Five Powerful Ways Students Can Become Independent Learners

We are at an era in teaching where as teachers, we aim to become more effective facilitators of learning rather than just be a mere source of knowledge to our students.  Student seats are no longer arranged by rows where the teacher is always expected to be in front, but in groups that encourage open discussion and collaboration among them.  We design our activities so that they can truly become more independent learners who are able to monitor their own learning.

Taking into consideration that these types of goal require thoughtful planning and organizing, I have listed some ways by which our kids can take charge of their own learning in the classroom:

1.  Establish a set of expectations as well as routines and procedures for all your day-to-day activities in the classroom, such as: whole group discussions, read-alouds, learning stations or centers, carpet sharing, use of technology, bathroom use, etc.  These expectations should be clearly explained starting on day one and every time you introduce a new structure in class.  For exa,mple, students rotating in centers are one of the hardest to manage, which is why it is important to carefully plan each activity in the centers by providing simple but clear directions as well as model answers.  I typically would direct my students’ attention to each center while I explain the procedures for each activity before we begin with group rotation in centers.  Once students have gotten used to the routines and the structure, they become self-driven, independent, and more accountable for their behavior in class.

2.  Assign a team leader for each of your learning groups.  By doing this, you  deliberately pass on some of your managerial duties to selected students who you know have leadership qualities, which will then enable you to take care of other important aspects of your job rather than having to constantly tell them what to do or what not to do.  Students generally love to be given responsibilities in the classroom and lead their classmates.  I usually would have different team leaders every week so that everybody gets the chance to be a leader.  You would be surprised at how much this means to the kids, especially the younger ones who would love to do anything to please their teachers.

A first grade team leader giving a phonics mini-lesson

(A 1st Grade Team Leader Doing a Mini-Lesson on Phonics)

3.  Give them their own “teacher moment” by assigning a group project that will allow them to create an activity or a mini-lesson on a topic that has already been discussed.  For instance, intermediate students can do a Powerpoint or Prezi presentation, create a vocabulary game, or even a quiz for their classmates.  Primary kids can “take over” a learning group to review their phonics lesson or give a spelling bee on sight words or high-frequency words they have learned for the week.  In my first grade class, my kids love to use the mini-whiteboards to quiz each other on our vocabulary list.  When this happens, be assured that it helps a lot to boost their confidence, their social skills, and their oral proficiency.

First grade team leaders give a spelling quiz

(1st Grade Team Leaders Giving a Spelling Quiz)

 4.  Assign a “Teacher for the Week” to a student who has earned privileges to be one.  This “teacher for the week” can check class attendance, distribute and collect papers, take charge of your behavior chart, or oversee a learning station.  This encourages positive behavior among students because they generally want to earn this privilege.

5.  Design center activities or tasks at their appropriate proficiency level.  It is essential to provide directions that are written in clear and simple sentences and that students are able to complete tasks with minimal teacher supervision.  Centers are meant to supplement students’ learning and to work independently but at the same have the opportunity to interact with the group.

Just an added thought:  Always teach with a smile on your face!  Be nice but firm.  Be sweet without being over-friendly.  It may sound like a cliche, but in my years of teaching, I have found that when students like your teaching style and the way you relate with them, they tend to become more motivated to do their work, they have less anxiety in class, and as a result, they take charge of their own learning.

It surely would make you feel good when at the end of the day, a student would come to you and say, “I had so much fun learning today.”

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