As our education system turns its head toward student-centered, problem-based learning, I have been considering what this means for our youngest learners in the primary and elementary grades. The expectation for middle and high school students to identify their interests, dig deeply into topics, and show their knowledge in a way reflective of their own choosing are all high goals to achieve. I have no doubt there will be many students capable of meeting these goals, and engagement in learning will increase beyond our wildest dreams. As a teacher of the elementary grades, I’m wondering, just what will it take to prepare ALL children to meet these expectations? What can we do to engage children before they reach middle school so they become responsible for their own education?
Moving from teacher directed to student directed learning will take students who are familiar with what independent learning looks like and have the skills to think and work independently. This means teachers will need to emphasize independence and build practices into their day that foster independence.
Student independence needs to be taught, modeled, and practiced. A number of practices that encourage student independence are well worth considering:
- implement a workshop (gradual release of responsibility) model
- know your students well in order to provide resources they are interested in
- provide honest feedback and set goals with high expectations and challenges
- differentiate learning and instruction so students can be successful, gradually moving to higher level skills
- provide sufficient practice over time
- go slow to go fast-take the time for students to learn what is taught rather than cover a lot that is never learned
- offer students choice in reading and writing
- encourage self-management-offer deadlines for completion of tasks, not required to work on at a specific time
- provide opportunities for students to participate in student-led discussion of meaningful topics
- teach research skills
- provide opportunities for students to collaborate
- teach and allow for multiple ways to express learning
Some professional books and links related to practices that encourage independence in young learners:
Bennett, Samantha, 2007. The Workshop Book. Portsmouth, NH:Heinemann Publishers.
Blaumann, Leslie, 2011. Reading-Writing Classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Publishers
Buck Institute for Education, 2011. Project-Based Learning in the Elementary Grades. Novato, CA.:BIE .
Lehman, Christopher, 2012. Energize Research Reading and Writing. Portsmuth, NH: Heinemann Publishers
https://loc.gov/teachers/tps/quarterly/inquiry_learning/article.html Inquiry-Based Learning
https://www.davenport.edu/system/files/Fostering%20Independent%20Learning%20handout.pdf Power Point Presentation on Fostering Independent Learning
https://www.choiceliteracy.com/articles-detail-view.php?id=1203 “Helping Young Readers Become Independent
https://www.choiceliteracy.com/articles-detail-view.php?id=2122 Strategies for Fostering Independence in “Slow Thinkers”
https://austega.com/gifted/16-gifted/articles/38-independent-learning-strategies.html Independent Learning Strategies and Annotated Links