As a teacher, you use many strategies to interact with your students. You’ll teach whole class lessons, lead small group instruction, or engage in individual conferences with specific students. Small group and individual sessions work best when you know the rest of your class has the ability to work independently, without constant supervision.
Teaching independent learning strategies will help your students build the skills necessary to complete their work, manage their time, and respond to challenges with minimal direction. It also allows you the freedom to differentiate your approach to teaching.
Follow these guidelines for strengthening your students’ ability to work independently.
Make Your Expectations Clear
As with almost everything you teach in your classroom, independent learning strategies will only be successful if you start by setting clear expectations. Before your students begin their independent work, take a few minutes to discuss with the class what assignment they should be working on and assignments they can move onto if they finish early.
It’s also important to periodically review what working independently “looks like” and “sounds like.” It looks like staying in your seat or approved work areas, putting electronics away (unless they are crucial to the assignment), and keeping your eyes on your own work. It sounds like quiet work and whispered questions if necessary.
Blogger and fourth- and fifth-grade teacher Patti at Madly Learning emphasizes that when setting expectations for your class, you may need to review them several times, in multiple ways:
- Tell them
- Teach them
- Show them
- Post them
- Practice them
- Reinforce them
For younger students who are slowly building independence in the classroom, you may need to start with small periods of independent work. Start working on independent learning sessions for 10 minutes. This may not be enough time for you to do anything other than simply observe. But as your students increase their stamina for solo work, you can use the time for small-group or one-on-one lessons.
Direct Them to Find Answers on Their Own
One of the best independent learning strategies that your students can build is the ability to face challenges or find answers by themselves. Instead of being interrupted again and again with questions, help your students find the answers on their own. Encourage them to quietly and quickly ask another student, scan the room to find the answers (Are the steps of the assignment written on the board? Can they find helpful information on anchor charts?), or write their questions down and ask you later.
Hold Them Accountable
Although you may not read through or grade every single independent work assignment, it’s still important that you collect them all. This gives you the opportunity to spot check their progress and monitor each students’ ability to work independently. It also ensures that your students take these work sessions seriously and are held accountable for the work they are being asked to complete.