10 tips for Sixth Formers on working independently

In this article, author Andrew Shenton gives advice to Sixth Form students on how best to work independently.

Posted by Andrew Shenton

The Sixth Form is a time of transition for young people. Although many remain based in schools that have become familiar to them over several years, the balance of their timetables shifts and they find that independent work, to be undertaken outside the classroom, is becoming increasingly important and onerous. A lot will soon embark on even bigger changes in their lives, in which they can no longer rely on direct day-to-day contact and support from longstanding friends and family members. They will need to demonstrate ever more autonomy in their studies away from home and build steadily on the foundations of lifelong learning they have laid down already. But what principles of good practice in independent learning can Sixth Formers implement with a view to both ensuring their success now and easing their transition into Higher Education in the future?

My book, Facilitating Effective Sixth Form Independent Learning: Methodologies, Methods and Tools, is written largely from the educator’s perspective. Young people would, however, no doubt glean from the work insights which, when adopted, would improve their own independent learning much more successful, both in the Sixth Form and in their studies beyond.

If, having written the book, I were to isolate 10 tips for young learners intent on transforming the quality of their independent learning, the following points would come to mind.

1. Spend time on formulating an effective research question. Go to the relevant literature and explore it, noting the extent of the pertinent source material, its quality and what you learn from it about the key issues associated with the wider topic of interest to you before arriving at your research question.

2. Vary the specificity of your information search in the light of your initial results. If you find too little information initially, broaden your territory; if you find too much narrow it.

3. When planning your research activities near the beginning of the project, always try to schedule tasks in parallel, rather than in series. This will mean that if work in one area stalls, you can concentrate on another, without any loss of momentum. You will be able to return to the problematic task later, refreshed and perhaps with a new perspective.

4. Many young people tend to take a formulaic approach to finding and using information for an assignment. They go at once to their preferred browser, bring up Google, enter an obvious search term, look at the first Web sites that appear appropriate, briefly check their content, then copy and paste any material that seems pertinent, placing it in a document that will form the basis of the outcome. Challenge this pattern and ask yourself if a more flexible and creative course of action may be taken.

5. It may well have been recommended that you apply a particular framework to evaluate the information you access. Most of those advocated in schools have gained credibility through being published but they will be generic and not tailored specifically to your project. Consider any particular demands that arise from your research question and how you propose to tackle it. Assess how effectively the information you have collected meets these criteria, as well as how it fares against the generic considerations in the framework.

6. If you are gathering and analysing data that you have elicited yourself, remember that it must also be of high quality and evaluate it, too. Perhaps you can tweak the framework you applied to evaluate information in order to help you in a ‘data’ context.

7. Your educator may suggest that you should draw on at least a certain number of sources for your project. If you are struggling to integrate material from so many, initially restrict the items you consult to a figure you find manageable and gradually extend the knowledge base step-by-step until you have met the educator’s expectations.

8. When referencing material within your document, make sure it is obvious to the reader which content has come from sources and which is entirely your own. There should be no ambiguity.

9. At the beginning of your project, the educator may well have issued you with a brief and other sheets to guide you. Although these should be consulted at the outset, it is also wise to return to them at the end. Can you highlight the key matters so that they form a checklist against which you can evaluate the work for yourself shortly before its submission?

10. Embrace all the opportunities offered by the educator for your development even when their exploitation is not essential for the work at hand and you doubt whether making use of them will lead to a better grade. Their value may be more apparent in the long-term.

Coverage of these and other issues can be found in the book, Facilitating Effective Sixth Form Independent Learning. Buy it from Facet Publishing.

About the author:

Andrew K. Shenton, BA (Hons), MSc, PhD, DLitt, PGCE, FCLIP, has worked at Monkseaton High School, in north-east England, for the last 16 years. Dually qualified in education and information science, he has been involved in teaching the Extended Project Qualification since its inauguration in the organisation in 2010. A specialist in the fields of information behaviour, information literacy and research methods, he has over 200 publications to his name in these areas.

To contact the author directly, please email ashenton1@outlook.com.