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Three children smiling and looking at a tablet in a classroom

I’m going to tell you a true story about a nine-year-old boy. For his anonymity, I’m going to call him Sam. 

Sam was a fairly normal nine-year-old. He loved skateboarding, drawing, and playing Minecraft. He was doing well at school and he had friends. But recently, something was making Sam not want to go to school. His mental health deteriorated rapidly and it got to the stage where he was not attending school for more than a few hours a week.

Sounds worrying, right?

Of course, everyone was worried about Sam’s mental health and well-being. Some of those around him were also worried about his schooling. After all, children are expected to go to school every day. Wouldn’t he fall behind? Surely he’d be missing out on important knowledge and skills?

Fortunately, Sam is now coping much better and is back at school. However, the time he spent at home wasn’t wasted.

While he was away from school, Sam developed a new interest: animation. He spent hours watching tutorials on Youtube and he began to create his own animations using an iPad app. On his own, Sam has become an animator with his own Youtube channel. He is completely self-taught. His animations are short and simple, although he has been experimenting with longer scenes and has started creating more sophisticated scenes.

These are some of the skills that Sam has developed:

  • drawing and animation skills, e.g. how to create movement using shape changes and position
  • the number of frames required, the effect of speed and special effects
  • how to upload videos to Youtube and choose short, catchy titles
  • plot design and storytelling skills, including script writing techniques
  • characterisation and the use of voice in narration
  • the use of sound effects
  • marketing and brand design for his Youtube channel, including the design of branded merch

And he’s developed all these skills by himself, totally autonomously, in his free time. Aged nine.

It made me realise that children are much more capable of autonomous learning than we expect. But they need to be engaged. 

Some children might not find our English lessons engaging, and that’s perfectly understandable when we compare what we do in class with what children do outside school.

What we can do is make our lessons about things that really interest our learners. Let’s make English the vehicle for that learning. Let’s teach them the language they need to find out what they want to know. Let’s remove the focus from English and move it to real-world learning, allowing for exploration & discovery. Sam did this by himself and taught himself a whole range of skills. There’s no reason why we can’t allow learners to do the same in our English classes.

If you’ve seen my Inclusive Pedagogies Framework, you’ll know that real-world learning and exploration and discovery are two of the general principles for inclusive classrooms.

And if we can do this AND allow them to take part in the decision-making process, or at the very least allow them some control over the area of study and activities they do, our learners have the potential to learn more than we could ever hope for them.

Are you ready to relinquish (some) control and give it to your learners?