A couple of years ago I introduced something I called free learning time (FLT) into my classroom. It was a period of time at the end of the day where children got to choose what learning they did and it was great. I had a class of 30 year 3 children of very mixed ability and mixed needs. I found some old exercise books in one of the many cupboards in school and gave them to the children as their learning logs. The children were told that these books were theirs – I was not going to be marking them and the only time I would really look at them would be with the children so we could talk about what they had been doing. I wouldn’t be checking their handwriting or their spellings, I wouldn’t be judging them on what was in them. These books were purely a place for them to do their FLT tasks so we didn’t get through huge amounts of paper (I even told them that they were old books that school didn’t use any more (we were an eco-school so I used this as an opportunity to discuss how this was environmentally friendly). What was particularly interesting is that when I did look at them (I did of course keep an eye on them), most of them were very well presented and looked after (albeit in a 7/8 year old way).
Free learning time had one main rule: whatever you are doing, you need to be able to tell me how it is helping your learning. My class had a rather large number of children who weren’t particularly interested in their learning and would jump at the opportunity to not do anything so, unsurprisingly, I was slightly nervous when I started. I pictured 25 children running wild whilst the remaining 5 complained that they couldn’t do any learning. I was wrong. And I was impressed. There was of course the odd occasion where children weren’t doing something that was actually helpful to them but even on these occasions, they were doing something that they thought would be helpful (or they’d at least gone to the effort of thinking up a way of trying to justify it to me).
Children had a range of different things they could do during FLT. Around the room, I stapled folders with activities in to the displays. Each display had its own folder or folders. Maths and English had a range of different tasks available and topic had a selection of folders with different tasks in depending on which foundation subjects linked. Children were also able to access dice, Base 10, Cuisenaire rods and Numicon during the sessions or could read a book (their own, a school reading book or one of the free readers in the class). They could handle the class snail (with supervision), could play something on the iPad or use one of the other apps and so on. When my (absolutely amazing) TA was in (which was most of the time), children were also able to go outside. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I’d essentially set up a fairly primitive version of continuous provision for year 3s.
I saw children who had been very reliant upon me to give them direction all the time begin to make their own (sensible) choices and better yet, think about how it was helpful to them. Our education system encourages independence in children in Early Years and then trains it out of them the further through school we get. Free learning time gave my class back that independence and responsibility for their own learning.
My class also saw it as a bit of a reward as we did it at the end of the day. This worked incredibly well as a carrot to dangle in front of them on the more challenging days as well as giving me the time to talk to children at the end of the day to reflect on their day – perhaps to properly discuss behaviour choices, what had worked and what hadn’t.
Unfortunately, it isn’t something I’ve been able to repeat due to moving to schools where this simply wasn’t something that was a possibility but, if I ever get the chance to do it again, I wouldn’t hesitate.
TLDR: free learning time (aka continuous provision) is great for older children too. Try it.