3 Ways To Encourage Student Independence — At School and at Home

While you’re probably feeling a lot of excitement around the kids returning to the school building, there may also be some nervousness. You might be worried about how to help your students be successful as they transition into the classroom after a year or more of distance learning.

In writing and reading workshop, we’re always striving to teach kids to work independently. Some kids learned to be more independent while learning from home, while others may have become more reliant on help from adults — as in their teachers and parents. Either way, fostering independence is important to help kids succeed at school (and in life!).

Here are 3 simple ways we can foster students’ independence:
Note: These tips are great for parents too! Feel free to share this blog post with your parent community as well!

Tip #1: Wait, wait, don’t tell them!

As teachers, it’s uncomfortable to watch kids struggle. (It’s hard for caregivers too!) But when we swoop in to offer support too quickly, we don’t give kids time to, well, struggle, and work to solve problems. Giving kids opportunities to use what they know to figure things out on their own helps build perseverance and independence. So the next time your student is reading and pauses at a tricky word, take a few deep breaths before jumping in. They just may need a moment to apply what they know.

There’s a difference between productive struggle and frustration, though. If you see any signs of frustration — clenched fists or tears forming, it’s time to jump in.

Tip #2: Pop the question(s).

You’ve given them a moment, but your student isn’t figuring it out. They’re still stuck on reading a word or finding one they can’t spell. If you were my dad, you’d tell me to go look it up in the dictionary. It turns out it’s hard to look a word up in the dictionary when you don’t know how to spell the word! Instead of sending kids to a dictionary or just giving them the answer, you can continue to foster independence by asking some key questions. The questions below work for just about any subject or life skill.

  • What can you try?
  • What strategies have you learned that might help you?
  • What can you use that will help?

Sometimes those questions aren’t enough. If they need more help, specifically in reading or writing, you can move on to more directed prompts.

  • Get your mouth ready to read the word.
  • Stretch out the word to hear the sounds.

Tip #3: Tell them something good.

Another way to develop independence is to consider the language we use with kids. Instead of saying, “Great job!” or “You’re so smart!” try to praise kids by focusing on their effort or their processes or just naming what they did. Here are some examples:

  • Wow! You worked really hard on writing that story.
  • I see you’re adding more details to your picture.
  • You figured out that tricky word by breaking it apart into chunks.
  • How did you do that?!

These statements shift the focus away from getting teacher approval and instead help kids see that they can take action and make choices for themselves. Don’t we all feel more confident when we know we’ve done something on our own? Here’s an article from the New York Times with more on giving praise to kids.

It turns out that one of the most important ways to help kids is by not helping. Okay, help, but not too much! Giving kids some wait time and open-ended prompts go a long way toward helping them help themselves. Add the right feedback and kids will have even more confidence to do things independently.

We appreciate how hard it is to watch kids struggle — and with this advice, you’ll be able to slow down just a little, and give them a chance to solve their problems on their own. You’ll be helping them flex their independence muscles and problem-solving skills.

Let us know when you give one of these strategies a try.

We’d love to know how it goes for you.

If you’re looking for more support with topics like this, you’ll love the LP Teacher’s Membership — where you’ll re-energize your passion for teaching, make connections, and of course, learn. Enrollment is open!

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