Thursday, 4 July 2013

The Importance of Independent Learning

"One of the key responsibilities of any good school is to provide the context in which young people learn how to study on their own. “Learning to learn” is a complex process that entails pupils taking responsibility and playing their part within the educational process. You can see the shift in mindset when a boy or girl moves from saying “Here’s your homework, Sir” to “Here is my work.” After all, schooling is not about teachers teaching great lessons – it is about young people learning and understanding things. 
Independent Learning is important because it develops creativity and intellectual curiosity. Independent learning is about pupils being active rather than passive. It is about them working out the answers rather than being told them. It is about them wanting to study because they want to understand more, rather than taking a Utilitarian stance that I am doing this because I want to pass the examination. Independent Learning is not the easy option – it is tough. 
Here at Berkhamsted we are committed to fostering Independent learning and, parents, you can help us here – we need your support. But before I say how, let me first explain why
As a teacher I have a choice. If all I want to do is to get results, I can spoon-feed you. I can give you dozens of model answers and I can get out my big stick and I can make you learn them.
But if I want to educate you, I will encourage and inspire you to explore the subject, to make discoveries and set you tasks that will challenge you. There will be times when you will feel out of your depth, but as you develop new skills and greater resilience, you will begin to understand the subject and to make connections. Alongside this I will teach you the techniques so that you can answer any question that the examiner chooses to throw at you. 
The “give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish you feed him for life” principle is at work here. 
This year we have had a focus on independent learning and the teaching staff have been encouraged not to spoon-feed, but to set challenging tasks. It may sound counter-intuitive, but I have encouraged teachers to be less helpful and not to just jump straight in with the answers. For it is only by being less helpful that pupils will have the opportunity to develop the resilience and problem-solving skills that will help them rise to future challenges in life. 
And this is where you come in as parents; or more to the point, this is where you shouldn’t come in as parents. The response this year of some parents to our shift towards more independent learning has been to complain. “My daughter has been set a prep on a subject she hasn’t yet been taught.” “My son has dropped from an A grade to B – what is going wrong?” etc. 
Here at Berkhamsted we are committed to educating young people – not just cramming them for examinations. A true education is challenging. A true education will involve failure. Getting an A grade all the time is probably a bad sign.   
So, parents, bear with us.
Support us.
Encourage your children to stretch themselves.
Encourage your children to take responsibility for their own work.
Encourage your children to take risks.
And, above all, encourage to your children to learn from their mistakes."

Extract from Berkhamsted School Speech Day Address 4th. July 2013

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