The Big Goal
Student independence is key. In fact, my whole goal for my students is to be able to do whatever I teach them on their own. Without me. This independence applies to everything. I want them to connect mathematical ideas on their own. Those decoding skills I teach during conferring, I want them to do it once I walk away. I want them to know what to do when the fire alarm goes off. I want them to know what to do if they make a mistake or need to go to the bathroom. My goal for them is independence. I’m not going to be with them every step of the way. They need to be able to function without me.
Independence is a life skill. Employers don’t want employees who ask what to do every single step of the way. That’s obnoxious. They want employees who can complete tasks independently and ask for help when they need it. Independence is a crucial life skill, and we can begin teaching it when kids are young like first grade (and lower). I taught first, but I have also taught second and third, and I have successfully created independent learners in all three grade levels. Some years with more success than others. Here’s how I do it.
Fostering the Student Independent Spirit
Eventually, students leave our classrooms, and we want the skills they attained within the school to stay with them. To do this, we must create a culture of independence in our classroom and instill independence in each student. Developing student independence is not an easy task, and there are many struggles and bumps along the road. If we persevere as educators, we are creating a better future. Here are some of the ways I help foster the independent spirit in my elementary classroom.
Let them do it
If students can do it by themselves, they do it by themselves. There is no task that I do for my students if I know they can do it on their own. For example, sometimes tying your shoes is hard, but if you can do it, then you do it.
Create an Internal Dialogue
Asking questions back to students that they should already know the answer to- in a POLITE way. Not sassing a student when they ask to sharpen a pencil. Place a thought in their head and letting them solve the problem. If I hear, “Ms. Rice, can I sharpen my pencil?” I ask them, “What are the rules? Is now a time for pencil sharpening? How could you solve this problem?” I then see the wheels turning. They have been prompted to think of the classroom procedures and then decide for themselves.
Let’s be real, sometimes the wheels aren’t turning (we all have those days) and then I direct them to the place in the classroom where they can find the answer.
Don’t Answer Their Every Question
Yes, part of our role as teachers is to answer questions, but we don’t have to answer every single question. A few years ago, a few kids were gathered around our globe, and they were wondering why earthquakes exist. I could have just answered their questions right there, and then they would know. If I did that, they wouldn’t learn anything other than the information I share. Instead, if I ask questions back to them and lead them in the right direction, they might learn a few transferrable scientific or research skills. So I said, “Wow! That’s an excellent question. What do you think we could do to figure that out?” They were so excited! Kids ran off to see if we had books about earthquakes. Another group wanted to go to the library to search; some wanted to send an email to older kids to see if they knew. Next time they had a question, they knew what they could do to find the answer all on their own.
Let them lead each other. Kids learn best from each other anyway, so why not let them. What a better way to develop student independence? When a kid comes to me and asks about using quotations in stories, I can say, “You know what? Have you asked Tyler? He knows all about it.” Recently I did this with Seesaw. Some kids weren’t putting anything in folders, and some had everything in folders, and one recommended new folders to me when assignments didn’t seem to fit the ones given. I connected the folderless ones with the folder ones for about a month. Now everything is in folders, and I don’t have to worry about it at all. Connect them to each other.
Consider Your Environment
Think about how your classroom is set up? Is it student-friendly? Can your students access the supplies that they will need? Can the kids move easily around the room? Are the math manipulatives available? Are books accessible? Paper? Pencils?
Make your supplies available to the kids. In my classroom, all of our books are available in the classroom library. All of our math manipulatives are in an organizer that kids have access to all of the time. Kid supplies are available and are at a kid-friendly height.
How Do You Include Student Independence?
Independence is an essential life skill. One that if we work at it right away, students will improve daily and continue to grow even outside of the walls of our classrooms. If students can be independent in our hallways, they can be independent at Target, at the movie theater, or even while walking home from school. Transferable skills should be the main focus of our teaching. If it doesn’t transfer outside of our classrooms, what is the point?
How do you work to foster student independence in your classroom? I would love to hear from you in the comments below!