We’ve all experienced it. The infamous scene where the teacher, aka us, is giving great directions and is excited to send the students off to complete their tasks. But your students aren’t independent learners yet. So naturally, after instructions are given, you have a lot of confused stares and questions about what to do.
Palm to the face, am I right?
You need some strategies to implement in your classroom right now to create that independent learning.
I know these words and pictures are speaking to you right now. I know you feel the struggle. Especially teachers of tiny humans who constantly get swarmed by little people after you’ve LITERALLY JUST GIVEN DIRECTIONS. But what if there was a way to eliminate this issue from your classroom?
Sounds impossible right? Well it’s not! I’m here to tell you that you CAN give directions and EVERYONE gets started. And the independence won’t stop there. When students have problems, they’ll be able to work it out independently. I promise you, it’s not just a dream! Make this a reality with my help!! I want to help you set up independent learners from day one with some very simple steps. So what’re you waiting for? Read on!
What Does an Independent Learner Look Like?
So what exactly do I mean when I say independent learner? It means that your students are taking on more responsibility. It may sound scary but it’s really not at all. It’s actually beautiful to watch your students be able to observe, regulate, and assess their own learning. When you choose to transform your class to a more student centered, or independent learning model, you’ll have so much more time to cater to each student’s individual needs and be so impactful during your small groups. THAT is where you’ll help students grow exponentially. Students will feel so empowered and confident and that love for learning will be supported and encouraged.
Why Is This Important?
You want your students to be able to solve problems independently. It may sometimes feel and seem like it’s a lost cause, but it’s not. If you take the time and relinquish control, you can create students who thrive, solve issues without you, become self starters, and are intrinsically motivated. It’s a skill that will help students become lifelong learners who love acquiring knowledge on their own. So how do you foster this in the classroom? Here are six ideas you can use, from day one, to help create those thriving, independent learners in your class.
Social and emotional learning should be top priority because if emotions are high and skills are developed to deal with such big feelings, I can almost guarantee not much learning will be taking place. Unfortunately, some schools may not see this as important as your “core curriculum” but this IS the core. Social and emotional skills are crucial for your students to master in order for your classroom environment to feel safe and supportive. Additionally, it can truly help create independent students from day one.
Just like we spend time getting our classroom setup and organized for students, or teaching expectations and rules, we also must spend time building relationships and teaching those social emotional skills. A lot of students don’t come to us innately knowing those social emotional skills, and unless they have been explicitly taught, modeled, and practiced, it’s a struggle. So if WE take the time to do this, our students will know exactly what to do WITHOUT us having to intervene.
Imagine this situation. Johnny and Kate are working independently, but Johnny keeps looking over at Kate. She starts to get annoyed, but doesn’t know how to express herself or resolve that problem. So what does she do? Maybe she decides to yell at him over the entire class, maybe she starts crying, or maybe she runs right up to you for you to handle the situation. Sound familiar?
Now let’s talk about this situation when we have given students the tools they need to handle it on their own. Those tools allow them to decide whether it’s a big or small problem, have sentence frames and vocabulary needed to express themselves, and with that they can independently solve issues. All of these strategies help students handle it WITHOUT you and THAT is the beauty of spending the first weeks of school focusing on social emotional skills.
A few key skills go a VERY long way with students during those first few weeks. Over those weeks, we are consistently spending time teaching it, modeling it together, and having LOTS of practice. Below are the skills I really try to hit on to help make students independent. You can learn more about how these skills are taught HERE! I also love using literature to help reinforce these skills and you can find a list of our favorites books HERE!
Problem Solving – Big vs. Little Problems
Teaching students important social emotional skills is essential to independence, because it helps students individually. However, you must also spend time fostering a team environment. There are some easy ways to do that during those first few weeks and you can learn those ideas HERE!
Being explicit in your expectations and the things you are teaching is crucial. It paints a clear picture for students as a guide and it ensures they understand what we’re striving for. I have a secret for teaching classroom routines and procedures in a way that fosters independence. It’s four words – “looks like, sounds like” and they are going to change everything for you. You want to think about how you envision your classroom to be run.
Let’s look at an example- ask yourself what do I envision for how students will use the bathroom?
For starters, ALWAYS have high expectations for how it will look and sound when students use the bathroom. When you know how you want this to look, you must model it for the students. If you expect that students use a hand signal to go to the bathroom, uphold that and make sure they do that EVERY TIME. If Johnny needs to go to the bathroom and uses the signal, but then Katie needs to go and doesn’t and just gets up, what would you do? If you don’t hold every student to the same standard, then they won’t follow the expectations. It gets exhausting and patience is tested and it takes practice. Then you must have more practice, and then more and MORE practice, and you must stand strong. It pays off though and you will be SO happy.
Check out an example below of what “looks like and sounds like” during our buddy math centers. Learn all about the guide to procedures and how to set them up HERE!
Become a Facilitator
One of the biggest shifts I’ve seen that supports students is becoming more of a mentor and background facilitator than an up front presence. This means that the time spent in front of students is limited. Instead, students are given more independence practice and choice for their activities. Whole group lessons are very short and using a workshop model becomes a great method for student growth and learning.
When you take a step back and allow students to take ownership of their learning, you’ll be amazed to see how they perform. They want the responsibility. They love to feel big and in charge. With EXPLICIT modeling and lots and lots of practice, your students can take control. They use you as a guide and trust you will set up and facilitate their environment to be a safe and fun place for learning!
Accept That It Takes Time
While we all like to hit the ground running from day one, it’s important to note that this does take time and you guessed it, lots of patience and MODELING. We typically spend the first SIX WEEKS learning expectations, filled with modeling before our students are proficient and independent. I know that sounds like a long time but I promise if you spend that time dedicated to teaching social emotional skills, expectations, and procedures your students WILL be independent and you will be able to hit the ground running from there. Learn more about how to do that HERE!
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From Mine to Ours
Do you believe your classroom is YOUR classroom? Or do you speak to your students and express that it is OUR classroom? We must remember that the classroom is THEIRS too. Everything in it is designed to meet their needs. From creating a safe space to learn to labeling everything they need so they can stay on track, this is the secret to having independent students who can and will thrive without you hovering over their every move.
Are you ready to take the dive into a truly student centered classroom? A place where you can walk away to talk with another teacher and know they will all remain on task?
A place where ALL students are learning and thriving because YOU’VE spent the time setting them up for success? Take the student centered classroom journey with me and see the magic that happens because of it and you.
I strongly encourage you to join the Building a Student Centered Classroom course that will have you totally planned for your first six weeks of school with everything thought through. Get in the course and you’ll also have access to the Beginning of the Year Teacher Survival Guide at a discounted rate as well as some other amazing bonuses including a supportive teacher community. The course goes into extensive detail on how to successfully set up your classroom for the entire year. You’ll learn how to successfully set up your classroom in a way that flows and stays organized, strategies for building a positive classroom community, and all kinds of information on classroom management and instruction! The course will have you SET and help take some of the stress and pressure off.
The Power of Workshop
The workshop model is an amazing combination of hands-on learning activities and direct instruction. It embodies differentiation and student choice and children stay engaged and learning. There are many different ways to implement workshop but it generally consists of direct instruction in the form of a mini lesson, followed up with ample time for practice in a student centered setting. The workshop is ended with a debriefing that includes a recap and reflection on student learning.
It is no secret that students thrive when they are able to make choices. It is also no secret that teachers have to differentiate because each student comes with their own needs. This workshop model allows for both of these to happen simultaneously. The mini lesson is timed for a MAXIMUM of ten minutes. There is SIGNIFICANT research that students should not sit on the carpet for a mini lesson for longer than 10 minutes. You will definitely have to practice getting timing down, but with consistency and structure it is absolutely feasible!
The beautiful thing about a guided math workshop is that it is FLEXIBLE. You can set it up however you like that works for you and your students. Think of your workshop as a literal “shop” of math “work” where students can explore and engage in activities that are aligned to the skill being taught. You, as the facilitator, will set up activities for students to engage independently while you can observe and step in to guide or help as needed. Small groups will also be scheduled during this time for you to meet with students to deliver differentiated instruction. Expectations will be set and students are provided with many resources to utilize for help as to not disrupt crucial small group time. It is a time where all students are set up for success and they have opportunities to choose and challenge themselves in fun ways while learning.
The expectations, the activities, and the resources should ALL be tailored to and your students, and that’s what makes this so great. Workshop time is where you can get really creative and the entire structure is perfect for students to be successful mathematicians! I believe wholeheartedly that workshop is a crucial part of creating independent students who thrive. If you need support on implementing it in your classroom, let’s look at what it can look like for you!!
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