What if students controlled their own learning?

What kind of a school offers subjects such as ‘Geek Studies’, ‘Working with Animals’ and ‘Computer Gaming Design’? A school with no bell, no levels, where staff selection and curriculum is even decided by the students. Well, a very different kind of school.

In this fascinating, funny and refreshing TEDx talk, Templestowe College Principal Peter Hutton discusses the thought process and practicalities of putting students in control of their own learning. This is the story of how giving students the autonomy to choose their own direction creates an atmosphere of collaboration, innovation and a truly positive school dynamic.

Having hated his own secondary school experience, Peter has no doubt that the current education system and ways of teaching are broken.

Now my question today is how did we let learning get that bad. Something that in their formative years was exciting and new, and we turned it into something that was so bad that we now have to measure attendance at school. We can’t even get them to come and sit next to their friends and learn together. Much less get them to actively involve themselves in a class.

In the Templestowe College model, once students have established their basic literacy and numeracy, they begin tailoring their learning path towards their individual interests, passions and strengths.

We want to be a supportive community empowering students to manage their individualized learning and turn their ideas into reality. But what does that actually look like? Well for a start, our students determine what they learn. So once they’ve established their basic literacy and numeracy, which most students do within their first twelve months at the school, they get to select all the subjects, 100 percent of their course load, they decide from more than 120 electives. And that’s part of an individualized learning plan that each student has that they devised with the assistance if their parents.

Outside of school, students are encouraged to spend their time pursuing hobbies and interests instead of homework, this could be learning a new language, playing an instrument or even something as practical as cooking the family meal.

We also follow the research in regards to homework, which basically means we don’t prescribe homework to junior students. There’s plenty of research to say that the students would in fact get more academic benefit from an extra hours sleep than putting them through the torture of homework. Instead we ask the students to do something called ‘Home Learning’. It’s not a play on words. The students have to design and document ten hours of home learning per week but they get to decide what that’s going to be.

While this radical approach to learning may be a big leap for many educators, it is hard to argue with the results Templestowe College is achieving. It is certainly not a model that schools can duplicate overnight, but it is a fresh perspective that warrants exploration and consideration.

Now I can’t say that at TC we’ve got it all right. There are certainly things that we need to improve on and work on, but what I can tell you is when you take the risk and you allow students to take control of their own learning, truly amazing things happen.


Feature image Control icon created by iconsmind.com for The Noun Project.

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