Student centred or Independent learning

One of the areas I have been exploring for the last three years is student centred learning aka independent learning.  I undertook PD sessions with an expert brought in by our VP Mark Quigley and have tried to build up resources to create student stations around the room.  Time pressures have meant that I have not developed the resources needed or redesigned units of work to incorporate this approach, which I saw as rotational, with students choosing what area they would focus on according to their needs or interests.  I had envisaged a games area, a grammar area, a vocabulary area, a listening area and a reading area.

Recently, I discovered that this approach may never have eventuated due to its size – it was just overwhelming to come up with the required resources for a year.  On impulse, with a small Year 10 class I asked students if they were interested in tackling a unit of work independently. They were keen, so I provided the resources and away they went.  The first part went well, but towards the end of two weeks, i.e. 8 lessons, it was obvious that students needed more structure.  Positives were that students were totally engaged, felt in control, enjoyed the learning and were able to take the time they needed to attain mastery of each small area.  Negatives were that some students lacked time management skills and so did not use the time effectively; some students used all the time in just learning vocabulary; some of the grammar areas were not covered as students saw them as optional; final product was a little uneven, although ultimately quite acceptable in terms of output.

Student feedback on their blogs was awesome.  They recognized the pitfalls, acknowledged the empowerment, asked for more, and highlighted the need for more direction and checkpoints.  I am trialing the second unit of student centered learning this term and will be interested to see if I have addressed the problems.  In fact, I will probably engage this small and able group in the final planning stage of the unit to better address the problems in the first unit. Update at end of term!

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