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Student-Led Learning?  This is What we Mean 


Last Tuesday the students from Karearea (Year 5-6) organised an Olympic games morning.  All children participated in the games, grouped into about 25 country teams.  The morning began with an opening ceremony and continued with a rotation of games, many of them invented by the senior children.  For a couple of hours the entire school grounds and hall were abuzz with children running, jumping, hurdling, lifting weights, fencing with balloons, sock wrestling, kicking and throwing balls, and a host of other creative and challenging activities.  The entire event, from inspiration to clean-up, was led by the senior children and managed by all the students themselves.  For a couple of hours our staff had little to do but enjoy the spectacle and reflect on student-led learning in action.   

Throughout the event our children were collaborative, respectful of each other, creative, responsible, communicative, resilient, motivated, enthusiastic and so on … the qualities we value in a confident lifelong learner.  I was especially proud of how our older and more capable children supported the younger and less capable, and how they resolved problems.  


A learning experience of this nature doesn’t happen by accident.  Our senior children have learned how to organise themselves through many opportunities (like market days, student committees, tent city, peer mediation).  Importantly, they know that leading learning - not just their own but all children’s - is expected around here: in fact it’s normal.  For their part, junior children learn to trust the seniors (the new entrant buddy programme is brilliant for this) and to grow their responsibility for themselves and others: some of the best moments I observed on Tuesday were younger children helping and encouraging others. 


As we were watching the event a staff member said to me, “we organised a school Olympics years ago, but then everything was managed by the teachers.  We ran all the events and were stressed to the max about it, while the children spent most of the day standing in lines waiting for their turn, getting bored and cold and ratty.  This is so different and so much more purposeful.”  



That’s what we call student-led learning, and we invite you to come and see it in action at our ... 


Wakefield School Open Day 

Thursday 25 August 


You are invited to sit in on classes, talk to students and staff, join a Q&A session with school leaders.  All welcome. 


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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