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What Does Student-Led Learning Look Like?



There are two pillars of improvement at Wakefield School:


•Collaborative teaching


•Co-constructed learning


Collaborative teaching is highly visible.  It exists in the teachers working in teams, in how we call the learning spaces by team names ahead of room numbers, in learning conferences where more than one teacher is present; in learning activities that spread across multiple spaces, and so on.


But how visible is ‘co-constructed learning’?  Co-constructed learning happens when teachers don’t know all the outcomes they want from a topic or activity before they begin teaching it.  Children are able to influence the direction and results by shaping the activity to their own needs and strengths, and to the challenges and opportunities they can identify.  It’s where children lead their own learning, becoming more independent as they do.


This is not always visible to parents and observers, so here are some ways you can spot children leading their learning:


  1. Year 5-6 children planning and running a market day to raise money for a project or cause they consider important.
  2. Year 3-4 children choosing their own instructional reading books, suitable to their reading level and their next learning steps.
  3. Year 3-4 children knowing what their reading level and next learning steps are (my teachers didn’t share that information with me as a child; did yours?)
  4. Year 1 child packing his own school bag and keeping track of his stuff.
  5. Year 2 children running a discussion group where everybody takes turns to speak and listen.
  6. Children of all ages improving a piece of writing they have just completed: that is, taking responsibility for checking and thinking about the things they know make good writing and changing something to make it better.
  7. Children taking the more challenging choice: such as trying a maths problem that they know won’t be as easy to solve.


There are many, many more ways that children can, and do, lead their learning.  The key thing behind all this is a shift from the traditional view of children as learners in preparation to one where children are learners in action. 


Here’s a lovely example of a learner in action - this is Leah’s story about her dad that she worked on to improve:


I laughed at my Dad, he was standing next to a pig, the pig shook his head and mud went all over my dad’s forehead.  It was hilarious, we had to laugh at him.  He had to go to the boys toilets to wash it off.  I cracked up so hard.




Lovely!  Have a great week.


Peter Verstappen











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Here’s What We Mean by ‘Student-Led Learning’


Jordan, who is six years old, was recently appointed to our Student Council as a representative of Matai Kereru team.  Last week our Council meeting clashed with scooter training for Jordan.  He came to the office to tell me but I was out, so what did Jordan do?  He wrote me this letter:



To mistir vstn

Sore I cant go to the

Shooht cousool

Becose I

Got scooti

Chraning at



from Jordan.


I love this letter, for two reasons.  First, it is a beautiful expression of a child learning to write; look at how he has made sense of the words ‘student council’, you can hear Jordan picking out the sounds in his mind. 


Second, it is a beautiful expression of student-led learning.  You might ask, ‘what’s he learning?’ but consider this.  Here’s Jordan, 6, as a thinker: he knows he has an obligation to the Student Council, he sees he cannot fulfil it, he comes to tell me, that doesn’t work, he decides he needs to write to me so he creates this letter and brings it to the office.  This is even more impressive because Jordan doesn’t know much about the Student Council yet, he’s only attended one meeting, but he knows he has some sort of obligation to it.  Here’s Jordan as a communicator: if he can’t tell me in person, he’ll slave over this letter to get the message to me.  Here’s Jordan as a planner: he’s thinking ahead and balancing his commitments.  Okay, Jordan will have had some prompts from his teacher, but he’s taken up the challenge and look at what he’s achieved. 


I value the opportunities children have to be leaders at school through the Student Council, committees, monitors and other roles.  Their work in these roles contributes to the smooth running of the school, but as well as leading others they provide real occasions for children to lead themselves, to become masters of their own learning.  And that’s what a democratic curriculum looks like.


Have a good week,




Peter Verstappen 


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