Tuesday, September 16, 2014

5 Activities to Encourage Independent Learning

Studying independent learning as part of my professional development at school changed many practices within my teaching. After much research with my friend and colleague, Valerie Guarino, we learned that in order to facilitate independent learning, students need to be able to:

PLAN their own path to mastery,
MONITOR their progress as they implement their plan, and
EVALUATE the effectiveness of their plan, and as a result of this learning, modify future paths (thus repeating the same process).

Here are five activities that we used to encourage independent learning.  Peer feedback and small-group discussions were often part of the reflection process.  Many thanks to Valerie Guarino @valerie_guarino, who was a collaborator for the below ideas.

1.  Predicting quiz grades.  While preparing for a quiz, ask students to write a goal and the actions to meet that goal, and later, reflect on their performance and what to change in the future. This activity empowers students to take ownership over their grades and processes for learning.

2.  Homework reflection.  Students reflect on their completion of homework (or non-completion and its causes), and their learning.  This worksheet, completed over several classes, helps students discern patterns in their performance.

3.  Grade reflection.  Completed over several weeks with the help of frequent grade printouts, this task gives students the means to reflect on how their actions impact their own grades.  With each printout, students reflect on their grade, set a goal for their future grade, and then explain why this goal was or was not met. I found this reflection changed the impression of grading from teacher oriented to student oriented. It was no longer me, the teacher, handing out grades; grades became the outcome of student actions.  This activity also clarified the grading process and the weights of various assignments.

4.  Self-evaluation with the project rubric.  Instead of grading a student's first draft of a project or essay, I created a worksheet to mirror the rubric.  This activity included a variety of specific questions connected directly to the rubric.  For example, if the rubric had a word count requirement, I asked students, "How many words are in this essay?"  After self-evaluating against the rubric, students gave themselves a grade and set goals for the rewrite.  Following a peer review involving discussion, I would also review the reflection before the student completed a second draft, I found that this process significantly improved student performance, and that the final products were better.  I also did less work.  (Please note that although the attached example is very specific for the world language classroom, it shows how the student worksheet mirrors the rubric.)

5.  Soft skills rubric.  This activity is designed to improve student functioning in class and includes space for student reflection, teacher feedback, and goals. Students reflect on various actions within the classroom setting, and I provide them feedback on their reflections.  Although I did not use this rubric with all classes, I found it helpful when students needed assistance in behaving appropriately for a classroom setting.  It made very clear the skill sets that are not obvious to all learners.

All of these activities shift student outcomes from teachers to students, and they give students the awareness of their own power in changing their performance.  I did not use all of these worksheets with all students, but found them helpful at various times depending on the needs of the classroom. These processes are not perfect, and I imagine that some of my former students reading this blog will comment about why they disliked certain activities; I look forward to reading their feedback.  I hope that you can use these ideas in some way and I invite you to edit them for your own use.

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