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Developing independent learning in the early years

This paper describes a research project currently running in Cambridgeshire Foundation Stage settings exploring the development of independent learning in young children. In the first year the project has explored the work of 16 practitioners working with 3–5 year old children, using a range of methodologies including questionnaires, interviews and reflective dialogues (based on video recordings of particular classroom episodes), reflective journals and child assessment checklists. The development of the range of abilities involved in becoming a self-regulating, independent learner has been conceptualised in terms of research and theory relating to the development of ‘metacognitive’ abilities and dispositions. It is argued that, while the development of independent learning is generally accepted as an important educational aim, current trends in Primary education which have encouraged a more teacher-directed approach, are not helpful. The paper advances a model of independent learning which is based on developmental psychological research, and presents interim findings from the project which suggest that even our youngest children are capable of considerable independence in their learning. While particular pedagogical techniques and approaches need to be developed, many of these are well-established and researched, and can be shown to be effective in fostering independent learning abilities within the Primary school context.