The conscious espousal of Independent Learning as a desirable goal is a relatively recent phenomenon. A generation ago it was a given and schools and examiners expected 6th Formers, certainly, to read and think much more for themselves. A combination of public scrutiny through league tables, and the Curriculum 2000 A levels which put a premium on rehearsed exam technique have militated against both risk-taking, and the relaxation of control inherent in letting pupils research and learn for themselves. Societal (technological and cultural) changes, which have led young people to want immediate answers and make them impatient with the timescale of research and wide reading, have probably exacerbated this trend.
Yet it is important for us to aspire to train Radleians to be independent; they should think and discover for themselves, they should be prepared to cope with university demands where they must synthesise from books, articles and lecture notes and subsequently write for themselves; and for their careers, too, they will need to manage, and think critically about, a wealth of information, and make independent judgements which can be rigorously defended.
'Standing on the Shoulders of Giants'
Radley College’s Independent Learning Programme, ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants’, began in 2009. Our aim is to excite and inspire Sixth-formers, encouraging them to think outside the exam syllabuses and pursue knowledge for its own rewards. The Programme also guides Sixth-formers in the Planning and Research skills needed for successful sixth-form and university study.Standing on the Shoulders of Giants’ takes three forms:
First, a series of Lectures tales place over two terms, on topics as wide-ranging as ‘Astronomy’ and ‘African-American Cinema’. Each Lecture features three Speakers: either Radley dons, enthusing about their own intellectual passions - or indeed, as is increasingly the case, is given by Radley sixth-formers themselves.
The Lectures are then followed up by small seminar groups, where Sixth-formers and dons debate and discuss issues raised by the Lectures, with guidance given to boys on possible research resources and skills.
Finally, Radleians applying to highly-competitive Oxbridge or Medicine courses are encouraged to undertake Edexcel’s full ‘Extended Project’. They are helped here by dons with significant research experience, on a subject of their choice, inspired by the Programme. All other sixth-formers also undertake a Project on a topic, again inspired by the Lecture Programme or by their own interests. This can take the form of a choice of 'outcomes': it can be a written Project, a Prize essay, or indeed a Talk to their peers on a subject that fascinates them.
‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants’ has been an exciting development: with over half of Commor Room directly involved - with huge benefits for Radleians: both in terms of developing research skills and successfully planning written or oral project work.