The Goals of Independent Learning
Understanding the importance and role of self-regulation in the classroom.
By Matthew Spinogatti
How many times have you heard your coworkers say, “When I was in school, we were quiet. We did our work and never bothered the teacher”? I am often forced to ask myself, is this the goal of a well-managed or productive classroom environment? Silence? Is that what I am striving for? Independent practice is an integral part of the teaching profession, and when assigned effectively, has proven to have significant results. However, in this profession, I believe we rely too heavily on the importance of silence in the classroom. Yet, independent practice, when properly implemented, can have effects that spread far beyond the content of any specific lesson.
The Independent Classroom
The fact of the matter is, I often find myself teaching how I was taught. This, I have concluded, is very unfortunate. It is unfortunate because like many of my friends, family, and coworkers, I did not really enjoy school very much. And while I realize that education is not always about having fun, we would be doing our students a great disservice if we did not introduce them to the many joys and pleasures of acquiring a good education.
However, there is a time and a place for everything, and the skills that are associated with independent learning will often surpass the intended outcome of a specific lesson. These skills include self-regulation, competence in the subject, and independent student goal setting.
Independent practice provides an opportunity to learn to self-regulate. When teachers are always the ones creating the parameters of the lesson or exercise, students become really good at doing one thing: following directions. Now, this is an important skill, but not as important as learning how to accomplish the task assigned while managing their own time, monitoring their own progress, and solving their own problems. Independent practice should be just that—independent. Pupils can be assigned a task and a deadline and learn to manage themselves in a manner that leads to the completion of the task.
Competence and Self-Directed Learning
Have you ever had a pupil ask you what a word means? Often, because we either see it as our job or just the path of least resistance, we tell the student the simplest definition of the word that we can come up with in 10 seconds or less. I’m guilty of this doing this. However, by doing so, I infringe on that individual's ability to learn how to solve his or her own problems. The pupil could have just as easily grabbed a dictionary or used a phone to find the answer on his or her own. That is what competent adults have to do. Let's stop being crutches for easy learning. Independent practice encourages competence and problem solving skills. Look it up, find the answer, understand why, solve the problem.
Student Goal Setting
Our society in general is goal-based. If we accomplish certain goals or activities, we expect a certain result. When scholars are engaged in independent learning, they are being asked to set and achieve a certain set of pre-designed goals that will eventually lead to either an understanding or mastery of a skill or lesson. Pupils know what needs to get accomplished, but it is up to them when, how, and to what degree they are going to achieve that goal.
Independent practice does not have to mean silent practice. It can be both creative and collaborative. The key is that scholars have what they need to complete the task, whether that be knowledge, skills, and/or materials, and the rest is up to them. Eventually, with enough practice, they will pick up some important life skills along the way that will help them on their way to becoming both college and career ready.