Leaders of Learning: Creating highly skilled independent learners

How do you create highly skilled independent learners? One factor is to create classrooms that are managed by ‘Leaders of Learning‘ and make a conscious move away from the idea of a being a ‘Teacher’. The second thing is to ensure that young people are not passive in their learning but are actually deeply engaged in and making decisions about developing their own skills for learning. Learners need to move away from being a reliant learner to being an active learner.

Some definitions from the Collins Dictionary:

Teacher: ‘a person whose occupation is teaching others, especially children’.
Leader: ‘a person who rules, guides, or inspires others’.
Learner: ‘someone who is learning something; beginner’
Independent: ‘capable of acting for oneself or on one’s own’

If a teacher’s occupation is that of ‘teaching others’ then learners will continue to be passive in the classroom. A leader is someone who ‘guides or inspires’; a learner is someone who is ‘learning something or a beginner’. If the classroom leader inspires and guides others in learning, the learner will develop the capability, or skill, of acting on their own. 

What could this Leading of Learning look like?

Firstly, learners must be actively and co-operatively learning and working on activities around problem solving or a question they are engaged in. If learners are encouraged to inquire, their engagement in the activity or subject area will increase. Co-operative learning can also be independent learning; within a team structure each person has their own responsibility, which contributes to the overall team performance.
When learners work co-operatively it is important that they feel they are allowed to make mistakes or get it wrong. After all, making mistakes or getting it wrong help us get better at what we do. Mistakes and getting it wrong should happen every day in learning and should be encouraged!

A very basic way of encouraging this behaviour is to offer learners a question to which they need to find the answer. The question should be created in a way that allows learners to work together in groups of two to four, which could easily be set up in a classroom situation. For example, in a Business Studies lesson you could ask: "How can we find out about X organisation and the quality of customer service it provides?” This empowers the learners to work in teams and decide how to approach the problem. The Leader of Learning could create a learning framework that gives instructions about creating a role and responsibility for each person in the group towards the overall team goal. This further empowers teams to take responsibility for their own learning, how they will approach the task in their own way and, more importantly, how they will learn.

The key element to this task is to ensure the learner is encouraged to take on their individual responsibility and make their own decisions, but also contribute to the team goal. In this way, the young person becomes independent and highly skilled in the learning process while contributing to a group situation. The Leader of Learning facilitates this process but does not ‘tell’ or ‘teach’ how it should be done.

ASDAN provides skills development programmes and qualifications at Levels 1 to 3 that give opportunities for young people to work independently while contributing to an overall team goal. Please refer to examples from the Standards with Guidance about how this is assessed for CoPE, AoPE, Wider Key Skills and Employability.

Author: Gareth Lewis, Former ASDAN National Development Co-ordinator

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