Independent Learning, it sounds great right? But the issue? How to make it happen. And make it happen well.
Well, it sounds good in theory doesn’t it? Independent learning. In the classroom or at home during distance learning. You have these visions of you on your conference calls (or working with a smaller group of kids in the classroom). It sounds PERFECT. But what actually happens? You can’t get 30 seconds. There are questions. Issues. Needs. Bathroom requests. On and on.
I promise, independent learning can happen. And it can happen smoothly. It’s just a matter of having procedures in place over time that will help your students become more independent and help the teachers (even the parents who are teaching distance learning right now) have time to complete THEIR work.
Independent Learning: How to Make It Happen
When I was in the classroom, we did something called I.W.T. Independent Work Time was implemented in every grade (yes even that classroom with 27 kindergarteners did it). There were some great procedures and tools we used to insure that everyones needs were met, and that independent learning was a peaceful and productive time. These same ideas can be used at home during distance learning.
Procedure and Questions: Part of what derails independent learning? Is the lack of procedure or routine. Meaning, do the kids KNOW what to do? What if they finish? What if they have to use the bathroom? What if they NEEEEEDDDDDDD you? This is one hundred percent solvable with some routines and structure. You need to identify the needs that will come up while you are NOT available. Is it bathroom breaks? Is it issue between students (or siblings)? Is is that they finish early and don’t know what to do next? You’re going to put protocol in place so that the kids feel they can communicate with you without coming up and totally derailing what you are doing. Can they sign out on a bathroom log? Can they write down the conflict they’re having with their sister in a log so that you can address it after your conference call (if this is a thing, that log is gonna be KEY)? Can you create a basket of early finisher activities (these printables are a GREAT option in that case)?
When you’re setting up your procedure and structure for independent learning……you’ll want things to be the same each time you implement. Same amount of time (I’d suggest 30 minutes for lower elementary school and up to 45 for fourth or fifth grade), same location for the kids to work, and same expectations. For younger kids, one to two tasks maximum. For fourth or fifth graders, you can make a list of three shorter tasks they need to complete. I would suggest always having one fun, open ended activity they can complete when they finish their “must do assignments”.
Appropriate Materials: Guess what happens when the work is too hard? It’s not independent learning anymore. They can’t DO IT. My suggestion? Use simple materials that your students can complete on their own with ease. This is more about practicing the skills, not learning new things.
Visual Cues: Now the final piece? Kids need reminders. A LOT. You’ll go over all this a million times, and they’ll still forget. Visual cues. In the classroom, I used a closed sign. Literally hung a closed sign on a string around my neck. They knew when I had the closed sign on…..I was closed. You can use a hat. A sign. At home, I use Mickey Ears. Yup, even when I’m on Zoom calls.
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