Empowering classrooms with student-led learning

Gavin McLean discusses ways in which student-led learning can be implemented in international school settings and why a one-size-fits-all approach is never enough.

The power of student-led learning

Teaching, of course, plays a central role in education. However, in contemporary education there is little doubt that the focus has shifted from teaching to learning. Adopting an educational approach that places students at the centre of the process has gained in popularity not only because it offers students the choice of what and how they learn, but because its independent approach also equips them with the key skills they will later rely on in life. This is achieved by providing students with greater responsibility for their learning, encouraging more collaboration within the classroom, while ensuring that active and meaningful learning occurs.

Student-led learning encourages greater autonomy and helps ease student transition from the classroom to life after school. It is also a pedagogical approach that is becoming more widely adopted in international education and will hopefully become the norm, not the exception. What’s more, when you look at its positive impact, the power of student-led learning should come as no surprise. It steps away from the outdated one-size-fits-all model and embraces the personalised learning ethos by helping students discover their own potential; encouraging learning through trial and error and reducing the negative connotations imbued with ‘mistakes’; developing independent and critical thinking and problem-solving skills; and increasing engagement in the classroom.

Prioritising student agency undoubtedly breaks the mould of traditional education but it is crucial in providing pupils with a greater voice and empowering them to take a more active role in their education.

Creating a student-led classroom

The benefits of student-led learning are clear. However, adopting this approach to learning faces many challenges, particularly in the context of international schools which are also required to navigate cultural differences and beliefs, varying academic levels, and diverse backgrounds. That said, there are some simple and effective ways to facilitate student-led learning and help pupils take greater ownership of their education.

1. Rearrange the classroom

One of the easiest ways to encourage greater engagement from students in their learning is to change the physical learning environment. If students are able to determine what their classroom looks like, they can create a more enjoyable learning environment and can view teaching and learning in a more positive light.

This could involve rearranging the layout of tables and chairs but could also involve ‘softer’ touches such as display boards and posters that motivate the class and highlight key learning areas for the term.

2. Develop self-awareness

Flexible learning environments can also support students in developing their confidence as this approach naturally lends itself to more peer group and collaborative learning activities. This allows students to become more aware of their personal strengths and weaknesses through which SMART goals can be developed to extend and improve their approach to learning as much as possible.

3. Use individualised learning applications

With the support of individualised learning applications, this self-awareness can be further built upon through instantaneous feedback loops and reinforced learning. Adaptive on-line resources used in the classroom or at home allow students to work effectively at an appropriate level, receiving support or being challenged by the app, depending on the way they interact with it.

4. Aim for conceptual understanding

As mentioned previously, student-led learning is centred around the idea of students actively participating in their education. With this in mind, students should focus their learning on underlying concepts rather than simply memorizing facts as this deeper understanding will invite more diverse and cross-curricular applications. To facilitate this, teachers can encourage students to ask questions and demonstrate the links between different concepts and subjects or even experiences beyond the classroom, which are more connected to their personal sphere.

5. Encourage reflection

Importantly, in student-led learning much of the success relies upon a student’s ability to be reflective and aware of their own learning process and outcomes. After all, only if a student can leverage and address their strengths and weaknesses respectively will success follow. A useful way of developing critical reflection is by encouraging students to keep a class journal as part of their homework routine. This can help them maintain and analyse their progress towards achieving their goals and can also help inspire students to push themselves further.

Additionally, self-reflection can be integrated into the classroom through simple tasks such as writing SMART goals and asking the students to measure their own success. ‘Pairing and sharing’, requires pairs or small groups of students to come together to ask each other questions about the lesson material and what they have understood or struggled with, which tasks they completed successfully and where there is room for improvement.

Self-reflection is an important aspect of learning, and by creating opportunities for students to reflect on their progress, we are, in turn, deepening their understanding not only of key concepts, but also their personal learning process. It is this self-inquiry that provides valuable insights for teachers and students alike and if conducted at the beginning and end of each unit can inform an adaptive student-led learning experience that empowers all involved.

Gavin McLean, International Business Development Director at Edmentum International,






Feature Image: Geralt – Pixabay

Support Image: Edmentum