The teacher’s role in a student’s independent learning journey (Opinion)


By Carolyn Harper, Director of Educational Support at New Classrooms Innovation Partners for Learning

What do you think of when you hear independent learning?

Many people imagine students on laptops. But when integrated into a holistic personalized learning model that includes multiple learning modalities, it can be much more than that. Independent learning enables differentiation, reinforces mastery of skills and promotes a level of student agency that creates lifelong habits of success. Perhaps the most compelling reason is that it gives students time to process new documents. They have time to think.

Another common misconception about independent learning is that teachers play a less important role. In fact, I believe that effectively facilitating independent learning can be the most difficult type of teaching in a personalized learning model. Students are immersed in a unique journey, but they are still part of a larger learning community. It is the teacher’s responsibility to balance these environments while making sure everyone has a good trip and arrives at the right destination. As such, the teacher’s role ranges from the travel agent to the scheduler, including the pilot and the flight attendant.

Let’s imagine the independent learning journey from start to finish and take a closer look at the teacher’s perspective every step of the way.

Planning and packaging: what is our itinerary?

In the same way that checklists help crews prepare their planes for a safe flight, teams of teachers have specific planning tasks before each independent learning session.

At the top of their list is understanding how prepared each student is for the skill they will be working on. Our teachers receive this data via personalized daily schedules generated by the Teach to One algorithms based on the evaluations of the day before. Whatever the model, schools should have a consistent and reliable system for assessing student progress and teachers should have common planning time. to prepare.

This information is crucial not only because it helps teachers determine a route for what each student does that day. It also helps teachers know which students need special attention and plan recordings accordingly. In general, it is best to give priority to students who are having difficulty with a particular skill or concept.

Getting started and boarding: what happens before take off?

As students move into independent learning, teachers should use the first five minutes to reinforce routines. On an airplane, flight crews greet passengers, seat them, help with carry-on baggage, and review safety instructions. Likewise, in a classroom, teachers welcome students, help them find their place and help with equipment (laptops, notebooks and / or headphones) so that students have the right materials and know what to do with them. .

Teachers should ensure that the first five minutes provide students with clear instructions and expectations. Here are three key areas to focus on:

  • Movement: Instructions on how students transition to independent learning, at which table or desk to sit, and when to pick up their technology or printed materials.
  • Voice level: Instructions on how students should communicate with each other.
  • Participation / What to do: Instructions on what materials students should prepare for their assigned modality and skill.

Teachers should also give students a “warning” to let them know when recording begins. (“I’ll start coming to see you in five minutes.”) This creates some accountability and clear expectations about what they should be doing.

In the air: what are the best ways to serve our passengers?

Think about what passengers do after the plane is in the air. They write emails, read different types of newspapers, magazines or books, watch videos, play games or listen to podcasts. (For the sake of our metaphor, let’s assume that sleeping isn’t an option!)

There is even more differentiation during independent learning, and teachers need to know what each of their students is working on. Some might take a virtual lesson to introduce them to a new skill or concept. Others may be playing an online game to review material they have already learned. Others will be engaged in more traditional missions with printed materials. The skills, lessons and modalities are differentiated for each student. The Teach to One lesson bank, for example, includes over 9,000 activities by digital and print publishers, from LearnZillion to Houghton Mifflin to EngageNY.

To make your check-ins more useful, you need to ask yourself the right questions. The “bad” questions are vague, imprecise, and often elicit one-word answers: “How are you? ” “Need something?” “Are you fine?” “Understood?”

Instead, teachers can guide their interactions with questions tailored to a student’s skill level and understanding of material. Jeromie Heath, a teacher in Seattle, created a great “Leveled Questions” cheat sheet which I encourage all teachers to take with them when recording.

Another tool that I recommend teachers use is the mini-whiteboard. These are good for individual recordings as they allow the teacher to quickly help students without removing the student’s note-taking tool. This allows the student to actively follow and take notes.

Closure: How do you prepare for the landing?

Today’s trip is almost over. How should teachers prepare for the “arrival”?

Teachers should have a consistent system for the last minutes of each independent learning session. It should include procedures for group reflection, handing over of technical equipment and transitions.

As with small group collaboration, the role of a teacher during independent learning may seem different from what we traditionally imagine. But it is essential to creating an environment where students are ready to navigate safely and successfully.

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