • An ‘Oracle’ will be present within the classroom. The Oracle will very simply be a box that contains resources that pupils can use to help them with whatever learning is developing within that lesson.

Pupils will also be signposted to other sources of help such as:

  • The people they are sat next to.
  • Another adult in the room (a T.A etc.).
  • Their planners – pupils’ planners have extensive fact sheets, key language sheets etc.
  • Displays in the room.
Since starting the work, our PLC group has now developed a third strand. Having recently discovered SOLO Taxonomy (see earlier post), I have been trying to recruit as many people as possible to the ‘SOLO Army’! I delivered a brief presentation to staff at the school about my SOLO work and since then have had a number of people seem keen to try to implement the taxonomy in their own lessons. My HoD has recently introduced the taxonomy to one of his KS3 classes and he is keen to see how SOLO can be used to develop independence in his pupils.
We have a long way to go with our work, but I feel that so far we are on the right track. There are a HUGE number of questions we still need to ask ourselves:
  • How exactly can we judge the progress pupils make in developing their independent learning skills?
  • Do we need a similar rewards system to Cramlington Learning Village and various other schools around the country that is focused on the R’s?
  • Will the strategies and Building Learning Power language described above work for all departments?
  • How will staff take to the idea of Building Learning Power and could it be implemented across the curriculum?

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