Seven ways to develop independent learners

Pearson Languages
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What is independent learning?

Students who are actively involved in deciding what and how they learn are typically more engaged and motivated.

That’s not surprising, because independent learners are extremely focused on their personal learning objectives.

According to Philip Candy, independent learning is “a process, a method and a philosophy of education whereby a learner acquires knowledge by his or her own efforts and develops the ability for inquiry and critical evaluation."


Seven ways to develop independent learners
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In the context of language learning, independent learners can recognize their learning needs, locate relevant information about language and develop the required language skills on their own or with other learners.

There are many advantages of encouraging independent learning among your students:

  • Increased recognition of strengths, weaknesses and progress
  • Higher levels of confidence
  • More motivation
  • Better management of learning
  • Improved performance

Not only will these benefits help your students while learning English, but they’ll also benefit them at school, university and even in their day-to-day lives.

How can I help my students to become independent learners?

Some of your students may already be independent learners; however, most will need your support to become more autonomous.

Here are seven ways you can help:

Make learning goals clear

Sharing learning goals with your class helps students to see what they’re aiming for and they’ll also be able to assess afterwards  whether they’ve achieved it or not. This can be done at the beginning of a lesson or series of lessons or even as a lesson progresses.

Although many teachers set the goals themselves, if you want to create a really independent learning experience, elicit them directly from the students. A simple question could be, “What do you think this activity is helping you get better at?”

Personalize learning goals

Another thing to consider is setting different goals for different learners, depending on their strengths and weaknesses. This will be much easier if the students are setting their own goals. For example, when doing a task focused on the speaking paper in an exam course, one student’s objective might be to give extended answers, while another might want to use more discourse markers.

Focus on the process as well as the goal

Once your students have set their goals, they need to start thinking about how they’ll reach them.

One way to help them get on track is to provide them with a set of ‘success criteria’, which acts like a roadmap for the different tasks they need to complete. If your students understand what they need to do to be successful, they’ll progress much faster and be more motivated when they see how far they’ve come.

If one of your student’s goals is to improve their grammatical accuracy in the C1 Advanced speaking exam, for example, you could give them a rubric (like the one below) which they can use to assess their own performance.

Keep your assessment categories as positive as possible (for example, 'solid', 'good' and 'acing it') and link it to the official exam criteria where possible.

Provide opportunities to reflect on learning

Students should constantly be encouraged to reflect on their performance and whether they’ve met their learning goals. This will help them become more aware of their strengths, weaknesses and the progress they’re making. Recognition of progress will help build confidence and motivation.

Opportunities for assessment and reflection don’t need to take a lot of time. Spending two minutes at the end of the class asking students questions like ‘What can you do better now than at the start of the lesson?’ will help learners develop critical meta-cognitive skills.

Offer feedback on learning

Teacher feedback also helps students develop the skills needed to become more independent. Offer feedback in a supportive and sensitive manner, making positive observations alongside any criticism.

Effective feedback should allow learners to understand where they currently are in their learning, where they’re heading and how they’ll get there.

Encourage peer feedback

Feedback shouldn’t only come from the teacher. You should also get students to evaluate each other’s progress during and after an activity. Peer feedback is not only advantageous to the student receiving it, but there are also many reflective benefits of giving feedback to someone else.

Transfer learning decisions to students

It’s impossible for students to become independent learners if you make all the decisions for them. Giving students the opportunity to make decisions about their learning will give them greater autonomy. However, this should be a gradual process and not all students will be ready to take 100% control from the outset.

Start with small decisions first and ask questions such as:

  • Do you want to do the task alone or in pairs?
  • Would you like to use a set of useful phrases for support when doing the speaking task?
  • Would you prefer to discuss questions about this topic or another?

This devolvement of responsibility built up over time will help learners to become more independent.

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    Boost the quality of your hires with English proficiency testing

    By Samantha Yates
    Reading time: 6.5 minutes

    Hire quality is top of the agenda for recruiters and talent acquisition leaders. Discover the impact of English skill testing on hiring fit-for-role employees.

    The results are in… thousands of recruiting professionals and top talent acquisition leaders say that sourcing high-quality candidates is their number one objective in 2024 and beyond.

    54% of recruiters are now prioritizing quality of hire above all else, according to LinkedIn’s Talent Solutions report The Future of Recruiting 2024. The report also highlights that 73% are using a skills-based approach to find top-quality hires, faster, with skills that fit the business both now and in future.

    Getting recruitment right can drastically impact productivity. In the UK alone, effective recruitment boosts productivity by £7.7bn each year, according to the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC). Conversely, the direct and indirect costs of mistake hires are a constant concern to organizations, not just in the UK but around the world. According to a survey of 400 hiring decision-makers by CareerBuilder, 75% have hired the wrong person and say that one bad hire costs them nearly $17,000 on average. It’s no surprise then that skills-based quality hiring is such a top priority for recruiters.

    It’s harder than it might seem to systematically increase the quality of your hires, especially when you’re recruiting at scale. But the rewards are high when you get it right and a skills-first approach increases your chances of success – particularly when you focus on core skills like English proficiency that underpin communication. As an added bonus, skills-based testing can speed up the recruitment process significantly.

  • A woman teaching adults stood in front of a interactive board pointing at it

    A decade with the GSE: Reflections and insights

    By Belgin Elmas
    Reading time: 3 minutes

    Prof. Dr. Belgin Elmas is the Head of the Department of Foreign Languages at TED University Faculty of Education and Pearson GSE Ambassador for Turkey. In this post, Belgin discusses her teaching journey with the GSE over the last ten years, including the key lessons and experiences from this remarkable journey.

    In 2014, our rector presented me with the opportunity to be the director of the School of Foreign Languages at Anadolu University. Overwhelmed by the prospect of managing a thriving school with 3,500 students, 220 teachers and 220 staff members, I was hesitant. Despite the challenges I would face from training pre-service teachers at the Education Faculty, I was persuaded to take on the position.

    The Global Scale of English: A framework for success

    I remember my first day as the director, feeling overwhelmed by the workload and unsure how to manage it. While I won't delve into the details or the emotional roller coaster in this blog, I will share how the Global Scale of English (GSE) became my lifesaver. Faced with the challenge of creating a robust system to teach English to new university students who struggled in their initial year, I discovered the GSE. This detailed system guides learners throughout their language learning journey and I immediately knew, “YES, this is exactly what we need.”

    The GSE came to my rescue as I grappled with the task of establishing a robust system to teach English to university students. The GSE's detailed framework was exactly the tool we needed. Our team deliberated on how to integrate this system seamlessly into our curriculum. From deciding on the specific learning outcomes our students required, to choosing methods of teaching, creating materials and assessing outcomes, each decision was carefully considered. This process fostered growth, collaboration and enriched our teaching experiences as a team.

    A key resource

    The GSE played a crucial role in shaping curriculum development. The collaborative preparation with the GSE was invaluable for everyone, especially for me as a new director. We spent long hours enthusiastically shaping our new curriculum.

    Determining the entire curriculum, including materials and formative and summative assessment components, became more straightforward and with a clear understanding of what to teach and assess. Explaining the lessons to teachers and students became straightforward, thanks to the solid foundation provided by the GSE. This framework made curriculum development and implementation much smoother.

    Adapting to feedback and continuous improvement

    When we introduced the new curriculum in the 2014-2015 academic year, we received extensive feedback from both students and teachers on nearly every aspect – materials, midterms, quizzes, pace and more.  During my five-year tenure as director, we continually refined our curriculum and targeted specific facets of the curriculum each year for enhancement. For instance, one year we focused on assessment methods, while another year was devoted to teacher professional development. We applied a similar strategy to our German, French and Russian language programs, ensuring they understood our rationale and adopted comparable approaches in their curriculum development.

    Sharing our experiences of using the GSE in our curriculum developed a lot of interest, as everyone was searching for a more effective way to teach English. Whether at academic conferences or informal meetings, our team eagerly shared their knowledge and insights.

    The GSE today and beyond

    Today, at TED University, I serve as the head of the English Language Teaching Department. A key part of my mission is equipping future language teachers with the latest advancements and GSE forms a crucial part of this preparation. By incorporating the GSE into our pre-service teacher training program, we are ensuring that all teaching materials, lesson plans and assessment products include specific learning outcomes. This serves to build our teachers' confidence in their practice.

    Personal growth with GSE

    My 10-year journey with the GSE has profoundly influenced both my professional and personal life. The principles of the scale serve as a guide in every aspect of my daily life. For instance, during conversations, I often engage in an internal dialogue: "Belgin, what you're trying to explain is at a level 70, but the person you're speaking with is not there yet, so adjust your expectations." Or I might tell myself, "Belgin, you need to read more on this topic because you're still at level 55 and need to learn more to fully grasp what's happening here." As you can see, the GSE functions as a compass guiding every area of my life.

    If I were the Minister of National Education, I would unquestionably integrate the GSE into our national language education system. I would explain the rationale behind the scale and strive to implement a similarly detailed educational framework. This system would guide learners and teachers by indicating their current level, where they need to go and the steps required for each lesson in the curriculum. I hope that in the next 10 years, the GSE will serve as a guide for even more people around the world.

    Here's to the GSE – I am grateful for its existence; it’s made a huge impact on my life. Happy birthday!

  • A group of women celebrating with confetti

    The Global Scale of English: A decade of innovation in language education

    By Pearson Languages
    Reading time: 4 minutes

    This month marks 10 years since the launch of the Global Scale of English (GSE) and what a journey it has been. As we celebrate this important milestone, it’s time to reflect on everything that has been achieved over the past decade and to take pride in the work that has contributed to the advancement of language learning, teaching and assessment around the world.  

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