How Does Self-Directed Learning Time Affect IB Exam Scores?
featured image

The Istanbul International Community School is an inclusive school with a very diverse learning community. Its IB DP (International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme) exam results are above world averages. In 2012 IICS introduce self-directed learning time to the schedules of DP students. The model provided DP students with individual schedules allowing for an average of 16 percent self-directed learning time. The bold move was championed by some teachers, supported by others, and strongly challenged by a few. One of the challenges came from the Head of Science, who was highly regarded by students and parents alike. As a chemistry teacher, his deep concern was covering the course's significant content. He knew reducing class time by this significant amount would compromise his students' chances for success on their final exam.

During the self-directed learning time students were free to choose how they spent their time and on what courses. Students chose between working alone or collaboratively in one of two purposefully designed rooms. Alternatively, they could go to spaces like the library or art room. The school developed an online tracking system students used to report on what they were doing and where.

There were certainly challenges throughout the year as students and teachers learned how to best use SDL time. For example, students weren't always able to access their subject teachers because the fixed parts of their schedules were not always aligned.

Over the year students learned to use the time to their advantage. They independently developed their own learning groups. Students chose where to work, typically the independent study room or the collaboration room. They chose to focus on courses they believed needed additional attention. Students spoke highly of the study groups they formed, which became powerful opportunities for peer instruction. The Head of Math shared that even in her classroom during non-SDL time students began asking each other for help before asking her. Her role became facilitating student learning and helping when they struggled with complex concepts. (Read more about how the role of the teacher will change.)

Students' success on the IB DP exams became the measure against which SDL time was evaluated. In that very first year of SDL time students' DP exam averages exceeded the results of all previous years. Conversations about SDL time began to change. The Head of Science shared that he was so inspired by the success of the SDL time model that he began providing students more flexible, self-directed time during scheduled classes. Exam scores have continued to be positive indicators of the value of SDL time. The flexible time created by SDL has allowed for other improvements at IICS, including more time for students to work with college counsellors.

In interviews with students, one shared that SDL time helped prepare him for Maastricht University where students in his program were expected to self-direct; another said SDL provided invaluable time for her peers to do exam prep. A third talked about how the flexibility provided her with the time she needed to be a more successful learner. All of the randomly selected students advocated for SDL time.

The IB MYP (Middle Years Programme) students seeing the value of SDL began requesting the same opportunity. IICS implemented SDL time into the MYP schedule to positive reviews. PYP (Primary Years Programme) students and teachers began exploring what SDL time might look like with their students. They too have embedded SDL into the PYP.

IICS was recently praised by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges for the work it has been doing to make learning personal and relevant for every student. It's both exciting and affirming to know schools around the world are implementing similar initiatives to WAB's Future of Learning, or FLoW21.

More from the FLoW21 Blog