Encouraging students to be independent learners is something that I believe to be a crucial part of effective teaching. Not only does it mean that retaining sanity is possible for the teacher, it means that students’ learning is more profound as they have experienced it for themselves rather than being spoon-fed it by the teacher. This is not to say that I am innocent of spoon-feeding. I have done it for many classes and will continue to do so into the future as it does help to provide instant results for the ever-important data collections that are dominating educational life.
However, this is not to say that I believe that this is how teachers should teach, or how students should learn. It is questionable whether students actually learn anything this way or whether they simply commit it to short-term memory and immediately forget about it within the space of a day (or even lesson in many cases, much to my disenchantment). Many authors of Education books, such as Phil Beadle or Jim Smith, stress the importance of creative, independent learning which allows students room to explore and really understand a topic. As Phil Beadle points out, it may not fit the required model of a four part lesson; but is this necessarily a terrible thing? Will the lives of these students be ruined if they do not follow a strictly timed four part structure for every lesson of their lives? Probably not. As in my last post, the students – dare I say it – may actually enjoy the process of learning instead and school may actually become more intriguing and engaging. I still remember the novel that I and two other students were asked to write by my Year 8 English teacher as I was fascinated in the creative process and was so proud of my achievements. Don’t get me wrong, it was rubbish and heavily plagiarised Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy which I was obsessed with at the time (and still am to this day) yet I thought it was fab and looked forwards to those lessons and still remember them vividly. Those lessons taught me to edit, be critical of my work and strive to make something as perfect as I could make it: I became a reflective learner without the strictures of a heavily structured lesson.
Thinking about this, and becoming rapidly irritated with students asking questions which they already knew the answers to without thinking anything through, I have decided to set two classes long-term projects. One class, a year 7 English class, will be spending one hour a fortnight writing their own novels. Each lesson will have a theme, and a variety of activities, yet there will be time available for students to be creative and write whatever they want. Another class, a year 8 History class, will have one hour a fortnight compiling an extended project on a topic of their choice using primary and secondary sources to guide their work. Both classes will have to apply the skills gained in the lessons taught through the scheme of work, yet they will do this in their own way and, importantly, on their own.
This will probably go disastrously wrong and be a massive waste of time. But at least I am trying…
A small aside: I do not believe that this is the way forward for all lessons, all of the time – I do think that structured, four part/ six part/ eight part teaching has its value and should be used the majority of the time to provide a solid framework on which students can be creative and try out new skills and ideas.