Approximately five years ago, IICS began a major shift in how education is delivered in the Secondary School.  For years students had been bringing laptop computers to school and the increasing advantages of working electronically in many situations were becoming evident to all.  IICS, therefore, decided to implement a one-to-one netbook program and all students were provided with a computer. Having easy access to information via wireless internet connections in every classroom allowed students to take more ownership of their learning.  Students could undertake instantaneous fact checks and scan the latest news and research on topics of debate in order to participate in informed academic discussions. Additionally, they could seek on-line tutorials for concepts/skills they were in the process of mastering. The success of the one-on-one laptop program became the impetus for more change.

The following year, teachers at IICS were introduced to ManageBac, an electronic portal designed exclusively for IB schools by former IB students.  This allowed teachers to post work linked to MYP units and assessment criteria, and greatly facilitated communication of student progress in CAS, Extended Essays, and Personal Projects. The potent combination of student laptops, wireless internet, and ManageBac allowed teachers to begin rethinking the delivery of MYP and DP classes. As instructional approaches evolved, the existing timetable– which allocated students to specific classrooms all day every day– no longer seemed appropriate.

In response, IICS embarked on a bold journey and introduced Self-Directed Learning Time for students in Grades 11 and 12 (the Diploma Program years).  As so much work could be delivered electronically, traditional classroom time for students was decreased by approximately 30% and students were given the freedom to direct their own learning.  To facilitate the SDL time, two dedicated SDLT rooms were allocated to DP students: one collaborative learning environment, and room conducive to private study.  DP teachers, no longer tied to their classrooms, were more readily available to work one-on-one and in small groups with students. Teachers served as supervisors in the SDLT rooms, and students had access to teachers’ schedules, which allowed them to initiate conferences with their teachers as needed.

The benefits of SDLT became clear very quickly.  Students were able to decide what and how they wanted to learn. They could allocate their SDL time to work on the DP subjects that they found particularly challenging or particularly interesting; they could work collaboratively with classmates on learning tasks that would normally be completed at home in isolation, or they could use the time to extend their learning in areas of interest beyond our taught curriculum.  Time was also now available for students to work on the DP Core Requirements: the Extended Essay, ToK, and CAS. Students had more flexibility to meet with the college counselor and the DP and CAS Coordinators without having to miss scheduled classes. Finally, students discovered that in order to gain the most from SDL time, they needed to develop effective Approaches to Learning capitalizing on their preferred learning styles.

The initial results of the implementation of SDLT in the DP at IICS have been very encouraging.  IB results remain good (see below chart) and there are indicators of improved performance by students at the high-achieving end of the spectrum.  Teachers have embraced the concept with some teachers now introducing versions of SDLT into their own classrooms where appropriate. Conversations with students and teachers are no longer about “meeting course hour requirements” but about improving Approaches to Teaching and Learning and guiding students towards independent inquiry.

Based on the positive experience with Self-Directed Learning at the DP level, the approach has been incorporated into the MYP extended homeroom program where students now benefit from SDLT every Friday morning. This innovation has proven equally popular and effective with the younger students who appreciate the freedom of choice that comes with SDLT.

The success of our SDLT journey depends on our willingness to learn from our experiences by reflecting on the challenges we have faced.  During the past two years, our learning has resulted in:

•         An altered structure in the DP timetable which provides differentiated SDL time:  more for DP12 and less for DP11, as the university and DP Core Requirements for DP12 students are far greater.

•         Agreements on the role of supervisors in SDLT rooms focusing on guidance: supervisors gently nudge students in productive directions, and engage DP students in informal conversations about learning.

•         An improved physical space, especially in the collaborative SDLT room, to create a differentiated environment from a typical classroom and ideally improve motivation

•         The development of inquiry-based units of work to be delivered solely through SDL time with clear objectives and assessment criteria.

•         The implementation of student contracts to track student progress and clarify expectations

Interestingly, many teachers who were initially resistant to the introduction of Self-Directed Learning Time are now its leading supporters, and are actively engaged in enhancing our program. After having worked together throughout the academic year as a Professional Learning Community, three of our teachers (Patricia Hermes, Jaima Holland and Chris Pultz) presented their ideas and experiences with SDLT at the InnovatED Un-conference which was part of the CEESA Annual Conference in Dubrovnik. Based on the response to their presentation, it is clear that many CEESA schools are very interested in finding out how IICS is able to effectively deliver DP courses with less teacher-directed instruction.    The interest and accolades received from other schools wrestling with the same issues that SDLT is designed to ameliorate were very encouraging.

As the journey continues, IICS is committed to promoting a culture of continuous improvement. In regards to  Self-Directed Learning this includes determining:

•         The optimal and most appropriate balance between formal classroom instructional time  and self-directed learning time.

•         How to promote more effective collaboration during SDL time.

•         How to more effectively track student progress through a mentor system.

•         How to provide structure and supervision for school- supported, self-taught languages, particularly as the IB actively encourages students to study their native language.

•         How to actively promote goal setting and support the development of students’ Approaches to Learning.

As we move forward, our objective is to continue to create the systems necessary to allow for a more personalized learning experience for each member of the IICS learning community.

Joe Lumsden  Patricia