Why Independent Learning is the Way Forward for Teachers and Students

Mar 04, 2024
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Students from John Beddoes School

John Beddoes Campus, Newtown High School is a secondary school in Powys, Wales. The school has been teaching the Apps for Good App for Social Action course to their Year 7 Computing students.

App for Social Action introduces students to coding while having meaningful discussions around the social issues they’re facing. Not only do students develop important computing and digital literacy skills, but the course works towards achieving essential skills and encourages independent learning too.

For these students, in their first year of secondary school, this has been a valuable introduction to independent learning as part of a group and in pairs within the classroom. They have sometimes found the group work challenging, as they have had to develop skills in listening and speaking in a group setting, and being diplomatic in their choices. One student said “I found it difficult trying to solve the problem with the whole group, because some people would disagree on things.” with another saying “I found it tricky finding something that the whole group will agree with.”

Kalvin Burrows, Computing Teacher at John Beddoes Campus, said “I love the fact that students are swapping roles. One is the navigator, one is the driver and they swap and change, so everyone gets to do something else. And the fact they get to work in pairs, in groups, and on their own”.

These skills, while difficult to master, will be essential to the future success of these students. All of our courses at Apps for Good are accredited by Skills Builder, which recognises that our courses provide young people with an opportunity to develop the essential skills they need to succeed in education, employment and wider life. As well as the digital and computing skills they will acquire, they will also develop up to eight essential skills across communication, problem solving, leadership and teamwork skills.

Skills Builder Partnership - Skill Icons Grid.png Image courtesy of Skills Builder

Mr Burrows has recognised the importance of learning how to work effectively as a team, as well as developing digital skills, for the future of his students.

“Any job you go to, whether like me as a teacher in the classroom, I still have to work as a part of a team. So it is the team work, it’s the working together, it’s the planning. It’s digital literacy as well, having that confidence and building confidence in IT. Because every business, every job, will be using some sort of IT.”

The students themselves also feel that they’ve already seen their teamwork improve. One student said, “I found that it's built my confidence up to actually work in a team because usually I'm sat out and people kind of almost forget I'm in their team.” While another said, “I think I have learned a little bit more on how to get everybody to agree on things.”

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“I found that it's built my confidence up to actually work in a team because usually I'm sat out and people kind of almost forget I'm in their team.””

Mr Burrows can see that his students are motivated most by getting hands-on with using the coding platform, App Lab, and seeing their designs come to life. He says that the students get a lot out of the real-world aspect of the course, and enjoy finding solutions to the issues they really care about, “It's one thing having a discussion, but then they're doing something about it, and they’re making something modern like an app, something that’s relevant to them, things that they use every day. They’re doing something real.” He continues, “I think perhaps it’s making things a bit more real for them. That they are making a difference and it does matter. And they’re the ones making a change.”

Putting their learning into a context helps the students to engage with the topic, making it relevant to their lives and the world around them. They are more motivated as a result, and will hopefully continue to develop their computing and digital skills beyond the course. At John Beddoes they have noticed students are excited to be taking part in App for Social Action, recognising positive behaviour in the classroom and a sense of pride from the students. Mr Burrows said, “The first thing you notice is the enthusiasm. And the fact that at no point, are you telling anyone off. You’re not telling anyone to get back on with their work. They are focused, they are committed, they’re enjoying it, they’re happy, smiling… they’re excited. And then when they get to share their screen with their friends, and they check it out on the phones, it's almost like they can't believe they've done it themselves. This is a real thing.”

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The first thing you notice is the enthusiasm. The fact that at no point, are you telling anyone off. You’re not telling anyone to get back on with their work. They are focused, they are committed, they’re enjoying it, they’re happy, smiling and excited.”

For him, he’s also found teaching the course eye-opening as it’s shown him that computing doesn’t need to be taught with students working by themselves at computers. Students can still practise team work and be in charge of their own learning with Apps for Good. “What's been really interesting to me is, this isn’t how I would normally teach IT. I would never normally have them in groups, they’d be on separate machines on the software themselves.”

And how about some notable success stories from the class? Mr Burrows says one of his biggest breakthroughs has been with a group of boys who’ve really changed since starting the course, “We had a group of students… it's fair to say they were very disorganised to start off with. They weren’t really following instructions, they weren’t really following what we were saying. And as the weeks have gone on, they’re getting organised, listening, they're actually enjoying it, they are engaged. And they're producing some great work. They've come a long way.”

Part of that enthusiasm may be down to the fact that the students themselves can see how important what they’re learning about will be for their future. One student remarked that, “It’s teaching me how to do different things on computers that I didn't know how to do before.” Another student continued, “It could help because it could make more impact on what your job in the future could be. So if you don't do this, and you don't know how to work on a computer, you wouldn't really have much jobs you can do.”