Thursday, 13 October 2011

Independent Learning

This evening on #ukedchat, the discussion was about 'independent learning' or 'IL' and it's importance in the curriculum.

In my opinion IL is an umbrella title, one so multi-faceted that we probably need to invest a lot of time determining the rationale behind it.

One point that came across was from Miles Berry that Independent Learning is something innate, present from birth as a survival mechanism so teaching it is contradictory. This is something that I agree with and yet we are in a system that has institutionalised our lives to the point where children are taught out of this. They become so reliant on being told what, when and how to do things, that they forget what they are genetically programmed to do.

And there's my mistake. I'm talking about these children in the third person. The point is that we have all fallen into the habit of providing knowledge as teachers. There is no blame associated with this, we are as caught up in the status quo as they are. We know, however, that we need to change and this evening was so refreshing to be able to see so many educators out there are changing or challenging the regime.

Independent Learning Opportunities in my class.
In April of this year, I created a Project Day. I looked at the work that Oliver Quinlan had been doing, to great success, at Robin Hood Primary School with his Year 4 class. I liked the independence they showed and the desire to see things through.

I spoke to my class, explaining that they could do whatever they wanted to do as a project, providing that they could produce an end product - and by that I mean that they could reach their goal in a day.

I provided a Project booklet, as a guideline, (which once I find on disc I will upload) and explained that the children had to book adult help. My teaching assistant & I blocked out 20 minute sessions and left the blank paper on the wall.

Creative Commons LicenseMy Project Book by Jim Maloney is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

If they didn't plan for help, they wouldn't get it.

The result was that the children went away, thought about what they wanted to learn, planned a learning journey, resourced the project themselves, showed time management skills, identified areas where they needed support, problem solved, adapted, communicated but most importantly, learned. Not just about the project, but about themselves as learners. They identified skills they didn't think they had and fell short of things they took for granted.

Here are some photos of the kids in action and a link to their comments on last year's class blog.

One child chose to compose and perform his own song.

Cakes created in an Easter basket. They were good.

snake skin modelling

Art Attack style fish tank.

A model of the Windmill in Staining. Detailed down to the door colour

Working on each other's project, to help everyone to finish

A wooden model of the Empire State Building. Eventually!

Book about his pets

Stop Motion animation

Water scenes.


  1. This is great! I love that someone else inspired you and now you have inspired me, great sharing! My y6 class could do this and I think they would get loads out of the confidence building they would get as they succeeded entirely by themselves. Thanks for the example projects too. :)

  2. A simple, yet effective and empowering concept that has the pupils own interests & personalized learning needs at its core. Also demonstrates perfectly that if we can get outside our curriculum/scheme of work obsessed comfort zone as teachers and simply facilitate learning opportunities & contexts framed by the pupils themselves, then the learning experience is enriched beyond measure. This link will be circulated to all my staff as a 'must read'. This is something I would whole heartedly promote within my own school and beyond. Questions: it works fantastically well in a time-limited context as described. Could a similar approach work over a longer period or block of learning time? What are the potential obstacles, particularly with younger learners? Does it need to be dove-tailed with some sort of key skills framework to ensure some sort of progression in learning from one project to the next? How did the pupils target and measure their own learning within this project? Did they identify specific learning goals & skills that they would be developing as opposed to just the final outcome?

  3. Thanks for the comment.

    Before the Project Day, children were given a project planner (which I have on my old computer at school & will dig it out and put it on here on Monday) and we had 5 x 1 hour sessions for them to shape their ideas.

    I made them reflect on the day, looking at key skills that were cross curricular and they simply ticked the skill they felt was appropriate. They evaluated their learning against both the end product and their initial learning outcomes.

    The best thing about this was that the parents were heavily involved - by design - children were asked to talk to their parents about the ideas, research it together and support their child (without overdoing it).

    This was a test day, the hope was to then tie it into the curriculum more, once the premise was proven.

    The idea for me is to run a project day at the end of each topic (termly for us) where the children can then go off on the tangents that we didn't have time to go off on in class, but they really wanted to.

  4. I am copying this idea with my P4 (Yr3) class, hoping to emulate your success next week. Fingers crossed. Thank you for the inspiration.