Independent Learning

What is independent learning? 

This is a question that continues to be debated by academics around the world.  A single definition is difficult to achieve due to the multi-faceted nature of learning.  Many agree on the concept incorporating notions of students becoming self-directed in their learning and being able to adopt a variety of skills and strategies in order to build understanding and tackle complex problems. 

At Dulwich Prep we seek to promote independence in learning and aim to develop learners who move into senior schools with confidence in their own strategies for learning and thus welcome academic challenge.  The developmental process is gradual and inextricably linked to maturity, however support structures and scaffolds are put in place for each student from the very beginning of their learning journey.

How is this achieved?

There are many ways in which independence in learning can be achieved.  Dulwich Prep provides a wide variety of experiences for all of its students in order for them to develop.  A few are noted below.

Homework (Prep)

Prep is traditionally one of the more regular opportunities for boys to learn independently.  Following the recent Prep review a few aspects of homework have been highlighted as being extremely important in ensuring it is a valuable learning experience for all. 

 - Prep must be integral to the curriculum and not an ‘add-on’ activity.

 - Prep must be relevant and useful and its relevance clear to each boy.

 - Prep must not be set for the sake of setting prep.


Taking time to evaluate one’s own work is an extremely beneficial learning process.  Boys are given support in analysing their own work and identifying areas for improvement and adjustment.  Support comes in the form of allocated time slots, effective modelling from teaching staff and systemic structures such as the ‘purple pen of progress’.

Subject-Specific Endeavours

Each subject covered in the boys’ curriculum will provide opportunities for independent learning.  The range of prospective activity is enormous and highly valued at Dulwich Prep London.   A few examples from a variety of age groups are shown below:

 - Scientific experimentation and subsequent drawing of conclusions.

 - Creative writing or comprehension pieces

 - Mathematical problem solving or problem setting.

 - Improvisation work in Drama, Art and Music.

 - Skill development in PE, DT, Cookery etc.

 - Historical research and subsequent utilisation of evidence.

 - Terminology and Vocabulary practice in Languages and Humanities departments.  

Laying Foundations

As previously mentioned Dulwich Prep seeks to begin the journey toward independence as soon as each child is capable.  The Early Years section encourages young children to develop the skills to manage themselves independently socially, academically and emotionally.

A prime example is the use of free flow activities.  In order to help develop self-direction, children have to make the decision which activity to choose, how long to stay there and when to move on. 

Examples include:

 - Building on previous learning and practising this independently e.g. making cakes from play dough after a cooking lesson

 - Developing problem-solving skills e.g. building a lego model and choosing which bricks to use

 - Turn taking and sharing – often an independent activity will be shared by other children

 - Negotiating skills – which pieces can I use?

 - Collaborative play – e.g. making up stories in the role play area, building a train track or sharing a story book together

Specific facilities

Dulwich Prep London recognises the need for specific facilities in order to support boys in their desire to become independent learners.  The following are integral in the boys’ development and provide enjoyable experiences for a great number of children.

The Library – a dedicated librarian with an encyclopaedic knowledge and understanding of children’s literature and age appropriate non-fiction helps boys utilise the plethora of books on offer for independent endeavour.

The Music School – The music school foyer has a baby grand piano which is available for boys to use at their leisure.  Practice rooms and instruments are available for students to work on their skills.  

Skylab – A dedicated team of academic staff run Skylab, a Skills and Strategies for Learning department which is designed to help students hone specific learning skills when areas are identified as weaknesses by their subject/class teachers. 

Why is Independent Learning so Important?

In a world which is becoming increasing well-connected the ability to adapt and evolve as an individual is essential.  Becoming a global citizen is as important now as it ever has been.  Boys who develop and hone effective learning skills will be more flexible and adaptable to the ever-changing landscape that is the future. 

We no longer need to learn the capitals of the world, or the elements of the periodic table.  The majority of us have that information in our pocket in the form of a smartphone.  However, we need to know how to effectively search for information and utilise it once found.  We need to understand how to manipulate information to serve a purpose and how to cope when the information we require is not at hand. 

Becoming an independent learner helps future-proof the individual.  Becoming an effective learner provides someone with the tools they need to adapt and adjust to unfamiliar situations.  We want each and every boy to move into their respective senior schools and beyond with confidence and with a skill set which will enable this.