Teaching the teacher: How student-led learning can help your pupils to become independent and responsible learners

30th June 2017 at 16:01

student-led learning

After researching into how students can become more independent, take more ownership of their work and become more empowered in school, I have recently made more of a concerted effort to enable student-led activities in my classes.

The idea that I step back as the teacher and give the students responsibility for teaching others is no new concept. However, it can feel like you are giving up the control you usually hold over a class.

The activities differ from class to class, but I found that plenaries and mid-lesson demonstrations lend themselves well to being driven by students.

Of course, extra planning and some patience are needed, but once the process is more polished and students understand the routines, they are happy to lead the group and demonstrate the work. A few prompts and some questions that other students may not pick up on can be suggested by the teacher to increase the challenge or remove any barriers to learning.

In a recent hand-sewing lesson I planned to demonstrate to the students at the start of the lesson. However, the lesson was split into two activities with half of the class working on screen prints.

I set up a group of students who were the sewing experts (without needing to do a demonstration), and other students would go to them after they had printed. The sewing experts were rewarded for their efforts in teaching the class, and I was able to concentrate on the screen printing. Naturally, we will review the sewing work as a class, and pupils will be able to make improvements in their next piece. 

On reflection, if I had done the sewing demonstration, the pupils who could already do basic hand sewing would have been held back and not making the best use of their time. Of course, if no one in the group had any experience hand sewing, it would have been necessary to demonstrate to at least one student beforehand.

Other ways to increase student-led activities in class could be through giving students secret challenges.

Cards with questions on such as 'Who has worked the hardest this lesson?' and 'Who has achieved all of the outcomes and why?' can then be used in a plenary where the student explains who they have picked and why to the rest of the group.

Giving students some time during the lesson, and letting them know you will ask them to lead the activity at the end, ensures they are as prepared as possible.

A great online resource is Form Time Ideas, which students can use themselves through the interactive whiteboard. I have used this as a reward plenary too if students have worked well during a lesson.

If students are working in groups, you could ask one from each group to get instructions or directions from you, then have them explain to the rest of their group afterwards.

If you are doing a practical lesson, assigning an "expert" to teach the skill or technique and rewarding them can offer a good incentive for others, as they want to become the expert for next lesson. You can also swap roles during the lesson. 

Incorporating student-led activities into lessons could also be expanded into schemes of work; asking students what they would like to learn or what they are interested in can sometimes provide a great starting point for projects.

In expressive arts, this may be easier since the curriculum is flexible, however it may be that one lesson a term is dedicated to something that the students have asked to do. Our school has started a Manga project based on feedback from a student voice questionnaire, which has proved to be really successful.

Talking to a colleague recently, he explained how students take on different roles in his class, and they are responsible for those roles each week. These roles cover every activity in the classroom, from taking the register to checking uniform.

To me, this seems like a natural next step in this shift to student-led learning and an exciting way to alter the power-dynamic in the classroom.

I am also aiming to expand on this idea and have the students teach me new skills or techniques, which could become a series of lessons that the students deliver.

Do you have any examples of student-led activities that have worked well? Please share them, or your experiences, in the Tes Secondary Forum.

Gthomasart is a teacher of KS3 and KS4 art and design in the North West. He tweets about art and education at @rockinorange.