5 Ideas for Creating Independent Learners

The name of my book is Building a Bridge from “I Can’t” to “I DID!”, which if we think about it in terms of the classroom, the theme is pretty evident.  However, what does this actually mean?  How do we move students to success?  How do we actually build that bridge?

Well, the subtitle of the book is Creating Independent Learners through Culturally Responsive Teaching. This is actually where the meat of the meaning is.  Our goal is to create INDEPENDENT LEARNERS! How? Through Culturally Responsive Teaching!

Is this easy?  Not necessarily.

Is it doable. Absolutely.

Is it worth it? To you, it is.  That’s why you’re here.

Over the next few months (and on a consistent, ongoing basis after that) we are going to be offering you a WEALTH of information, strategies, and ideas for becoming a Culturally Responsive teacher.  Don’t worry – you’ll know exactly what to do to make this work in your classroom…

But the first step is truly understanding what is means to be an independent learner. For starters, YOU are probably an independent learner.  The fact that you are researching and learning on your own makes you an independent learner.  The fact that you can recognize when there is a problem or when things are going the way we think they should, and then take steps to problem solve makes you an independent learner. The fact that you can push through even when a challenge is difficult and find a way to figure something out or make something work makes you an independent learner.

So now let’s think about our students. Do they have problem solving skills?  Do they have strategies for getting themselves unstuck?  Do they have the grit to push through, or the endurance to keep working!  Can they make their own connections, and ask higher level thinking questions?  If so, then you have independent learners!  If not, this becomes our goal!

So what is a dependent learner?  A dependent learner is one who can’t seem to do his work or stay on task unless the teacher is standing over him.  This is the student who, after you give directions, sits there for a minute and then raises her hand and says, “what are we doing?”  This is the student who gives up quickly as soon as they come to something difficult. 

In my opinion (warning: controversial statement being made), we can’t work on the grade level skills until we work on the student becoming an independent learner.

So…in a nutshell.  Here are 5 (very concise) steps to moving students from dependent to independent learners:

  1. Provide supports around the room and in instruction. These could include checklists, anchor charts, word walls, Total Physical Response (hand-motions connected with vocabulary), where the students can start to build autonomy and you can pull yourself out of the “help” equation.
  • Post directions and create a student-centered classroom. They should know your processes and procedures and be able to operate the class whether you are there or not
  • Teach vocabulary.  Vocabulary!  Vocabulary! Vocabulary!
  • Teach problem solving skills. Keep the rigor high and allow the productive struggle (the figuring it out part that actually increases brainpower), but don’t expect the student to know how to problem solve – remind them of their resources, remind them of any supports you provided.
  • Build Background – Help the student make connections to their prior knowledge and experience.

What do we have to STOP doing?

  • Rushing in to help
  • Giving answers
  • Reading to students instead of letting them read
  • Asking lower level questions

…to name a few…

Culturally Responsive teaching is comprehensive, and there is so much we can do as teachers to move students into being independent learners.  This is essentially what my entire book is about, so we will be talking about this MUCH more!  Hopefully these 5 ideas will get you started.  Be intentional!  Your kids need it!

Click here get the One Page Wonder PDF on Dependent and Independent students!

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