Over the years I’ve followed a number of primary school projects online in which children are given the opportunity to lead their own pathways in what they learn during lessons, focusing on developing skills through topics that interest them. These include:
- Independent projects http://iammisterjim.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/independent-learning.html
- Passion projects http://www.classroomchronicles.net/2013/07/20/passion-projects-the-presentations/
Inspired by this work, I’ve attempted to implement a similar approach on a couple of occasions in my ICT/Computing lessons and thought I’d share some of my evaluations on their impact with you.
The first – and probably most important – decision which I had to make was when exactly to run the projects. Whilst I eventually opted to do them with Years 4 and 6 once I had covered all my essential skills lessons, it is worth noting that given a reasonable amount of planning there is no practical reason why they couldn’t be done with any year group when you consider the amount of child-led, independent learning that goes on in EYFS settings.
The second decision to make involved how much freedom I was going to give the children in the topics they worked on and with the two classes I actually ended up using two different methods – with one I felt that I gave them too much independence as the quality of their final, finished pieces of work suffered with me not being able to effectively support every child each doing completely different tasks; with the other I felt that their understanding of how to implement skills suffered as I gave them too much guidance from which many just copied.
The third decision that I needed to consider was how the project work was going to be presented to the children. In comparison, the two different methods I used both worked reasonably well – one involved the children being given a grid of generic tasks from which they had to select which to do (e.g. ‘Use Pic Collage to create a collage of photos of a place or country.’ ‘Use Keynote to create an animated scene using build in and build out events.’); the other involved children being given a booklet of tasks that got progressively more challenging as they worked through it.
For anyone wishing to implement independent projects in their classroom, I would therefore make these recommendations to make the lessons as successful as possible:
- Give the children a limited selection of task descriptions so that they are given some choice in what they do, whilst restricting the variety of different activity types that you actually need to support.
- Do not allow the project work replace discrete skills lessons – a statutory curriculum still needs covering and children still need to be taught several theory topics which obviously can’t be covered through project work.
- Consider carefully how you are going to provide the children with effective adult support – written feedback could be given in between sessions so children have targets to work on or children could be invited to visit your ‘genius bar’ for advice, for example.
- Think extremely carefully about who decides when a project is completed to a good standard – my experience has shown that children will want to rush through tasks to move on quickly, not appreciating that the quality of them is then suffering. Perhaps give children a set amount of time to do each task before moving everyone on at the same time to the next one, rather than allowing them to move on mid-lesson.
- Give the tasks meaningful contexts, making reference – where possible – to who the intended audiences for them are.
- Ensure that children are aware of what skills they are developing by doing a particular project and what ‘level’ they are working at so they know what to do to improve – good/great/super, must/could/should etc.
- Give children examples of what good quality pieces of work like so they can visually see what your expectations are. One approach that I found has worked extremely well is annotating the skills used and getting the children to tick them off once they have done them:
I hope these suggestions are helpful and please do let me know if you've found any of them helpful.