“Is that the title?” Promoting Independence from KS3.

Due to the new and challenging GCSE expectations and how there is a culture of complacency within Heathfield students, we have been determined to light a fire inside our KS3 students with the intention that they won’t find a way to put it out, but instead it will burn brightly all the way to KS4. Literally speaking, we wanted them to take ownership of their learning, stop asking ridiculous questions and realise they can be self-sufficient whilst realising this is all for the end goal: leaving school with a collection of GCSEs and knowing that was down to their hard work.

Ensuring they have the skills that they will need in KS4 as early as possible means they will have a huge advantage over our current Y11s who have had it extremely tough the past two years. Yes, they have been stroppy, grumpy and downright lazy but, in some ways, they were not prepared earlier enough for the shift in expectations. We can get it right by getting our students to take ownership lower down the school.

One major difficulty with promoting independence though has been the amount of class time taken up with students preparing to deliver or produce 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, wouldn’t seem too much to ask. Another concern that we have is that the standard and quality of work produced tends to vary quite considerably.

We regularly encourage independence in lower school. There is no doubt that this moves students to a deeper level of thinking and it is a life saver in busy classes where some students are not all able to be independent. It requires planning at the SoL stage.  At KS4, with coursework in particular, there is a temptation to allow students to complete virtually the same task, to make life easier, but it has to be avoided at all costs. There is an evolution to the depth of independence that should be developed towards adulthood. At KS5 we are of the view that flipped learning is the way forward. Students can come to lessons already prepared with prior knowledge necessary to provide further challenge in the lesson.

Independence is challenging to implement because it has a fluid definition. For some, it’s about taking initiative and being resourceful without teacher prompting; for others, it’s about starting work right away; and more ambitiously, it can be about applying problem solving skills to diverse situations.

Independence is encouraging students to take ownership of their own learning. Initially, students need to feel confident that they are able to be independent. Insecurity is a large barrier to students engaging with the work and, if a student cannot engage, then they cannot be independent and initially students may need praise and reassurance before they can begin to be truly independent.

Students should be encouraged to take ownership of their learning through asking questions, shaping enquiry and having choice of the tasks they can complete. Hopefully, this will stimulate students to take a wider interest in learning and begin to take learning outside of the classroom. This may be through independently researching a topic of interest or watching a documentary. Ideally, independence will create the dream scenario of many education professionals and the catch phrase ‘the facilitator’ rather than the ‘teacher’ will become the norm, rather than something to seek.

Sereena Adams (English), Clemmie Hewett (English), Anna Norman (History), Tatiana Hammond (Maths), Alison Norris (Technology)

Questions to discuss

  1. How do you encourage independence in your KS3 classes?
  2. What have the new specifications/changes to GCSEs meant you have had to implement?
  3. What has been successful?
  4. What are you going to do differently next year when teaching KS3 with the increase in challenge at KS4 in mind?
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