Session 67: Can we really help our students to become independent learners or are there too many constraints?

Session Title:

Can we really help our students to become independent learners or are there too many constraints?

Session Summary:

Clearly a popular topic, a number of people were chomping at the bit to get the discussion under way this week. When proceedings did begin, the focus of the discussion explored what is meant by ‘Independent Learning’. While there was some debate as to whether ‘Personalised Learning’ and ‘Independent Learning’ were synonymous, most people felt that ‘Independent Learning’ had more to do with the learner taking ownership of their learning rather than learning being tailored towards different learner needs. This was quickly followed by a brief consideration of the skills and attributes required to be an effective independent learner. Out of this initial phase of the discussion there were several common threads:
– Teachers need to take a step back and allow learners to to learn for themselves
– That there is too much spoon-feeding particularly at KS3/4
– That to be an effective independent learner students need to know what they are learning and how to learn it
– And that for learning to be genuinely independent there needs to be ‘choice’ available to the students.

Following on from this, the bulk of the evening’s discussion pivoted around the barriers faced by both learners and educators in fostering IL in the classroom. Many people acknowledged that the pressures of exams, grades, parents and a pre-defined curriculum all got in the way of independent learning. This resulted in considerable debate with a number of strong voices advocating the need for teachers to be brave; ready to take risks. It was pointed out that it is easier to take risks and offer a more student centred approach where an IL philosophy was adopted across a whole school. It was also acknowledged that many students begin their educational journey as independent learners and that IL skills and attributes are eroded by the school system.

Another interesting caveat of the discussion considered whether teachers have the skills to help students become independent learners or is it the case that teachers are taught to ‘teach’ rather than ‘facilitate’ learning? This is a question that I feel warrants further debate. Reading back over this it could appear that this week’s #ukedchat was a negative affair. However, I don’t believe that it was. While there was some debate over the degree to which an IL approach is achievable, nearly everyone involved agreed on its value and importance. Moreover, there was a definite sense that independent learning was imperative in preparing students to become life-long learners.

Notable Tweets from the Session:

@Rblteach a colleague said today..’my students think I’m their wet nurse!’!

@jamesmichie Agreed. For me Independent Learning is learning that is self-directed.

@Ideas_Factory Independant learning is an open-ended question, a thunk, an investigation and a problem with no right or wrong answer.

@oliverquinlan Independent learning has to start with pupil choice. Learners finding and defining their own real problems.

@MattFothergill Independent learning is knowing what you’re learning and knowing/finding out what you need to do to get there

@MrWickensPE the ideal Independent learning lesson: the teacher guides, but does not interfere!

@ShaunGosney @jamesmichie i call it 3D – Discipline, desire, determination!

@oliverquinlan Teachers are scared- of not proving their worth and expertise- of not achieving the grades. If it is important we need to be brave

@futurebehaviour We could all promote independent learning by just shutting up a bit more.

@SurrealAnarchy @jamesmichie main constraints are students, parents, teachers and schools

@TeacherToolkit @jamesmichie teachers, style of teaching, project, classroom dynamics, behavior, expectations etc etc.

@Romaaddict @jamesmichie re constraints – grade obsessed teachers under pressure from grade obsessed paretns!

@UberProfessor independence comes when they begin to lead their own learning, and teachers are empowered and prepared to take risks.

@philallman1 As teachers we should be trying to do ourselves out of a job – THAT IS THE POINT!

@mberry @mister_jim so there’s a learned incompetence – children start off as independent learners and then we teach them out of it?

@cristinataboada @vickystrat1989 So agree with this. Teachers should lead the process of reflection and guide their learners into understanding it.

@heartofsol teachers need to be free to allow students to try things that may not be in the syllabus – and not be criticised if they do!

@joanne_rich do students want IL or o they just want to be told what they need to pass next exam?

@jamesmichie As a teacher u r a learner too. Model great independent learning to your students. Talk abt ur motivation.

@alexgingell @MrWickensPE @jamesmichie think it also requires a brave school

@richards_james don’t be afraid of asking the pupil what they like and how they like to learn and work around them be flexible/creative

Tweet/s of the Week:

[pullquote]Teach pupils how to think, not what to think[/pullquote]@theokk good q, learning’s a bit like hill walking, you climb to the top, then you see all the other summits you didn’t know were there

@SutchLord Teachers should be guide at the side not the sage on the stage

@ukedchat A great thing about IL is when pupils start teaching YOU because they’ve explored BEYOND your knowledge

@thingsbehindsun Teach pupils how to think, not what to think

@mister_jim Quote on my class wall “our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.”

Relevant WebLinks Highlighted During the Session:

@oliverquinlan How can we enable meaningful independent learning?- Relevant for tonight’s

@TeacherToolkit Some detail on #personalisedLearning by@NSCL

@LearningSpy This is my favourite film clip for motivating students to learn independently:

@sciteachcremin An example of IL? Pupils telling me how they are going to show their progress at end of topichttps://mrcremingcseblog.

@mister_jim Independent Learning: My class project day

About your Host:

James Michie is Leader for Media Studies and Key Stage 4 English at The Chalfonts Community College, located in Buckinghamshire, England. He has been teaching for nine years and is currently studying towards a Masters in Education. He writes a personal weblog ( about Education, Technology and Productivity and is an active member of the educational Twitter community.

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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

1 Comment

  1. “@oliverquinlan Teachers are scared- of not proving their worth and expertise- of not achieving the grades. If it is important we need to be brave”

    This person’s hit the nail on the head. Teachers take the flak for students performing poorly on tests, so they MUST teach students how to pass tests. They must stick to the curriculum and be sure to cover the course content. Teachers who receive performance-based pay would be reluctant to be facilitators.

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