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January Blog 2022

We often talk about the need to improve ‘student independence’ at Crookhorn. We also talk to our students about the benefits of being independent, as part of our OPEN MIND philosophy.  We need to develop habits that, once embedded, will enable students to respond proactively and positively to any challenge they might face. By creating learners who are in control of their own education, we also create young adults who will continue to be independent thinkers in their lives beyond the classroom. This is our job, and we must teach in a way that allows room for independence without sacrificing those all-important results. But to create a more independent learning environment we must first start by adjusting the mindsets of everyone in the Crookhorn classroom − students and teachers alike! I want to cover some strategies that I think we should all try and work with our coach on to develop good habits in the classroom.

Changing mindsets

  1. Learning from failure (OPEN MIND-Make mistakes)
    One of the major obstacles preventing students from becoming more independent is a fear of failure. To encourage a more independent approach, we must help students to see failure as an opportunity to learn, rather than something to be avoided at all costs. Be sure to praise students for trying even when they make mistakes and praise them further when they demonstrate that they have learnt from what they have done wrong in the past.
  2. Praising persistence
    Effort and persistence can help any student to make great progress regardless of their starting point. While it is important to praise any examples of independent behaviour, you will really reinforce the importance of trying hard by praising the effort that a student makes above the final product of their work. As a result, students will be more likely to keep trying when they encounter difficulties. They will also believe that with enough effort they can always make progress, no matter what they are faced with. So true for our SEN students!
  3. Minimise teacher talk
    In every lesson, there will be moments when the teacher needs to stand at the front of the room and address the whole class. Although sometimes necessary, these periods of teacher talk should be kept to a minimum, allowing for other forms of engagement that require greater levels of independence. This is something I know many of us are working on, including me, as Pam Jones who has coached me recently will tell you.  
  4. What it means to be independent
    It is important to discuss with your class what it means to be independent in the classroom. While you might have a clear idea about what independence looks like, your students are likely to be less certain. Through a class discussion, devise a set of characteristics that define someone as independent and identify specific examples of classroom behaviour that demonstrate these characteristics. This may involve drawing attention to examples already being exhibited in the work or actions of students in the class. Recap on this at regular intervals.

Teaching tools

  1. Include all necessary information
    When creating handouts or presentation slides that relate to a task, help students to be independent by ensuring that you include all the information that they will need to successfully complete the work. Teaching through the itslearning plan will show them where the resources are, so they can access them independently. While they are doing so, you can circulate to assess work, provide assistance where absolutely necessary or use questioning to challenge students’ thinking.
  2. Reusable checklists/flow charts
    Checklists/flow charts are a great tool for promoting independence because they provide students with the means to make judgements, assess what they have done and deal with various queries without asking the teacher for support. Please liaise with the SEN department who will help you with this. The clear layout of activities in itslearning can be seen as a checklist- so highlight these to students who are accessing their plans through itslearning. In RE, we are being encouraged to provide these for our SEN students to give them clear tasks for them to complete over a period of time. If you need a template, see SEN or myself.
  3. Helpful learning walls
    We have done lots of work on our learning walls, and this is something we should revisit within departments every term. They can be a brilliant aid to independence; they offer an alternative point of reference to help students deal with questions or problems relating to their work. Directing students to check the learning wall when they have a question will encourage them to search for answers independently before they ask for your help.
  4. Set up a reference corner/itslearning resources
    To make sure that students always have a place to go when searching for answers, designate an area of your classroom (or itslearning!!) to be the “reference corner”. Within this area you should make available a selection of reference works. This might include general reference books such as dictionaries, thesauri, encyclopaedias, grammar guides and handbooks of equations. You may also choose to add text books or books relating to a topic you are currently studying. Kate Humby in the library is available for support in creating digital content.
  5. Training in thinking techniques
    Taking the time to train students in problem-solving and thinking techniques will provide them with a go-to structure that can be applied to difficulties encountered in the classroom or when completing homework. The techniques you introduce might be as simple as learning to organise thoughts through mind-mapping, lists and diagrams. Whichever technique you decide to use, it is essential that you model it several times first. Let your students see how the technique works in practise, in the context of a genuine problem that has been encountered during a lesson. After a few supported attempts, encourage students to go off and use the procedure independently. Put good examples on itslearning, so they can see what a successful one looks like.
  6. Refusing to help
    Although it may seem at odds with your role as a teacher, refusing to help students can be a powerful strategy for encouraging independence. For example, try refusing to help students until they can show you that they have made three attempts to solve their problem on their own. If they are still stuck after this, ask them to talk you through their attempts, so that you can explain how to solve a similar problem in the future, as well as helping with the current one.
  7. Live marking
    You can help students to become more independent and more aware of the quality of their work by asking them to make improvements when they believe that they have finished. If you are in the good habit of setting the students some independent work in each lesson, then get around the classroom as much as possible with your green pen and give them some extension work and specific feedback to them, which helps their thinking further. If you see a good piece of work or something that you want to highlight to the whole class, take a photo and add it to the itslearning plan, so all students can access while you continue to walk around. Another option is to put on the visualiser and give some whole class feedback, take a picture through the visualiser and then add to itslearning.

As per usual, if you have any feedback or tips that you have tried to promote independence in your classrooms, I would love to hear about it, so I can share with others.