Building confidence through independence

If someone had asked me or told me that I had to write a blog post for all to see, I may have broken out in a cold sweat. I would have smiled graciously and said thank you and of course but, inside, I would have immediately begun to think of reasons why I couldn’t. I’m too busy. I don’t know what to say. What if it’s rubbish and everyone laughs at it? I might have been brave enough to ask someone for help or advice. I may have looked over the other posts again or trawled the internet for any ideas that I could borrow – or steal. I could have asked someone to sit down and do it with me- or even for me. I might have feigned some kind of serious work dilemma and hoped – or even attempted to bribe- a confident and keen colleague to take on the task instead of me.

And now I look back, I start to wonder how familiar these sound. It shouldn’t come as any surprise to us but, sometimes, when push comes to shove, we revert back to our teenage selves and use the same strategies that we may have used to get out of completing that essay or to justify why the homework wasn’t quite done. Being asked to do something all by yourself can be terrifying. Especially if you feel that the thing you’re being asked to do is too hard or too much or you just don’t feel good enough.

But, don’t panic. I wasn’t actually asked directly to write a post. It just happened – a little bit by accident. Whilst sitting, minding my own business and getting on with something I needed to do myself, someone said that I could think about sharing this. It made me feel good about myself and what I had done- it’s funny how those two always seem to go hand in hand, isn’t it? When you do something well – you feel proud – it’s like you can achieve anything. When something seems out of reach, it can almost become personal and you start to doubt yourself and your abilities. So, it felt good to say yes. It made me feel proud and confident and less worried about what everyone else might think because someone noticed how much I had tried and working on it to make it better became something I wanted to do.

These feelings reminded me of why I wanted to make independence a key focus for my teaching this year. If I am being totally honest though, it did all begin with a desire to get the students to do more than I was. With Year 11 exams on the horizon, I wanted to make sure that my students were able to face them without a desperate need to peer over their shoulders and seek reassurance from me. So, that is where I began.

During this year, I have asked my GCSE classes to complete a whole variety of tasks and exercises with “Independence” being at the forefront of each one. Some of the things I have trialled include:

  • Asking students to write their own exam extract questions and mark schemes – they have also included model answers and example responses too
  • Asking students to re-write mark schemes, removing the over-complicated language for a workable document that is far more student friendly
  • Asking students to prepare and teach revision lessons on key topics for their Literature exams
  • Asking students to produce a revision guide with summaries of chapters, key quotations and context notes for one of the more challenging texts – this was planned in response to their own desire to get to grips with a text that they found particularly difficult – they even let me share it with other year 11 teachers too!

Looking at this list, it seems that quite a lot of time has been taken up with this independent approach. One big downside to this has been the amount of class time taken up with students preparing to deliver or produce all of these resources. This is something that does need more thought – if students felt more independent at an earlier stage then surely asking them to collaborate and prepare outside of the classroom as well as within it wouldn’t seem too much to ask? Would it?

Also, the standard and quality of work produced did tend to vary – and in some cases quite considerably (meaning that I was still doing some of the work as I didn’t want anyone else to be let down – which totally defeats the independent approach!).  It’s not always easy to tell who has done more than their fair share in each group either. If you have any advice on this, then please let me know – I am sure someone has a tried and tested method to solve this dilemma! Would a more independent approach lower down the school go some way to ensure that this wasn’t the case? If students were more used to this way of working, would it come a little easier to them?

Then, looking back at the start of my post, I know that the one things that made this whole post so much easier to write, apart from being excited to be asked was the simple fact that someone else had given me the impression that my post was “good enough” to be shared. This then could be the key to getting the students to do it for themselves – giving them the confidence so that they feel they “can” do it. One student, I realised, had a keen interest and vast knowledge on some of the contextual references to a text – the fact they were already so confident meant it didn’t seem to terrifying when I asked them to teach this to the class. Surely, this could be independence at its best.

From my own more recent experiences with this blog, it’s clear that fostering independence is going to take a bit more than just getting the students to do stuff on their own. In order to ensure students can do things for themselves, it is clear that the work needs to begin at KS3. Clearly, the more they are doing this kind of thing, the easier and more successful it will be. And, bringing it back to me again, remembering how good it feels when someone recognises that you’ve done something well really does encourage to keep trying and making it even better – all the drafting of this blog post should hopefully prove that! So, not only should I be encouraging students to be more independent but I also need to recognise the things they’ve done well – making them feel good about what they’ve done might just help them get to grips with doing things on their own a little bit quicker.

Clemmie Hewett, English

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