13 January 2011

Drive Part 2

One of the case studies presented in Drive has helped me to crystallise an Independent Learning plan with which I have been toying for some time. Independent Learning lessons have been a part of teaching for decades, but it was Daniel Pink’s discussion of the “20 percent time” at Atlassian[1] which spurred me to the particular model which I will be trialling in 2011.

At this company, employees are allowed to work on any project they choose for 20% of their total work time. What the executives have discovered is that many new ideas emerge from this time. Pink argues that the autonomy inherent in this concept sparks greater motivation for the projects which develop.   

So, for one lesson per fortnight (12.5% of teaching time) I am going to offer one particular class the opportunity to work on any project they choose, as long as it is related to English. This may include, but is not limited to, creative writing/composing, reading and reflecting, journal writing, researching or other self-directed exercises. It is hoped that the Independent Learning lesson will allow students to develop their passions within and beyond subject English, and encourage thinking beyond the demands of the syllabus.

The plan is for students to identify at the start of the lesson what their project will be and at the end of the lesson they will reflect on what they achieved. Initially, the reflections will be structured so that students get into the habit of identifying the skills and thinking used during the lesson. This focus on metacognition is essential for students to recognise when they are experiencing what by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, called ‘flow’.

If we manage to "cover the syllabus" work in fewer than the lessons allocated (yes, we do have to tick some boxes), then it will be natural to increase the Independent Learning lessons to once a week, thus spending 25% of our class time on autonomous projects. Who knows, the students may develop into such independent learners that all (or almost all) of the time is spent in this way. Surely this would lead away from the traditional 20th century model of teaching? I know that this isn't cutting edge. I know that many others have managed total independent learning - I would appreciate helpful comments from you if you have. 

Unfortunately it has a dull title at the moment: Independent Learning. I am confident my students will invent a better name as the year goes on.

[1] Daniel H Pink, Drive, p. 94

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