Research corner

22nd May 2015 at 01:00
Each week, we highlight education research conducted by teachers. This week Jess Brownhill, a Spanish teacher at King Edward VI Sheldon Heath (KESH) Academy in Birmingham, explains how independent study helped to save her students from getting lost in translation between key stages 3 and 4


Independent learning has been a whole-school priority at KESH this year, with teachers researching what happens when students are encouraged to study a topic by themselves. Jess Brownhill ran a project with her Year 8 Spanish pupils.


Brownhill noticed that pupils who chose Spanish after KS3 found the step up to KS4 demanding - a problem she linked to their disengagement with Spanish culture. She wanted to pique their interest without regurgitating facts.


Brownhill focused on 28 students in her Year 8 top set. With help from the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education, she devised a methodology to get students independently researching a topic. She used the "3B4ME" (three before me) rule to ease her students away from relying on her guidance: she encouraged them to use their own knowledge, the knowledge of a fellow student, and books before asking for help.

Brownhill's role was split four ways: planning a lesson; monitoring students; controlling the direction of their work; and evaluating their knowledge. To begin, she gave a lesson on Spain's culture and traditions and handed out a booklet that contained a range of topics. Each student picked a topic to research, with the aim of making a four-minute presentation to the class after two weeks of study.

The results

At the end of the two weeks, Brownhill dedicated two lessons to hearing and analysing her students' presentations. Pupils were asked to complete peer-assessment tables, judging whether certain areas were covered well or could have been improved upon.

To analyse the extent of their learning, and to evaluate the project, Brownhill also had her class complete a self-assessment table and a final questionnaire that asked students about their experiences of the presentations.

She discovered that they had dedicated a lot of time to their presentations and had enjoyed learning about Spanish customs. Engagement in her class increased afterwards, and her students' subject knowledge, ability to learn and confidence all rose noticeably.

The impact

Brownhill believes that her presentation-led independent learning task was motivational, fun and beneficial, creating a positive learning environment. Her criteria, guidelines, assessments and data collection allowed her to provide support while letting students complete their task independently.

The pupils responded extremely positively to independent learning, and Brownhill plans to trial the same task with her lower-ability Year 8 set to allow for a comparison and analysis of her initial results.

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