Monday, 8 April 2013

Encouraging independent learning in the classroom

Independent learning is a vitally important skill for students, especially at A-level. Over the years, I have tested a variety of methods to encourage this with my students – here are a few that I have found to be particularly useful. I used these methods in my Business and Economics class but they can be adapted to suit any subject. I’ve also attached a Powerpoint presentation with more ideas – a great template for a whiteboard lesson!

Reverse Thinking: This is a great idea for a starter to the lesson or as a re-cap on previous learning. Ask the group as a whole to reverse think an idea or principle.

For example, recently I projected on the board the following: “What is the best way to destroy the success of a corporate takeover?” 

The discussion then allows students to ‘reverse think’ their idea to build upon the principles of what in fact makes an ideal corporate takeover.

By thinking in the opposite direction the alternatives become a lot clearer.This is great as an independent tool for evaluative purposes.

Equations: A really great way to start or indeed end a lesson is to ask students to create their own independent equation for a topic that you are currently studying in the classroom. For example you could ask students to create an equation that represents Competitive Advantage. On the board, write:

Competitive Advantage =

This allows for independent thought in the classroom as students come up with their own formulas – e.g Competitive Advantage = Edge over Rivals + Lower Costs + Effective Marketing. Make each student justify their equations with their peers and the classroom to further aid AFL.

Mandalas: Mandalas are a great tool for independent research and allow students to drill down into the most important elements of a topic. These are very much like a mind map, but more logical. Students first draw three circles, a target circle, inner and outer circle. (Highlighted on the PowerPoint).

In the target circle a student will place the topic of research or focus and then work outwards. The inner circle will then focus on a specific important area of that topic.
The outer circle will simply dig deeper into key terminology, facts, figures, definitions, and general theory with greater selectivity than they might otherwise do.

This method allows students to break down journals, websites, podcasts, videos, book theory and any suitable method of research into something that can easily be used as a revision or discussion tool in class.

Independent compare and contrast: Great for home study. I recently asked my students to go away and compare and contrast the differences and similarities between Chevron and Marks and Spencer using the following diagram aid. Allow the students to report back in any format that they choose using the diagram aid as a reference point. 

Diamond Nines:
 In a recent Economics class, I asked students to prioritise the cause of traffic congestion using the diamond nine model. Students ranked the priorities into those of high importance down to those of low importance in a diamond nine format. (See PowerPoint)

This is great for discussion and can be done on the interactive whiteboard easily allowing for students to manage and move the priorities around until the class comes to its desired decision.

Networking: Select five articles related closely to the theme of the lesson. Try to use ones that will specifically stretch and challenge students.

Simply stick these articles onto large sheets of sugar paper. Place these resources around the room and divide students into small groups. Give each student a coloured pen and get a group to sit with one article each for five minutes.

What assumptions does the article jump to? Is there bias within the article? What key terminology can be highlighted? What terminology do they not understand? What questions can they ask of the article?

Students then rotate onto the next article and do the same. They are to elaborate on the questions and insights offered by the last group. Once a complete network has been created, students then reflect on the articles as a whole.

What is the question?: Again great as a small independent thinking task. Provide answers only on the board and students simply have to create the questions that would support that particular answer. This really gets students thinking about the specifics of a particular topic.

Download: Powerpoint

Daniel Baker
Daniel Baker has taught KS4 and KS5 Business Studies and Economics for six years in a successful London comprehensive school. 

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