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What do Students Think About Independent Learning?

‘Independent learning’ has its fans and critics amongst pedagogues – but what do the pupils think about it? Will Brassington offers a view from Year 10...

  • What do Students Think About Independent Learning?

‘Independent learning’ is a phrase debated widely around the teaching community. Is it beneficial for the students? Or could it be leaving kids without guidance? From my experience the answer is: a bit of both.

Ever since I joined secondary, independent learning has played a major role in everything I do at school.

This has been great for me, due to the fact I like getting on with things and, well, just being left alone while I do my work.

However, I’m no stranger to completely losing focus and having a long discussion with the person next to me on the implications of the Melian Dialogue or, more importantly, who got off with whom at the party last night, rather than concentrating on the lesson in hand.

Clear benefits

The underlying benefits of independent learning are hard to ignore: the fact that when you learn something by yourself you are more likely to remember it; and that it better prepares you for sixth form and university where you are expected to do everything by yourself.

But the best thing about independent learning for me – and which is something which my school pulls off excellently – is the way that it gives young people freedom.

It feels like for the first time we are actually trusted with something, and are being treated like adults.

And the pinnacle of the success of independent learning I believe can be seen in my two elder brothers: they did okay in their GCSEs at Honywood – but in A levels, when they absolutely depended on those skills developed by independent learning, they have both excelled.

However, independent learning is not without its problems or faults.

Given all this freedom, it can seem too easy simply not to do the work we are given; with no one ‘breathing down their neck’, many people just find other ways to occupy their time.

This, topped with the fact that some people believe it gives teachers an ‘easy job’ and allows them to do nothing, shines a negative light on independent learning; you could argue, I suppose, that it’s not ‘real’ teaching.

Maybe some kids just need one on one or they just won’t learn anything.

Some and some

I asked a few of my friends for their opinions on independent learning and there were mixed feelings on the topic – admittedly from a small sample group.

One girl at my school said, “The theory behind it is good but I don’t believe it is fitting for every lesson.

For maths it works for me, but in lessons such as philosophy and ethics it’s not the most effective way to learn”.

Another boy admitted he liked the freedom but wasn’t working as hard as he could be.

Is there a boy/girl divide? I don’t know. But I believe this well summarises the whole matter – it’s extremely conditional, it works in some cases but not others.

Overall, I think that for some kids, completely ‘independent learning’ can be ineffective, and allows them to mess around.

This raises the question of accountability. Who is ‘keeping an eye’ on them?

I believe many of the people who benefit from independent learning have ‘helicopter parents’; so instead of a teacher breathing down their neck it’s their mum and dad.

Perhaps I could compare it to something like communism: the ideals behind it are logical and seem perfect, however, if it is not carried out properly, only the minority end up benefiting.

Having said that, it is an ideal worth pursuing – and for me, at least, it works.

William Brassington is a Year 10 student at Honywood School, in Essex.

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