There are many reasons to encourage your students to become independent learners. They display an increase in confidence, a higher level of awareness of their own abilities, and they also tend to improve their academic performance, according to the Independent Learning: Literature Review.
Yet contrary to what you might think, independent learners also need support and direction from their teachers. Luckily, as we saw in our recent article Seven ways to develop independent learners, there are many things you can do to help promote independent learning in class.
From personalizing learning goals, to providing opportunities for reflection, encouraging peer feedback and transferring learning decisions, you can create a perfect independent learning environment for your students.
Here are some simple activities to help you put this into practice. All of these activities, which work on areas such as building confidence and reflecting on progress, were adapted from the Gold Experience B2+ Teacher’s Book.
1. Confidence scale
This first activity helps students think about their learning objectives and see the progress they are making on a class-by-class basis.
Begin by writing the intended learning goal of the lesson on the board. For example; to be able to compare and contrast two photographs (like in part 2 of the speaking paper in the B2 First exam).
Then draw a confidence scale like this:
Ask students to give themselves a score from the scale, reflecting how confident they feel that they can achieve that goal now.
Monitor and assess the confidence levels of the class. Depending how they feel about the learning goal, you can adjust the amount of time you spend on each part of the lesson.
At the end of the class, ask students to assess their confidence levels again. They should write the new number next to the old one.
Again, monitor confidence levels. Usually it will increase, but in some cases it may go down. If that’s the case, don’t worry, reassure students that you are there to help.
Next ask them to work in pairs and discuss how they can gain further confidence.
Finally, ask students to each write three action points based on the conversations they had with their partner, outlining what they will do to improve.
2. Selecting the feedback focus
The next activity personalizes the learning process by having students focus on individual goals.
Before students start a writing task, ask them to identify a personal learning goal. To help them decide on this, encourage them to look back at your feedback on previous written work. For example: I’d like to write an essay that is well organized and uses a range of complex grammar structures.
Tell them to write this goal at the top of their work when they submit it and explain that you will provide specific feedback when you mark it.
If you notice that many students chose similar personal learning goals, this suggests that it is something which you may need to cover as a whole class and you might want to incorporate it into future lessons.
3. Record and reflect
Although it’s important to think about the objectives before starting a lesson or activity, it’s also vital that your students reflect on their performances afterwards. Of course, while you should offer them feedback, they’ll only really embrace independent learning if they self-evaluate.
Have students record themselves on their mobile phones completing a speaking task (e.g. part 2 of the speaking paper in the C1 Advanced exam). Then get them to listen back and compare their performance with a model answer.
Finally, have them note down what they did well (e.g. I spoke for a full minute without stopping) and what they could have done better (e.g. I need to vary my vocabulary more).
Recording apps are usually free to download or are pre-loaded onto a smartphone.
4. Written feedback
The final activity relates to how you organize your written feedback so that it is both motivating and productive.
Often when learners see a piece of their writing covered in red pen, they think they have done a terrible job and lose confidence which has a negative impact on independent learning.
To counter this, provide one comment under each of these headings to help learners identify where they are in their learning now. It will also show them what they need to do next and help them recognize that they have made progress, boosting their confidence.
- A key strength
- An area of progress
- An area to work on
- How you can work on it
The more confident they are, the more they’ll take ownership over their learning.
Gold Experience: the teens exam course helping to promote independent learning
If you are looking for a fast-paced course that motivates learners to build the language and skills they need to pass exams and survive in the world beyond school, the new edition of Gold Experience may be exactly what you are looking for.
Gold Experience 2nd Edition provides all the support you need to help your students take control of their own learning and achieve more, both in and out of the classroom. It includes clear learning goals, model answers, resources for self-study, and even a dedicated independent learning section.
Levels B2, B2+ and C1 available now. Levels A1 to B1+ are coming out in 2019.