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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When Students Become Teachers

As an ESOL teacher teaching multi-grade levels with kids of different abilities, I sometimes have this crazy idea of wanting one or two of my kids to “morph” into me so that there are three of us in the classroom teaching at the same time.

When all strategies fail, don’t we just want to turn into a wonder woman with cool super-powers?  Believe it or not, we have students that will drive us crazy the entire year.  Like Marcus who whines at every little thing.  Or Kyla whose attention span lasts only five minutes or so.  I remember an instance when upon entering the room of a first grade teacher (one who I consider to be one of the best in the building) to pull out my ESOL kids,  I noticed that she was having one of those rough days as her students were behaving like they were from outer space.  And it was uncharacteristic of her to exclaim,  “You’re all giving my grey hair right now!”  To my complete amusement, our principal who happened to pass by overheard her and jokingly reacted, “What’s wrong with grey hair?”  Hint. Hint.  She clearly needed those super-powers that day.

Ok, so going back to wanting to have cool super-powers, I actually felt like I had one when last Thursday, two of my kids volunteered to handle one of my centers.  They turned my reading center into a spelling bee station.  And because I have done spelling bee with them three or four times, they assured me they know what to do.  Here’s what happened:

  •  Kevin and William took charge of the kids in what was supposed to be the Reading station.
  • They handed out mini-whiteboards, dry-erase markers, and mini-erasers.
  • They asked me for a copy of the high-frequency words that was on our list for the week.
  • They quizzed the group on each of the words.

Here’s the most amazing thing that happened:  They actually did it as if they were ME!  They copied the way I would do the spelling bee, even the way I would count from five to zero and say, “Hold up your boards!”

Kevin and William as ME

(Kevin and William as ME)

 And I was free to just be moving around to see what was happening at the other centers.

Isn’t it incredible to have students “morph” into you?

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The Best Day Ever: Activities and Centers that Support Independent Writing

This week my kids learned about autobiography.  You bet it’s a big word to learn especially that most of them are English language learners with beginning reading level.  The first thing I had to do then, was to get them acquainted with the term.  I devised a game, which I dubbed as “Say it Right, Do it right.” The game requires them to say “auto” and “biography” alternately, each with different gesture, and whoever does not say it right with the right gesture during the game gets eliminated and goes back to his/her seat.  I did this, pointing to each kid alternately until everyone else, except one, is back on their seats.

Let me tell you this.  At the end of the game, the word just got stuck in their minds, a few of them were still saying the six-syllable word happily while lining up for dismissal.

My agenda for the day went like this:

Whole Group Activities/discussion

  • Say it Right, Do it Right game
  • Introduction to Autobiography (using an Anchor Chart with definition and short example with focus on use of pronouns I, Me, My)
  • Review of Phonics lesson: short /o/ (which I had to include as part of the summer reading program)


I created three learning stations for my 12 kids with four members in each group:

  • Writing Center – (It is necessary to place the strongest group of kids in this center during the first rotation; they are the ones who need less teacher support.)
  • Phonics/Vocabulary Center
  • Reading Center –  (This is where I am stationed so that I can guide them into reading and comprehending the text that is appropriate for their reading level.  This is also the time I provide more details about an autobiographical text).

To apply their learning, they wrote about their best day ever, just simply titled “The Best Day.”  In the Writing Station, I wrote the instructions and provided the template with an example.  I also have a word bank for them.  The center has markers, crayons, and papers – all they needed to complete the task.

The Best Day writing assignment

The Best Day writing assignment-2

     So far, I am quite satisfied with what they have done.

My kids at the phinis:vocabulary center

My kids at the Phonics/Vocabulary Center

Me at the Reading Station

Me with my kids at The Reading Station

This is Summer school and I just make the most out of the very few resources that are provided to me.  The classroom is bare of any decorations, and it is okay.  It is, after all, Summer.

Happy Summer!

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