High Resolves Australia

    The benefits of student-led learning

    by | 17 Oct 2022

    It’s a no-brainer that students learn best when they’re actively engaged and interested in the topic they’re absorbing. Educational institutions across the globe share a common goal – they want to improve educational outcomes. One approach being increasingly implemented is a student driven classroom.

    The concept of a teacher standing in front of the class providing instruction without input from the learner is becoming a standard of the past. With more schools moving towards a student-led approach to learning, you may be considering how to apply this method with your learners.

    There are understandable concerns.
    For some, the notion of student-led education evokes images of burning books and a maelstrom reminiscent of Lord of the Flies. But fear not, student-led learning is not about making the teacher redundant, or reducing their power.

    Instead, it positions teachers as a mentor, helping students find ways to engage with learning objectives that best suit their learning needs. The advantage of this is that students who feel empowered respect and value their teachers more.

    Student-led learning aims to allow learners to take more responsibility for their education and feel a sense of ownership over their outcomes. To absorb and process new information its important students feel a sense of control within a safe and supervised environment. The confidence and enjoyment young people experience as co-creators of their own learning is a powerful learning tool.

    We need to increase students’ investment in their education

    RMIT University School of Education Professor Tricia McLaughlin says, “Most professions treat each individual’s case differently – each patient of a doctor has individualised treatment plans. Education should be no different… In the past, all children did the same work regardless of ability or skills. We now know that this contributes to disengagement, misbehaviour and poor outcomes.”

    Young people learn in a myriad of different ways

    Just like young people have vastly different interests, they also respond to learning in different ways. How many of your students can grasp complex concepts by reading a textbook? How many learn better doing project work? What about those learners who struggle with traditional testing but shine in more creative endeavours?

    These are the types of questions educators might use to the student’s advantage in a student-led environment.

    In a 2017 Grattan Institute report focusing on improvement of student engagement, it’s stated that as many as 40 percent of Australian students are unproductive in a given year. The why is not known, but the report makes it clear that the solution is to better engage our students.

    It’s critical to effective learning that students are able to participate, problem-solve, and work collaboratively. Without these opportunities, students may lose interest and disengage.

    Generation Tomorrow

    New South Wales’ Kincumber High School is pioneering in this space with their year 7 and 8 ‘Generation Tomorrow’ classes (pictured right).

    This includes a ‘Positive Campaigns’ project which challenges students to generate innovative ideas to tackle big issues in their community and the world.

    Generation Tomorrow’s project-based learning helps students gain real-world skills by working over an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic problem, question or challenge. As part of this experience, they work in groups to produce a video entry for the Videos for Change competition. This project lets them use video – a medium that young people understand and resonate with – to learn and communicate about social issues they think are important.

    And this isn’t a new approach, Richard DuFour (2002) reports during his 25 years as a school principal he sought to be a good ‘instructional leader’, devoting too much time to asking the wrong questions. Through classroom observations, DuFour realised he focussed predominantly on the teachers, on what was being taught and how he could help the teachers improve.

    His epiphany came when he thought to ask ‘to what extent are students learning the intended outcomes expected of each course or lesson? What support can I give teachers and students to support improved learning?’

     What would your students like to learn? 

    Have you ever stood in front of your classroom and honestly asked your students what they would like to learn? Shelley Wright did exactly that, and she learned that her students really wanted to make an impact on the world.

    This simple question prompted a challenging class-based mission, and by tapping into her students’ true passions and letting them drive a fundraising project, Shelley was amazed at the results.

    You can watch Shelley’s powerful TEDx talk here – The power of student-driven learning.

    The “whole-person” approach to education

    Student-led education fosters better relationships between teachers and students, as educators naturally move into a mentorship role. In the student-led classroom, teachers are there to challenge and support students, not tell them what to do.

    When given agency to co-create their own learning journeys, young people develop the soft skills needed for their future in the workforce, like confidence, self-awareness, independent thinking and effective communication skills.

    This “whole-person” approach creates learning opportunities that enhance the entire school community and helps students become responsible global citizens.

    Having more responsibility for the consequences of their choices also plays a positive role in the efficacy of student-lead learning.

    A 2014 study revealed that students who were educated by student-lead (inquiry-based) learning performed significantly better than the students who were educated by traditional teaching methods.

    So, what are some ways you can implement a student-led classroom?

    • Encourage open-ended discourse with your students – there don’t always have to be answers.
    • Ask your students about their goals or aspirations.
    • Create a safe environment for students to ask questions and challenge the status quo – normalise the belief that there are no stupid questions.
    • Explore using tools and technologies young people respond to like gamification and video-making.
    • Encourage collaboration and teamwork between students.
    • Look for real-life projects in the local community with parallel objectives that students can get involved in.

      By empowering young people to be involved in setting and achieving their own learning outcomes, we can help them transition from being passive to active learners.

      If you’re interested in exploring student-led learning further, you don’t have to go it alone! Send us an email to discuss how the Videos for Change competition or High Resolves’ online citizenship education platform, Symphony, could work for your school.

      Written by Amy Rose

      Amy had more than ten years of experience working in community services before shifting her focus to marketing. She has now worked with multiple educational organisations to help empower people with the tools to succeed.

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