Creating Independent Students

By Huntington Learning Center

Creating Independent Students

Whether you teach elementary school or high school, one of your key goals is to help your students become independent, capable learners. In fact, nurturing independence in students is an underpinning of the Common Core State Standards, which state that students who are college and career ready are self-directed learners overall.

Just as it is essential for your students to comprehend the content that you teach, it is critical that they become more focused and able to think on their own as they mature as learners. Students need to learn how to develop their ideas, solve problems, seek out resources on their own, and much more.

How can you foster such academic independence? Here are a few exercises to incorporate into your lessons that will build essential self-starter competencies:

Encourage students to learn from their mistakes. Making mistakes is how students learn, but it is critical that you teach your students to not only recognize their mistakes, but also figure out  potential solutions. How? Walk students step by step through solutions to common mistakes, and invite their input so that they comprehend where they went wrong and how to fix it. Always encourage your students to ask questions. Most importantly, let your students know that mistakes are opportunities to confirm understanding of how a problem or process works.

Set goals. At the beginning of each year, have students set a number of short- and long-term goals—several that are related to your class and several broader life or academic goals. In class or as homework, have students write down the roadblocks standing in the way of their goals and the necessary steps to overcome them. Throughout the year, revisit goals and have students track their progress. The goal-setting process is rich with valuable lessons about working diligently toward the things one wants, taking ownership of one’s life and education, beating challenges and more.

Strive for intrinsic motivation. While it is tempting to motivate students with extrinsic rewards such as constant praise, prizes or bribes, students who are inspired to learn because they want to—intrinsically motivated—are far better off in the long run. So, what can you do to help? Challenge your students. Set the bar high and give them the tools and support to reach it. Urge students to ask questions and think through solutions, and congratulate them for their efforts and progress, not just their grades. The more you can do to encourage students to learn for learning’s sake, the more independent they will be.

Establish clear rules and procedures. Students of all ages flourish when they know what is expected of them throughout the school day. Equipped with a consistent routine upon which they can rely, your students can be more independent when completing tasks, working on bigger projects and transitioning between activities. This will translate to independence at home, too. Students who know how to function independently and successfully in the classroom are more likely to complete their homework without reminders from parents.

Focus on organizational skills. As students move into middle and high school, the art of organization is more critical than ever. Expect students to keep their desks and backpacks tidy and organized. They should have a designated place for everything, from papers to books, so it is quick and easy to get out materials and get to work when you ask them to. A related and equally important concept is time management. Teach your students to keep track of their homework and assignments in a planner or smartphone app. Consider incorporating into each class a few minutes of administration time (during which students can write down assignments and other information, organize their desks and notes, and more).

Students must learn to be self-starters and independent thinkers in order to succeed in college and beyond. You can build this aptitude by giving your students opportunities to think, make decisions and learn from their mistakes. Provide your students ample guidance and support and the result will be engaged students who are confident in themselves and their abilities.


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