Self Directed Learning and Student Leadership

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In an earlier post I provided practical ways for teachers to build up the essential skills required by all students. (See

Employers, however, are much less keen on employees who need a teacher to set up their learning for them. In the information age, learners need to be able to navigate their own path through the maze of opportunities and media on the web. They need to be excellent in all of the skills that computers can't yet offer such as creativity, innovation, collaboration, reflection, leadership and emotional understanding.

In order to provide these essential skills, schools need to provide structures that empower students and encourage them to pursue projects and challenges that are matched to the skills of the learner. I call this 'biodegradable scaffolding' in that it needs to fade away as the learner's skills grow stronger and need it less.

For over 20 years I have been seeking out ways to achieve this within the confines of a school curriculum and exams that are, despite the research evidence, still focussed mainly on content and limited closed questioning.

  1. My first attempt 'CAPS' in 1993 failed dismally.
  2. My second 'the personal competence model' broke even and spread to a couple of schools.
  3. The third 'how high' project in 1998 achieved the fastest increase in exam results whist developing underpinning skills. I first used the approach of 'learning by ladders' which has now developed into (non commercial and freely shared under CC)
  4. - The forth attempt 'the access manager scheme' made national headlines in the UK and won some national awards for developing student leadership as an essential skill.
  5. - The fifth in which 12 and 13 year old students were trained as teachers and used early wireless systems and a one to one laptop model to teach each other the whole curriculum, won further awards and elevated the school to the top 20 in the UK in terms of value added.
  6. The sixth: 'PbyP' is a worldwide peer assessment tool and took five years to develop, spread to over 20 countries and over 40,000 learners as verified peer assessors. PbyP also won awards for innovation and lots of praise internationally but even with strong evidence to back it up, most schools were unhappy to give much status to assessments made by expert learners in other schools.
  7. This next attempt builds on what has been learned previously but tries to take away the main barrier suffered by PbyP, namely the requirements for a 1:1 laptop scheme. In this version you can become involved without any cost and without any prior training although you still need the students to have access to a good internet connection at least once per month. The project is called 'Empower to Aspire'

Empower to Aspire

This is a joint collaboration with student from community school who have already led projects, an outstanding teacher called Scott Wieprecht, Microsoft's worldwide education student representative Anya Ruvinskaya and Stuart Ball from Microsoft in the UK.

The whole scheme is explained in the attached PPT but the basic idea is as follows

  1. You register your name and country at [email protected]
  2. You make sure your teachers have a way of preparing students for the challenges during normal lessons (download the PPT at if you need to)
  3. You invite any student who wishes to improve their essential skills to take on a self directed challenge at level 4 (see the attached PPT)
  4. After a student has completed a challenge they prepare a 2 minute pitch of their evidence and present this in an online meeting (see attached PPT for details)
  5. A panel of students in the online meeting decide if it is a pass or not
  6. After 6 passes practicing different skills the student is awarded a level 4 certificate during an online meeting and can then progress to level 5 challenges.
  7. Students passing level 4 can provide assessment panels of their own and provide more online meetings so that the project can eventually scale without cost.

Please encourage any school or student you know to become involved at any time. It is an experimental approach and could fail spectacularly but as with most projects in this field that fail in this way, the experience of trying to make it work is a real life inspiration to many students and leads to even greater ideas springing forward. For the last few years, the online student meetings between student leaders in different schools that I have set up and run have lacked some form of sustainable backbone that would allow me to withdraw and leave a self supported structure. This project, I believe, has the potential to provide such a structure and I encourage you to take part and/or add comments below.

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