One of the most important values I’ve embodied in my teaching is independence. I have made it my mission from early on to study and learn methods to foster independent learners. I have trialed and experimented with various methods, some successful and some not. But it has always been central in my class to create an environment that fosters students to become self-motivated in hopes that some of them will carry the skill of independent learning into other areas and future learning.

I have found in my experiences that one of the biggest challenges of independent learning is engagement. Some students struggle staying actively engaged without someone there always asking them to stay on task. The end result is often a student temporarily working but not fully engaging in their tasks.

One idea to increase engagement, I have found successful in my classes, is settings goals. Sometimes goals can last a few days or few weeks. Most days I’ll set a goal on the board for class expectations and a goal of the lesson separately. Having a visual guidance in front of the students when settings goals helps so that if someone is feeling confused or unsure of what they or the teacher is doing, can give students a visual cue without having to disrupt the class or draw unwanted attention to themselves. This is a simple tool that most teachers probably already use, but it is an effective habit that can help students become responsible for keeping themselves on task without having to rely on others for support.

Another effective tool I have incorporated into building independent learning is stations. I have been lucky enough to have had room in my class for a few stations and students absolutely loved them. They were available for both teaching and for independent studies. Free time was set for each student to work on a project of their choice (sometimes in pairs or groups) or they could use the stations to further a class project. Long term learning and setting a project based lesson aimed at longer in depth studying gave students a chance to explore their own interests so long as they could connect it to the class or area of study. An example of independent project-based learning I have used in my class is from a History class. Students were learning about about primary and secondary sources. The parameters of who they could research were restricted to a historical figure. After, they could present in a medium of their choosing so long as they adhered to the rubric and learning outcomes. This allowed students to research something that they found engaging and it also gave them a chance to choose from a myriad of ways to showcase their work. Each group chose interesting subjects, then used the classroom resources from the stations to explore and present their findings in their own creative way. Having those stations available helps create a space for students to work independently, engage themselves, and become active learners.

One station I’ve always used is called “Tech Corner” in which I had an old laptop and several iPads loaded with creative apps. There were various apps and programs for audio and visual art. The environment surrounding the stations was decorated with instructions and instructions to operate the various tools provided. Students could create stop motion animation, cartoon creators, music apps to write and compose their own songs, video editing apps to make short films, and learning code to make video games or even their own apps. I left instruction booklets and offered access to YouTube for instructional purposes. More often than not there were one or two students who were familiar with an app or program and could help their peers when needed. My role was minimal when students were engaging in a station. I would mostly provide resources or fetch things for students because they were engaged and on task. The other advantage to this area was that if PowerPoints were incomplete or extra research was needed for a project, students could use their station time to complete work. Having already become familiar with the tools needed for their independent projects during station time, I found that a lot of students would then use those mediums to do other assignments. For example, a grade four class I taught was assigned to choose a significant or important invention from the Neolithic era. I ended up with 5 short films; some live acting, computer animated, and stop motion. Choose a corner of the class and set up an area where students are free to explore and learn and watch as some students find themselves exploring new things and developing new skills. That's the kind of learning I aim to find in my classes. 

There are a wide variety of methods for making a classroom of independent learners; whether it is setting up activities within a framework where students have to make various choices and draw conclusions or providing appropriate feedback that allows students to succeed in future endeavours. But cultivating an environment that encourages independence in students can be rewarding. It requires critical thinking of the teacher. It requires you to determine the appropriate moments to intervene; knowing when support can lead to dependence and become counter productive. It requires awareness of yourself and your pupils. It is a challenge but I feel if I continue to be a learner and remain aware of my goals of creating this kind of learner, I will succeed in forming independent and engaged community of successful students.