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!

Independent Learning a Y10 Experiment

I have wanted to establish more independent learning pathways in my courses for years, but always envisaged it would need an enormous amount of time to create resources.  Some units and Task Based Learning I have undertaken has approached this, for example asking Y9s to collect pictures of themselves showing different moods and label these in Spanish to use with estar, or collecting sports vocabulary, making an animal documentary or a Spanish calendar.  However, these were one off activities rather than a whole unit of work.  I had plans for stations, have collected furniture to facilitate this idea of reading and listening stations etc. but somehow, it never actually happened.

This year, having prepared a mix of online and paper resources for a small Y10 class, I decided to ask them how they would like to approach the topic.  It is a very small class of only 10-12 students (some are often absent or on exchange) so it was easier to take the plunge and think of managing stations and producing multiple resources.  The response from students was unequivocal.  I presented them with the prepared resources and they took off.  The only thing I then did was establish that they had a goal sheet up on their blog, and the time and reminders to set a goal and reflect on their progress each class.

I then created a unit plan with two objectives for students – a written description of their house and room and an interview, both to be posted to their blog – and specific grammar (estar, prepositions of place, demonstrative and possessive adjectives) and vocabulary (furniture and rooms, adjectives to describe both)  I also separated out the city component of this unit, to cover as teacher directed, so I could ensure that students had a comprehensive understanding of the grammar I had asked them to cover.

Currently students are really focused on their individual tasks.  The weakest students are mastering material really well, as they are working at their own pace and can select from online resources.Mid range students are also showing greater confidence as they have time to consolidate what they don’t know, instead of moving at the teacher’s pace which is often too fast for them to feel they actually know vocabulary thoroughly.  Strangely enough it is the strongest students who have made least progress, I feel, as at least one is not strongly self directed,  and the others seem less willing to push themselves without a teacher challenging them.  Very interesting.

Overall, this step has encouraged me to introduce units to my Year 9 students, who immediately took off, with some students racing ahead, and others needing help to complete the first pages.  An excellent tool for differentiation, but one which I had previously only used with senior classes.

TAI template for this inquiry coming.

Y11 Spanish 2014 Data Reflection

Y11 Spanish 2014 TAI report to M.Quigley Associate Principal, OC

What did you do that was different? Focus on digital teaching differences.

Hadn’t taught this year level for 2-3 years. Introduced blogs for publication of drafts and final written texts & conversation videos for internal assessment portfolios.

Used Language Perfect for vocabulary learning, focused on verbs

Used topic and task based teaching to cover grammar and language – students then wrote or conversed about the topic.

Taught some grammar more incidentally than directly  eg periphrasal verbs

What happened as a result?

Results: increased percentages at NA/A level but also increased percentages at M/E level when compared with 2013/2012.  Important to bear in mind that our numbers are so low that statistical percentages don’t really tell us much, for instance 3 students who did not submit sufficient work received NA for 90910, Interact, giving a 20% NA rating for this standard. Ethnicity has little impact with one student identifying as Asian, and gender no impact with 1 student identifying as male.

National statistics comparison:

  No Students NA A M E
National 2014 8.1% 27.5% 32.5% 31.8%
Decile 9 2014 6.4% 22.7% 31.2% 39.7%
OC 2014 15 15.6% 18.8% 29.7% 35.9%
2013 13 3.7% 40.7% 31.5% 24.1%
2012 13 2.1% 29.2% 52.1% 16.7%


Student voice was positive regarding Language Perfect as an online vocabulary learning platform; overwhelmingly negative on blogs for publication. Students find them unrewarding in general.

Where to next?

Continue to use Language Perfect as a focus for Languages dept TAI this year, but extend this tool with weekly tests based on vocabulary lists created by individual teachers which concentrate on specific groupings and sets covered in classwork. Test results data provided by LP analysed to determine effectiveness in terms of vocabulary acquisition and retention.  This should feed into better results in external examinations involving listening and reading.

Introduce Cuaderno de vocabulario to support and extend LP learning/classwork with vocabulary.


Continue to use blogs, but link these externally to other Spanish classes – Cynthia Voigt and Sharon Birch’s classes in US, Farmlands School in Chile and Colegio Anunciata in Leon, Spain to share other student’s learning. This year we have been invited to participate in a video exchange with colegio Anunciata.

Increase focus on blog itself as a webpage showcase not just a medium for submission. Introduce more reflection on blogs or using survey apps at the end of each task. Picked up on idea of asking two students to record their thoughts on a unit/task/activity on my iphone to get more student feedback on vocabulary learning.

Reflecting on BYoD Teaching 2015 Term 1

Teaching with BYoD  Beginning 2015


Aspect of teaching with BYoD Description of where I’m at now Description of where to now for me specifically

Are available to students and parents online (Ultranet).

All resources available on Ultranet for all Spanish courses.

Planning documentation on T drive for management or staff use.

Refining use of Ultranet and augmenting with Google Drive and blog.

Providing course time of 1-2 classes to introduce each course to their Ultranet locations and resources using an appropriate activity.

Learning Activities.

(Where are you on SAMR?)

Redefinition – courses are ebased, with some use of paper for cognitive learning through motor skills (cultural maps)

Students increasingly use online sites for listening and grammar exercises as I find these. Moving away from teacher delivery of powerpoints to making these and other online resources readily available for student use.

Innovate to overcome student resistance to independent learning activities. Provide scaffolding but insist on completion.

Try more flipped classroom – students are catching on to this idea as other teachers use it.

Plan and introduce tasks from beginning of course which force students to use the resources provided to complete them.


Your role in the classroom.

Are you finding yourself free to move about the room working with students?

(Not a serious suggestion: Could you survive without your teacher desk?)

Only part of the time. Continue to develop more TBL activities and include pretests and post tests so students can assess their own learning from the task.
Student Work

What sort of ‘artefacts’ are your students producing in their learning?  Word docs, PowerPoints, Movies, Blog etc.

Recordings with phones and cameras. Documentaries, infographs, pamphlets, powerpoints, prezis, blogs for publishing, vokis, animotos.

Cultual maps and calendars, alebrijes and Calaveras, masks and piñatas, food.

Move from physical production of calendar to eCalendar? Perhaps discuss this with students or present it as an option – some people prefer a physical artefact of learning and there is evidence suggesting that hand produced work is better retained in working memory. (Visible Learning, Hattie)



Are your students given opportunity to:

•     work at their own rate (with pressure from you)?

•     choose (within your guidelines) specific material / context / pathway to follow in order to achieve Success Criteria?

•     choose (within your guidelines) on how to present/share their work?

Most language assessments and activities present students with a matrix of assessment and presentation options. Students work at their own rate, but deadlines still need to be met, which often have to be flexible as student rates are usually slower than required. Differentiation through content – stations and activities present for students in particular at senior level to work at what interests them within a specific topic.

This requires a significant effort and time to produce the required range of resources and plan setup which has not yet been available to me due to increased administrative, appraisal, and departmental demands.

Student Collaboration.

Are the students given the opportunity to collaborate in a structured way?

Yes, students often work in groups or pairs to complete activities or produce work.

However, I have found that students are now partitioning out portions of the work, and therefore not learning anything beyond their small part. While this may mimic workplace situations, the lack of comprehensive learning of a topic is marked.

Some attempts at collaborative work eg Jigsaw, have been disastrous. They need a lot of thought to work successfully.


Design collaborative projects that require whole group learning. Continue to try Jigsaw methods.

Learning Intentions and Success Criteria.

How are your students reflecting on their learning, level of thinking and setting goals when they are working independently.

I found in past years that too much focus on reflection both lost time on content and altered focus on L2 acquisition, as it has to be done in L1.


Class and Individual SC are clearly reviewed in class openings, as they are written in Spanish and students must interpret these. This provides time for students to internalize class goals.


Reflective learning pathways are provided in assessment documents for students to complete.

Continue to ask students to verbalize personal goals during class intros and reflect on these during plenary.
Term 2

What can you trial in term 2?

What activity will students engage in?

What specific technology will support this? (Book Creator, WordPress, iMovie…)

Teaching language (grammar and vocab) through culture – focus on Spain at two levels simultaneously. Supported  by online games to learn autonomias, online resources to create cultural maps, and create infographs and advertisements about regions of Spain and NZ. (iMovie, Class Pinterest site, Youtube, infograph creator sites, Edublogs, Ultranet etc)