At our spring term meetup, hosted by Jesus College Oxford, NACE members from all phases and sectors joined to discuss and share approaches to developing independent learning skills. Read on for a selection of ideas to try out in your own school…

1. Extended research projects

Extended research projects are widely used across the NACE community, including Extended Project Qualifications (EPQs) as well as a range of other initiatives. At Birchensale Middle School, for example, Year 8 students undertake an independent research project in which points are collected by completing different tasks – the more challenging the task, the more points available. Learners have a choice of topics, presentation methods and supporting materials of different levels.

Meanwhile at Impington Village College, groups of more able learners in Years 8 to 10 from each faculty area meet fortnightly to support each other on an independent research project of their choice. With support from peers and their “faculty champion”, they develop higher-level research skills based on IB coursework models and the A-level EPQ.  

2. Flipped learning

Alongside extended projects, members highlighted flipped learning as effective in developing independence. At Sarah Bonnell School (KS3-4) learners are provided with a bank of resources and reading for each topic, to work through independently ahead of lessons. Students’ response to this approach has been very positive, says the school’s Sabrina Sahebdin. “It allows them to come to the lesson prepared with questions and a chance to query areas where they need further clarification. Time is not wasted in fact finding during lessons; instead we apply knowledge, analyse and evaluate. It has stretched and challenged them further in aiding them with further research for peer teaching.”

3. Presenting to peers

Building on independent learning and research tasks, members highlighted the benefits of asking learners to present their findings to peers – digesting and sharing information in an accessible, engaging and/or persuasive way. Jamie Kisiel, Teaching and Learning Coordinator at Langley School (KS2-5), shared her use of a “knockout debate” competition, which she says has led to students providing more in-depth evaluation in essays and developing more thought-provoking questions, while also ensuring they have a strong foundation in the subject.

At Pangbourne College (KS3-5), learners are challenged to present as experts on a topic they have researched independently. G&T Coordinator Ellie Calver explains that while the whole class explores the same general topic, more able learners are tasked with presenting on the more open-ended and challenging aspects. She comments, “There is a sense of pride in being able to pull others forwards, a real interest in making the material interactive, and a drive to find out more in order to work out what is most significant.”

4. TIF tasks

At Caludon Castle School (KS3-5), each lesson and home-learning task includes a Take It Further or TIF activity – an opportunity to go deeper through independent learning. Assistant Headteacher Steff Hutchison explains, “The TIFs are usually fun, challenging, quirky, a little bit off the wall, so students want to engage with them.” Having come to expect and enjoy these tasks, more able learners now ask for additional TIFs or – even better – devise their own. Steff adds, “Doing the TIF is considered to be cool, so the majority of students of all abilities strive to complete at least one TIF in an average week.”

5. Student-run revision quizzes

At The Commonweal School (KS3-5), students take a leading role by running their own maths revision quizzes. Work in pairs or small groups, they develop questions on the topic being revisited, create a PowerPoint presentation and decide how points will be awarded. “The competitive element is a cause for great excitement – it’s good to see them having so much fun,” says G&T Coordinator Genny Williams. She adds that the initiative has helped learners develop a deeper understanding through working at the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy, given them a strong motivation to take learning further, and has contributed to improved attainment in termly tests.

6. Super-curricular activities

At Hydesville Tower School, learners in Years 3 to 6 are invited to join the Problem-Solving Club – offering opportunities to work with peers on practical and engaging problem-solving activities. Assistant Headteacher Manjit Chand says participants are more inclined to take risks and use metacognitive strategies, and have developed their self-confidence, independence and resilience.

Shrewsbury High School’s Super Curriculum features a range of opportunities for stretch and challenge, including an Art Scholars club and Sixth Form Feminist Society. Each brings together students and staff with a shared interest, providing opportunities to engage with external partners (such as Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery, which hosted an exhibition of students’ work) and to explore the subject from multiple perspectives – including relevant research and personal experiences. “Ultimately,” says the school’s Natalie Thomas, “these initiatives work as a result of inspiring a love of learning.”

Learners at Malvern St James (EYFS-KS5) also benefit from opportunities to think and discuss ideas beyond the curriculum, at “discussion suppers” – small-group events at which selected students and staff discuss a topic over supper. Participants are asked to research the theme of the evening beforehand and to come prepared to share their ideas, listen to others, challenge and be challenged in turn. Learning Support and Enrichment Coordinator Rebecca Jones comments, “Pupils admit that it is quite a daunting experience, but feel pleased that they have taken part afterwards.”

7. Building blocks for discussion

While food helps to fuel debate at Malvern St James, at Shipston High School structure is provided with the help of Duplo or Lego bricks. Working in small groups, learners take turns to contribute to the conversation, adding a brick to a shared construction each time they speak. The colour of brick determines the nature of their contribution – for example, red bricks to accept, yellow to build, blue to challenge. Jordan Whitworth, Head of Religion, Ethics and Philosophy and the school’s lead NACE coordinator, says this simple activity has helped learners develop a range of skills for critical and independent thinking.

8. Access to other students’ solutions

​At King Edwin Primary School, pupils have opportunities to learn from peers not just within their own school, but across the country. Having participated in the NACE/NRICH ambassadors scheme, Assistant Headteacher Anthony Bandy shared his experience of using the low-threshold, high-ceiling maths resources provided by Cambridge University’s NRICH. In particular, he highlighted the impact of sharing the solutions published on the NRICH website – which allow learners to see how other students, from different phases and schools, have solved each problem. This can inspire more able learners to seek out different approaches, to grasp new strategies and skills independently – including those covered at later key stages – and to apply this learning in different contexts.

Find out more…

For additional ideas and guidance to help your more able students develop as independent learners, join our upcoming members’ webinar on this topic. The webinar will take place on 25 April 2019, led by Dr Matthew Williams, Access Fellow at Jesus College Oxford.

For full details and to reserve your place, log in to our members’ site.
Wednesday, April 17, 2019