Happy Independence Day, everyone!

I have some quiet time to myself on this holiday and I was perusing Facebook and noticed someone was on a soapbox (something with which I myself am quite familiar) about not calling today "The Fourth of July", but going back to the holiday's 1940's roots and calling it Independence Day. Or course, this person went on a political rant about the state of our country today and Obamacare, blah blah blah. However, the thought crossed my mind about how difficult it is to balance the immediate needs of our students with the very important life skill of becoming an independent learner.

There is a lot of research about why
it is important to create independent learners. There's even a whole new term that addresses this issue: The Flipped Classroom.  There's also Reader's Workshop, Writer's Workshop, Daily 5, BUILDMontessori, and hundreds of books on the topic. Clearly, this is an educational philosophy that is not going away. Considering the staggering fact that most of the jobs we are preparing students for today do not yet even exist, we obviously need to teach kids how to learn. We can not always hold their hand. Even the Common Core standards put more emphasis on discovery and metacognition instead of rote drill and practice.

So, what are some ways we can encourage independence in the classroom? Here are some ideas:

Problem Solving

Teach students to problem solve. st.com/" style="color: #76838b; text-decoration: underline;" target="_blank">PinterestThere are a ton of resources out there to support you. I have always modeled problem solving with made up and real scenes and walked my students (PreK through 8th grade), through the steps appropriate for their age. I have used the basic ideas in the Responsive Classroom approach and the chapter from Teaching Children to Care which talks about using I statements, the importance of listening and paying retribution instead of the traditional, move your clip/lose recess/note home approach. The Pretzels Activity from the book is an effective technique to use in the classroom. By teaching students to solve problems with peers, they practice critical thinking, language, problem solving, logic, compassion, generosity, forgiveness and self control  in a real life situation that is important to them. That is a skill all individuals need, not only for day to day life but also to free up teachers and other leaders from having to solve others' problems.

Visual Cues
I always have lots of visual cues in my classroom. One of my favorites was a hat I made to wear when I worked with small groups. It was shaped as a triangle with red, yellow and green paper on each side. I explained to the students that if I was wearing the hat with the red side facing them, then they only thing they could interrupt me for was if someone was bleeding or seriously hurt. Yellow was for things like bathroom emergencies. Green meant they could come ask me questions about their work as well.

I recently saw this on Pinterest where students bring a clothespin with their name on it up to you and then you call the students as you have a moment. I have found when delaying the help I would give the student, they would often figure it out themselves before I got back to them.

Visual schedules, posters, anchor charts, reminders, checklists, etc. are all excellent ways to promote student independence if you teach the students how to use these tools.

When students know what to expect, they are more confident in their own ability to make decisions and are less likely to feel the need for teacher support. Something as simple as posting a schedule in the room can help students who are always unsure of what's happening next.

Speaking of confidence, students that are confident in their own abilities are more independent. You can foster this in your classroom by rewarding behavior and effort instead of achievement. An example of this is how I reward Accelerated Reader. Instead of rewarding for reading a set number of points, I reward students after determining a baseline. After I am able to see what they can already do with the program, I reward for a percentage increase with individual goals. For example, one student might end the first month of the program with 25 points, another might only have 5 points. I might set a goal to double their points by the following month, which means one student might get rewarded at 50 points and another at 10 points. I keep track of this by percentages. So, on a chart I show how close every student is to their individual goal. So, if a student whose goal is 10 the second month has 7 points, they are at 70% of their goal. If in the same class a student whose goal is 50 the second month has 40 points, they are at 80% of their goal. While 7 and 32 are vastly different, everyone is working on individual growth.

Students, especially students that struggle, are more willing to take risks if they do not think they are stupid. To get this pont across, I do many lessons regarding multiple intelligences, learning styles and differences. A new activity I am going to try this year I found at Education World.   After discussing how everyone has strengths and weaknesses and how each person's brain is different, we will all make these thumbprints as a visual reminder of each person's uniqueness. I plan to also create an art project with everyone's thumbprints to demonstrate the idea that everyone is valuable to the whole. Reinforcing this idea every time someone makes a comment about being stupid or 'bad' at something helps students tremendously.  I am also careful to phrase comments about myself as strengths and weaknesses. So, instead of saying, "I'm not a good artist", I say, "Drawing is not my strength, but I'll try."

A whole post could be written just on this topic alone. However, if students have a solid relationship with their teacher they are much more likely to be comfortable with being independent in the classroom. If the classroom culture exists that mistakes are ok, that mistakes are part of learning, students will not be so resistant to working on their own.

Here's to creating a world of independent learners!