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How to nurture independent learners

By 24/11/2021No Comments
happy student

Anna Dalglish, maths and English Instructor at Kumon Guildford North, sets out ten ideas for developing independence in students.

1. Individualised instruction
Every student is unique and should be set work appropriate for his particular needs and abilities, regardless of age or school year group.

2. ‘Just right’ level of study
Students should start with work at a comfortable level in order to develop confidence, fill gaps in knowledge, and buildthe foundations to address more challenging work.

In due course, work should always be set at the appropriate level for each student -neither too easy (leading to loss of interest) nor too difficult (leading to discouragement) but ‘just right’ for the student’s current ability.

3. Logical progression of topics
Just as a child must learn to walk before he can run, there is little point in introducing punctuation to a child who has not yet learnt to read, or fractions to a student who has not mastered division.

Topics should be introduced in a logical progression, each building upon concepts previously covered. In this way, students learn independently in small steps.

4. Mastery
Students should master each topic fully before moving on.

‘Mastery’ does not denote perfectionism but acknowledges that each step must be fully understood before moving on.

Mastery builds students’ confidence, increases their willingness to have a go and persevere, and enables them to overcome fear of failure.

5. Daily study habit
Students will not always feel motivated to learn, but by developing a daily study habit they will nevertheless make progress.

Daily study allows students to develop knowledge steadily through small steps, to retain and build upon concepts and topics previously learned, and to avoid the ‘Summer Slide’.

6. Study skills
Without the necessary study skills, students will struggle to learn independently. Desirable skills include: focus and concentration, rhythm and pace, willingness to ‘have a go’, perseverance, time management, careful reading of instructions, the ability to organise one’s own work and to correct and learn from mistakes.

Students should be encouraged to develop their study skills while working on relatively easy work.

7. Set high (but achievable) expectations
Why should a student stop learning simply because he happens to be at the desired level of attainment for his age? Students should be encouraged to work above their school level – until they are doing so, they are not truly ‘independent learners’ but merely practising what they have been taught at school. By going beyond school level, they are using all the study skills and concepts previously mastered to learn new concepts and continually develop their skills and academic ability.

8. Feedback
To ensure mastery and maintain work at the ‘just right’ level, each student’s progress should be continuously measured by prompt marking of work and corrections, regular achievement tests, and monitoring of daily performance.

We should give constructive feedback to students, but we should also listen to feedback from students, ensuring they are each valued as independent learners and encouraged to take ownership of their own learning process.

9. Learning from mistakes and ‘failures’
Learning from mistakes is an essential component of independent learning, and leaving mistakes uncorrected will erode confidence and delay mastery of a particular concept.

Students should identify where they went wrong and correct errors themselves. They are then less likely to repeat the error, will learn the relevant concepts more quickly, and gain confidence from ‘owning’ their work and knowing they are capable of perfect scores through their own efforts.

10. Coaching, not teaching
Parents and teachers should avoid ‘over-teaching’ students, instead aiming to act as ‘coach’ or ‘guide’.

Whether learning to walk or learning to do long division, a child learns better from doing a task rather than listening to a detailed exposition on how to perform the task.

The parent’s or instructor’s role is to:
a) provide the appropriate environment – a quiet time and place; b) assess students’ current ability level and set work at the ‘just right’ level; c) promptly mark work and corrections, monitor progress, and act on feedback; d) emphasise and model desired study skills; e) encourage and praise students; f) guide students towards the answer rather than giving answers; g) keep positive and focused on the long-term.

Even preschoolers can begin the journey towards independent learning. The earlier they take ownership of their study – turning the page on their own, writing or tracing independently, organising their work, writing their own start and finish times – the sooner they will build the confidence in their own abilities that will take them far.

The word ‘education’ comes from the Latin ‘educare’ which means ‘to lead forth’. Our role is to ‘lead forth’ our students from dependence to increasing independence and equip them with the necessary tools to become independent and well-adjusted adults.