Being able to think and act independently is one of the most important skills a student can learn. We live in a society where independence is central to our ethical and social worldview. Failing to prepare students for a world where teachers or other adults will not be available to provide all the answers is to do them a great disservice.
Why is independent learning so important?
The research tells us that students in self-regulated learning environments are more motivated to learn, report more enjoyment of the subject material and are more actively involved in their learning than those who study in environments that are more restrictive.
Students who are independent learners work to higher standards, have higher levels of self-esteem than other students, and in the process, develop skills that help them further their own learning by using their own ideas to form opinions, solve problems and using a range of strategies in their learning.
Independent learning involves a significant mind shift. It places students, not teachers, in an active learning role – of being independent, self-directed, motivated and in control.
What sorts of strategies and techniques do teachers use to create independent learners?
Not rushing in to help students before they have had an opportunity to help themselves is a powerful strategy for encouraging independence. For example, teachers may require students to have made three attempts to solve their problem on their own before they seek help; or they may utilise a problem-solving checklist and hold back help until students have already worked through the steps on the list.
Instead of immediately telling students the answer or doing the thinking work for them, teachers may use questioning as a scaffold to independent learning. This encourages students to think critically, thereby helping them to develop better strategies for dealing with future challenges.
When a student feels that they have completed a task, the teacher may suggest they ask their peers’ opinions about what could be done to develop the work and to make it better. In exchange, they can offer feedback of their own. Collaboration allows students to learn from each other and develop and extend their ideas and their thinking.
A fourth strategy involves asking students to self-assess what they have done. By assessing what they have done and reflecting on its merits, students will come to acknowledge that they are in control of the work they produce.
What are the take-home tips for parents?
Learning is not always a straight path. Often it is a messy walk with a lot of detours. Encourage your daughter not to be unsettled by the messiness, and support them to focus on lots of small goals which build confidence and resilience.
The world isn’t going to always cheer us on. Encourage your daughter to depend on herself and to gain satisfaction from a job well done.
Encourage responsibility and independence by not rescuing your daughter by dropping off things during the school day that they have left at home. Experiencing the natural consequences of not having everything they need is the best way to prevent this from happening often.
Don’t be terrified, or allow your perfectionist daughter (if you have one) to be terrified of a less than perfect report card. Grades are not the goal – learning is. When the process of learning is part of the goal, failure isn’t quite so scary. When the fear of failure disappears, it is much easier to learn the art of self-critique.
Encourage her to discuss her learning and her concerns with her teacher herself. By creating learners who are confident and in control of their own education, we are creating young adults who will continue to be confident and independent thinkers in their lives beyond the classroom.
Ms Tonia Gloudemans
Deputy Principal - Head of Curriculum