Building Resilience Through Self-Led Study

USP College

This project focused on building resilience through self-led study for 16-18 year olds studying Functional Skills (FS), GCSE resits and A Levels in an FE college setting.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway.


The team comprised five English teachers at the Palmers campus and ten at the Seevic campus. A senior manager, a middle manager and two administrators also contributed, and four case study students shared how the project activities they were involved in have positively impacted their resilience through self-led study.

The aims were to establish a reading culture, to set high expectations for homework completion, and to individualise learning for catch up, skills-building or stretch and challenge. These aims reflect the college’s priorities of delivering high-quality teaching and learning activities that positively impact student progress and lead to strong exam results.

Additional activities were later designed, such as book boxes and wider reading for pleasure lists, as teachers gained interest in the project and observed the benefits of action research.


The focus on building resilience through self-led study was chosen as a way of helping students in their college studies, higher education and careers. It was hoped that increasing students’ participation in self-led study activities would gradually normalise and embed it into their weekly schedules and start to reduce the resistance to it that has been observed in previous student cohorts. For example, GCSE students who usually shy away from self-led study would generate resilience through a little but often approach with timely feedback, and A Level students would maintain an interest in their elected subject by participating in activities away from the set texts.

Other intentions of the project activities were to make an immediate impact on improved student progression in the following ways:

• increase motivation to tackle self-led study
• gain confidence
• become better prepared for exams
• complete coursework to a higher standard
• develop transferable skills for the future

Research by Meyer et al into the benefits of self-led study supports the view that students must take accountability for their own learning to build resilience by working autonomously:

… the key ingredient in independent learning was the shift of responsibility for the learning process from the teacher to the student. Students acquired an understanding of their learning, being motivated to learn and collaborating with teachers to structure their learning environment.
(Meyer et al, 2008, p2)

Since GCSE resit and A Level students are required to supplement their classroom contact time with additional study hours and exams are individual endeavours by nature, it is vital to equip these students with the resilience through self-led study that will enable them to encode learning content and recall it within an exam environment.


Initially, three activities were proposed, including flipped reading, interactive programs, such as Padlet and Educake, and extra English sessions. Teachers discussed which activities suited their student groups and levels, and each chose at least one activity to trial. They developed resources and their own delivery approaches, and discussed tips, successes and pitfalls over the course of the project.

Because of timetable and campus distance restrictions, and endeavouring to maintain project momentum, many of the shared experiences (e.g. discussing tips, successes and pitfalls) occurred organically over email or during break times.

Each teacher took a different approach to delivering the activities, including:

Activity #1: Flipped Reading

• GCSE: read text extracts from the Resource Booklet
• A Level: read set texts

How did these approaches build resilience through self-led study?

By asking students to read text extracts for homework, the responsibility was on them to prepare ahead of the next lesson. This meant that we could spend longer on textual analysis and essay writing in lessons. It also gave students the opportunity to research unknown vocabulary and contextual references.

Additionally, a TV or film clip of the text was shared (if available), such as ‘Frankenstein’, to help students further comprehend the writer’s ideas and review a modern adaptation for analysis of modern audience reception.

What were the barriers and how were they overcome?

Students who did not read the extract were asked to read it at the start of the next lesson while peers started analysis, and were urged to do the homework next time to feel more prepared. If the analysis and paragraphs were not finished by the end of the lesson, those learners were given a chance to catch up as homework, and if still not completed, would have to attend the extra English session. This strategy produced homework from three students who did not want to attend the extra English session.

Activity #2: Interactive Programs

• GCSE: Educake trial
• GCSE: VLE/Moodle
• A Level: Padlet

How did these approaches build resilience through self-led study?

The aim of the Educake trial was to discover whether setting homework tasks through an interactive program increases the amount of students’ self-led study. The students involved in the trial found it to be user-friendly, mostly enjoyable, helpful for exam preparation, and a good investment.

A Level students were encouraged to interact with the resources and links on the Padlet both in lessons and at home. This gave them: greater control over the pace they took through the lesson activities; easy to find key information; quick access to homework tasks and deadline reminders; a platform to share examples of their own work; and a forum to log course questions.

Although only one course question has been logged so far (”Can we go over the paper layouts?”), it resulted in the link to past papers being uploaded to the Padlet, and students are encouraged to regularly submit practice essays as part of their progress reports.

What were the barriers and how were they overcome?

Only seven students completed the ‘Night Train’ Educake homework. However, activities are simple to design, set and track in the program; the selection of questions is relevant to the exam material; and the price is reasonable for unlimited student accounts. It was therefore decided to set up a subscription and roll out the program to all GCSE students. It is hoped that promotion and consistency in delivery will improve the uptake.

The VLE/Moodle has the capability to design interactive quizzes. However, despite running CPD training, teachers have not yet developed any interactive resources on the platform, preferring to use Educake instead.

Additional Activities Developed During the Project
• FS and GCSE: 15-minute reading starter
• A Level: wider reading for pleasure list
• A Level: book club

How did these approaches build resilience through self-led study?

The reading starter fostered a reading culture that, it is hoped, permeates from the classroom into the students’ homes; and offered the opportunity for students’ engagement with different literary genres such as magical realism.

The wider reading task encouraged students to choose a text that either focused on a topic that interested them, contained challenging vocabulary, introduced them to a new literary genre or simply kept their passion for reading alive amidst the compulsory reading.

Two A Level students were inspired to start a book club, which is strong evidence of the original thinking and creativity that can arise from focused self-led study. The students were enthusiastic to promote their book club and developed a strategy to recruit new members.

What were the barriers and how were they overcome?

Students with poor punctuality did not receive the full benefit of the reading starter, as it was run only once per week. Students were asked to complete a brief questionnaire at the start and end of the project aimed at gaining attitudes to reading. A larger increase in students reading at home had been anticipated, but teachers will continue to promote consistency to improve numbers reading at home.

Whilst comments made in the wider reading questionnaire showed that reading for pleasure can positively impact self-led study, evidence of this is yet to be observed in at least one student who responded, as she consistently attends lessons without her notes. Reminding her of the motivation she felt during this activity could be used as a strategy for attention to self-led study in her set text analysis.

The book club is in its early stages, so the two students now need to promote it to their peers to capitalise on their initial inspiration.

For the reading starter, teachers were inspired to set up a book box. In the FS classes, the teacher reported that the activity had put reading on the radar, focused attention on gaining meaning from texts and that some students’ reading skills had progressed. In the GCSE classes, the teachers reported mixed results in engagement. In one classroom, just 6/130 students completed the book review task.

For the A Level wider reading activity, teachers provided a list but also discussed other titles in classroom discussions. One teacher reported that more students were reflecting on individual study (e.g. discussing starting points and the impact of wider reading on their knowledge set). Discussions were not a prescriptive process, and arose spontaneously. Another teacher reported a learner who admitted enjoying the wider reading text more than the set text.

Teacher reflections on action research were recorded and the Professional Standards were reflected upon.

Evidence of improved collaboration and changes in organisation practices

There have been small shifts in organisational practices. Most teachers wanted their students to read more and were challenged to devise methods to effect this change. The project meant that teachers were given a forum to discuss their ideas, and were empowered to follow their own initiative or to try colleagues’ successful approaches.

Teacher mindsets were challenged too. One had initially only wanted to deliver the reading starter, but later trialled the Educake program. Consequently, a ‘no pressure’ stance towards colleague involvement aided motivation to participate, and commitment to just one activity helped to build confidence.

Additionally, a staff Padlet for action research was established to embed it into our normal working practice.

Evidence of improvement in learners’ achievements, retention and progression

The two case studies for the project both involve a primary and a secondary student. This is because we wanted to capture both GCSE and A Level students and thought the best way to record their experiences would be to interview them. Therefore, a secondary student became involved.

For the GCSE case study, Student A (primary) participated in Activity #1: Flipped Learning Reading Homework. In his interview, he discussed how he had read a fictional text extract as homework and completed a PEEL paragraph to apply the linguistic analysis learned in the classroom. He expressed how doing flipped reading homework tasks had helped him to prepare for his November resit exam, in which he achieved a grade 5; an increase of two grades.

For the A Level case study, Student C (primary) chose a text to read in addition to her course set texts to see if reading for pleasure positively impacts self-led study. Student D (secondary) joined Student C in reading the text and they were then inspired to start a book club. In their interview, they discussed how reading together had been enjoyable and they wanted to include other students in the experience. This evidences their improved resilience through self-led study because they have established not only a reason to study outside the classroom, but an accountability.

Learning from this project

Rather than concentrating on a growth mindset, this project focused teachers’ attention on encouraging their students to participate in self-led study activities to build resilience.
Teachers have taken their own approaches to the proposed project activities, and therefore have devised their own methodologies.

A selection of knowledge claims include:
• “Students who apply their classroom learning to reading essay tasks outside of the classroom are better prepared for exams.” (Student A, Activity #1: Flipped Reading)
• “Students who utilise the content on interactive programs, such as Padlet, Educake and Moodle, are better prepared for classroom work.” (Activity #2: Interactive Programs)
• “Students who engage with reading inside the classroom are more likely to continue reading outside of the classroom.” (Student B, Additional Activity: 15-minute reading starter)
• “Students who read self-chosen texts in addition to the course set texts are more likely to be inspired to establish self-led and collaborative learning activities.” (Students C and D, Additional Activity: wider reading lists/setting up a book club)

Some approaches worked better than others, and teachers gave feedback that activities were more effective when:
• there was consistent delivery
• the activity level presented some challenge, but not over-challenge
• activity completion helped to build student confidence through either success or constructive feedback
• the activity was self-chosen.

Approaches were less effective when:
• there were larger groups with more behaviour management demands
• students were less organised or motivated (for a range of reasons).

Teachers need to choose which activities would best suit the needs of their groups: whether to engage, inspire attention to detail, or give purpose of action.

To sustain the initiative, teachers will continue to run the activities until the end of the academic year although this will mean not stopping the activities until after the project has formally ended. The data will then be reviewed for any positive links between success and participation in project activities.
Action research will also be championed by extending the initiative to include maths teachers.