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Students as Owners of their Own Learning

20 March 2015

This week in primary has seen lots of great learning showcases where parents have been invited into school to find out what the children have been doing in their Themed Learning unit.

While it is always good for parents to see the creative displays and children’s work, the most impactful element of these sessions is that the children have to take ownership of their own learning and become the teacher as they explain what and how they have learned to their parental audience.

They need to know their subject well to be able to answer the tricky questions they are asked. They use excellent scientific language and understanding to explain their investigations. They show good knowledge of historical events or geographical features to explain their projects. They demonstrate excellent collaborative skills as they present their projects as a group. And they show great creativity in the way they display their learning, whether in an engaging power point or info leaflet, 3D model or craft project, board game or poster board. The students own their learning and are confident and keen to show this off to their parents and peers.

We take this approach at BISS Puxi, not just as a way of sharing, but because educational research shows that the most successful students are those who feel real 'ownership' of their education and who are regularly given opportunities to direct their own learning. Students need to be able to ask and answer key questions; What am I learning? How am I doing? How do I know? What do I need to do next to improve? What help and support should I get for myself?

When planning for learning therefore, we ensure that we are giving children the skills and tools to reliably answer these questions and this means developing three important traits: using metacognition, having a growth mindset, and looking for opportunities to be intrinsically motivated. 

Metacognition is when the child knows about his or her own thinking processes and can reflect on them in relation to a goal, so we take every opportunity to transfer control from the teacher to the students. We help each child to make effective goals and create tasks that will help them practice. We share learning goals and criteria for success in clear, child-friendly language and help children discover how the small skills they are learning build to  big, new skills. We continually encourage the children to reflect on thinking verbally, in writing, or through discussion, and give them opportunities to draw concept maps and mind-maps to make mental connections explicit, then discuss the differences between what they created and why. Most importantly we give powerful, descriptive feedback including examples and a recipe for future actions and next steps in learning.

We encourage children to be intrinsically motivated in their learning and so strive to create opportunities where each child really wants to learn something new and has opportunities to explore areas of personal interest. In our Themed Learning this means individuals and small groups having the choice to research and explore further a particular aspect of their topic, extending their knowledge and skills. It also means giving the children the choice about how they wish to present and show their learning so they can best follow their own interests – from a computer presentation, a craft project or an interactive game. Powerful feedback is essential, both to highlight success but also to develop an acceptance that we learn from our mistakes, unpicking what went wrong and considering how we could to fix it. Even the younger students learn how to give and receive powerful, descriptive feedback about how to improve as we teach students how to self-assess and also create a climate of supportive peer assessment - both of which are powerful tools to increase motivation.

In everything we do we encourage a growth mindset so that children see and recognise that their success is directly related to effort.  The students need to be motivated to try new things and to see each of these opportunities as a chance to grow. We recognise and praise effort, not just achievement or skill, and reward students who push themselves to the edge of their skills (and sometimes over).We want them to be confident that even if they don’t know something now, with effort and application, they can learn and then move on to the next challenging task.

So well done to all the students who worked hard to prepare for their learning showcases and who demonstrated such confidence and pride while sharing their learning to a demanding audience of parents and peers. Keep up the great work! Thanks also to the parents who have encouraged and supported the children in their preparations and those who were able to come into school.

- Niki Meehan, Head of Primary


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The British International School Shanghai, Puxi

111 Jinguang RoadHuacao TownMinhang201107Shanghai


金光路111号华漕镇上海市 闵行区201107

Nord Anglia Education

4th Floor, Nova South
160 Victoria Street
LondonUnited Kingdom

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