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Creating Structures for Successful Independent Learning

The switch to a mostly remote learning model during this pandemic has meant that students need to be independent in much of their asynchronous learning. For higher stakes assessments, like the IB Internal Assessments (IA)—all of which are significant independent research projects—this is incredibly challenging. But Environmental Science and Systems teacher Becky Hutchins rose to that challenge and has realized that the model she created for this year has long-term value.

When planning her course for the year, Becky took advantage of the Modules structure in Canvas, George School’s Learning Management System. She clearly laid out all the steps of the Internal Assessment, including everything from a calendar with a pacing guide so students have suggested deadlines for staying on track with their work, to guided videos on everything essential to the independent research process—from developing a research question to detailed demonstrations of how to gather data in a variety of habitats. Students can watch as Becky collects macroinvertebrates in a local stream or runs a transect in the forest on campus. They can access these resources at any time as they work through their projects.

Becky has noted that the beauty of this is that students can work entirely at their own pace, while still getting comprehensive direction and support from their teacher. If they have a big English paper to write, they might choose to prioritize that, but will still have everything they need to go back and catch up. If students don’t fully understand a topic, they can go back and revisit the videos and watch them at their own pace. Students cannot rush through steps, so they achieve mastery of each research component before moving on to the next. The module is also structured so that students must have successfully collected and analyzed their data before moving on to the writing and application portion of their research. Students are learning independently, but not alone. I

The module allows Becky to track students’ work, to make sure they are keeping up. Students also make more effective use of one-on-one consultation with Becky. Since they can, for example, go back and watch her instructional videos, they don’t need to meet with her to have her reteach a unit. Instead, the student and Becky can work together to do a deep analysis of the student’s specific questions and data, so that the time between student and teacher is more meaningful and productive.

Becky created this module to respond to the unique pandemic learning model of this year but has learned that these videos and this system of independent learning will have value even when we return to full in-person instruction. This system has allowed students to take full control of their own learning and to make sure their time with Becky is highly personalized and “quality time, not quantity.”

Though we hope to return to a more traditional in-person model as soon as possible, we do plan to keep the valuable lessons of this time, including creating learning structures that allow students to take control of their own education and to thrive while doing so.

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