Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Developing Independent Learners

Lately I have been giving a lot of thought to the instructional strategies I use in my classroom. As a technology teacher for grades K-3, I see each class once a week for 45 minutes. After providing the day’s instructions and starting our work time, my students love asking me and their neighbor how to do something. Are my instructions that unclear or do they crave individual instruction?It is probably a combination of both; however, I feel that many students are looking for someone to give them the answer instead of being independent learners. So how do I get them from their preferred method of individual instruction to becoming independent learners who seek out their resources and use them wisely to accomplish the task at hand? 

Last year I taught middle school students and by second semester I had found ways to direct them to become independent learners. Of course all of them were fairly proficient readers and could navigate Moodle really well, but that doesn’t mean I can’t provide similar situations for my younger students; so this week I started something new. Thinking about the directions I had posted on the board last week (fifteen baby steps to find an internet picture, save it and insert it in your work), I instead created a screen-cast video which I posted on my website. The third graders were shown where the video was, how to start and stop it between steps, and on the board I wrote only four directions (the last of which was to “raise your hand when finished”.) As we worked through class, I often redirected them back to the video, even back to specific parts if they were repeating a mistake. Without me answering one question, in the span of a half hour, half the class had finished the assignment. Quite a few of them spent more time than I anticipated writing the three sentences I asked for, and those that didn’t finish will do so next week. How do I measure success? My goal was to reinforce what we did last week by having them do it again on their own. There was definitely a learning curve in learning how to navigate between software programs, but I feel my goal was accomplished because they were successful at inserting pictures without asking me or their neighbor for the directions.

In my view, this is individual instruction and independent learning. Did it meet every student’s learning style? Probably not, I still have work to do on that one. One thing that is clear to me is I need to provide more resources for them to access on their own to find the answer and encourage them to do so. There is one teacher in our school who does a very good job at reminding his students to look for a place where they could find the answer to their question. I admire his style and in the day-to-day flow of my class I need to remember his advice to his students. This is one small step in the right direction to helping my students become independent learners.

As a post-script to this post I also have to think about my lessons and whether or not every student in the class needed to learn how to do this. The students who were able to watch the video and complete the activity were at the right level at the right time to do this - it met their needs. The students who didn't finish ranged from those who were almost there, they just needed a little more time, to those who were really struggling and therefore this activity was beyond their needs. I think that during the next class I will offer to let those that didn't finish decide if they want to learn how to finish. If not, they can stop and join the rest of the class in the next activity.

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