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Teacher Tips

Encouraging Independent, Self-Led Learning in Students

Molly Davies Molly Davies   |   26/09/2019

The International Baccalaureate’s (IB) learner profile has ten attributes, and within its inquiry attribute states that the aim of all IB programmes is to help IB students strive to be independent lifelong learners.

Self-direction is a central tenet of the IB and is evident from the early stages of the Primary Years Programme (PYP), which states that “the PYP nurtures independent learning skills, encouraging every student to take responsibility for their own learning”. It is also continued through to the Middle Years Programme (MYP) which aims “to encourage and enable students to participate in a sustained, self-directed inquiry within a global context”.

Why self-led learning?

The IB, which puts student agency right at the centre of the PYP (see their recent Twitter post below), is trying to break the mould and push schooling to focus on changing learning environments and direct attention on the individual students to create lifelong learners.

This is interesting, especially in an international school setting. With schools including different cultures, academic levels, beliefs, backgrounds, etc., there is no longer a one-size-fits-all approach to  school environments, let alone learning. Subsequently, individualized learning is required to meet specific individual needs and encourage students to take more responsibility in preparing them for life after school.

Source: https://twitter.com/ibpyp/status/950721397944389632

Methods of encouraging self-directed learning

We know that you, as teachers, understand your students best, but how can we encourage students to take more ownership over their learning? Below are a few strategies designed to support you in laying the foundations for self-directed learning:

Rearrange the classroom environment

First, consider changing the physical learning environment. When students can put their own spin on a classroom, they can alter how teaching and learning is viewed, improving their academic engagement, and sense of autonomy. One method of engaging your students in developing a student-designed environment could involve allowing them to rearrange the classroom at their discretion – this can include display boards and posters created by students and when put up, can help with improving their agency.

Empowering students to take the lead

The idea of a flexible learning environment can support students in developing their confidence which will help them to join peer groups or workshops to enhance learning and speak up where appropriate. This will help students become more aware of their strengths and weaknesses and deepen understanding. With the aid of an individualized learning tool, this self-awareness can be encouraged. You could also ask students to reflect on their learning and then place themselves along a certain standard and come with evidence of why they have put themselves where they have. It could be an idea to create SMART goals with students to help with this and encourage students to take the lead.

Encourage transdisciplinary inquiry

With these points above, you can see that we’re encouraging students to be “alive” in their learning, which leads us to how students should focus their learning on understanding and thinking about our world, rather than simply memorizing facts. In the IB, it’s concept-based learning which allows students to connect their school with their world. Students can be encouraged to ask questions and make links between concepts. This can help students gain an understanding of a unit which is more connected to their personal experience.

Ensure students are reflective

As touched on above, it’s worth encouraging your students to keep a diary. This can help them maintain and analyse their progress towards achieving their goals. The idea being, that they will see their progress, realize how far they have come and be inspired to push themselves further. With this though, the IB philosophy supports reflection as a central role in education. This means opportunities for reflection should be integrated into lesson plans. Students should work on how they can reflect on what could be done better. For example, you could reward and celebrate success, but always look to what is coming and what could be done to improve.

Take on a growth mindset

Firstly, in your classroom, you could adopt a growth mindset where you, as a class, know you can learn, succeed and excel together. A major US study recently revealed that adopting a growth mindset with two, 25-minute online sessions can raise lower-achieving students’ scores. With this in mind, it’s important we are mindful of this opportunity and encourage students to learn in a more efficient, confident and effective way. This will help them improve self-regulation, grit and increase engagement with learning.

Encourage opportunities for self-monitoring

There are two processes of self-monitoring – one is establishing goals and one is gaining feedback from yourself and from others. To help your students with self-monitoring, you can advance their use of self and peer assessments and ask them to judge whether they think the strategies they were using were effective.

A change to a more self-directed, transdisciplinary classroom can be challenging. However, as you gradually provide students with more control to support their success – or say ‘yes’ as much as possible to student ideas, or provide uninterrupted blocks of time – the more you will see a valuable learning environment come into play. This will help students flourish on the path to success and help develop them as lifelong learners.

Head over to our Resources page on our microsite, designed specifically for IB teachers. Our microsite provides more guidance, advice, free resources and top tips!

Molly Davies

International Account Manager

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