Encouraging Independent, Self-Led Learning in Students

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: IB PYP Twitter

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.

A Guide to Project-Based Learning (PBL) for IB Learners

Project-based learning (PBL) is a phrase often heard within schools that teach alongside the IB curriculum, and both of them emphasize deep conceptual understanding.

When we say PBL though, what do we really mean? And better yet, how do we effectively implement this in the classroom? Let’s take a look in a bit more detail, and explore how you can try out this technique in your classroom.

What’s Project-Based Learning?

PBL is all about “big transferable ideas” rather than subject-specific content. This is different to traditional teaching where there is a focus on understanding and memorization. PBL supports the IB’s learner profile attributes and is all about considering how students will learn, bringing real world meaning to content knowledge and skills. It’s all about driving questions which align student work to a relevant issue or problem.

PBL aims to support students with a lifetime of learning, independently and in tandem with others. Also, it encourages students to consider global challenges through inquiry, action, and reflection. Essentially, that’s what PBL is all about… the learners. Due to this, PBL can also support individualized learning. The IB programs aim to encourage students to be active, compassionate and lifelong learners. This means PBL and inquiry-based learning support education in being holistic, with the student’s whole development in mind. Also, with this, a balance between cognitive development as well as wellbeing.

PBL aligns with design thinking, which the IB has written about. Design thinking is all about incorporating users’ needs into the project and design process. Design thinking can work in a number of ways but ultimately, it supports learners with applying the knowledge and skills they have learned to go and take meaningful action. Read more about this here.

In this way, PBL can involve certain steps such as communicating with other students, identifying a goal, making an action plan, giving out duties, putting together a plan and then analyzing any outcomes, which are all important life skills for the future.

Why PBL?

These days, there are many professions that don’t simply rely on knowledge and facts – the development of a learner is equally important.

Think about it…

  • Scientists need to develop creativity.
  • Scientists still need to problem solve.
  • Scientists may need to work as a team.

This type of instruction is designed to work in global contexts. Students gain understanding of language and culture, and it also helps with global and local engagement, including challenges and issues.

Aims of PBL

With PBL, students develop skills they will likely need for the demands of the 21st century. For instance, critical thinking, collaborative work and problem-solving are all skills that come from it.  As the IB and PBL aim to encourage students to engage with real world problems and do work that is real to them, students who have these universal themes in their classroom are supported with:

  • Creating connections with students’ past experiences.
  • Learning being more relevant to experiences.
  • Promoting a more in-depth knowledge of content.
  • Helping students to take action with their learning.

Implementing PBL in the Classroom

So now we’ve explored PBL in more detail, it’s time to find out how we can implement PBL more effectively in the classroom.

When you’ve decided on a driving question for students to explore – which is ideal for creating a culture of thinking that allows students to see alternative ways of thinking – your lesson could flow like this.

  1. You put forward a “research question” which is the concept of the project.
  2. You then task students to answer that question through a variety of methods such as dance or music.
  3. Finally, students bridge their learning experiences to support their learning of the knowledge, whilst perhaps tests that may be set will identify learning targets and understanding.

Overall, the project-based learning that goes hand-in-hand with the IB promotes ties in students’ emotions and knowledge. This can be to a better degree than the demands of a curriculum which is more traditional and purely fact-based to prepare students for exams. Students can use the knowledge they have learnt from PBL in learning other subject areas.

Students are not only now better set to make links with their own experiences in the present and the wider world, but also when looking to the future. Students use their personal experiences to engage with their learning and what they know to answer a driving question. With this, they will become more interested in their studies and in using their own knowledge to support their understanding. This will aid their student development in a holistic way, and prepare them to be lifelong learners.