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How to Promote Independent Learning in the Primary Classroom

Updated March 09, 2017

Allowing students to take ownership and initiative in their learning gives them the confidence needed to succeed as lifelong learners. Creating independent learners requires a structured classroom with clear expectations, routines and procedures. The teacher must create an atmosphere where children feel confident as learners, secure enough in their environment to take risks and comfortable enough with routines to work independently and help others. Children in the primary classroom can actually handle a lot of responsibility if they are explicitly taught what to do and when to do it.

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  1. Establish clear procedures. Students need to know exactly what to do when they finish their work, where to put finished/unfinished work, how to access supplies, how to enter/leave the classroom and how to get help. Procedures are unique to each classroom depending on the grade level and the teacher. Teach students these procedures by modelling for them, then role-playing and practicing procedures on a daily basis until they are automatic for the majority of students. When students know exactly what to do they develop a sense of confidence, responsibility and independence.

  2. Set up learning centres in the classroom designed to hold a group of three to five students with supplies to work on a specific subject or activity. Subjects for centres might include reading, math, art, spelling, geography or computers. This allows the teacher time to work individually with students or small groups and allows students time for self-directed and independent learning.

  3. Give students clear and consistent expectations. Determine three to five behavioural expectations and post them clearly in the classroom. Examples include "Students will respect each other," "Students will do their best," "Students will work quietly." Teach expectations by discussing, giving multiple examples, and pointing out positive behaviour when you see it. Let students know exactly what the consequence will be when they choose not to meet an expectation.

  4. Assign open-ended learning activities. Allowing students to choose what they want to write about, which book they want to read or what math game they want to play gives them a sense of ownership in their learning. It also lets them begin to see what their interests are, what they excel at and what they need to work on.

  5. Celebrate successes. Students will respond well to praise and will be motivated to perform their best. Create a classroom environment where students celebrate each others' successes, willingly help each other and take pride in a job well done. Post student work around the classroom, allow students to present work and skills they are proud of, recognise independent learning and praise students often.

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About the Author

Dana Tuffelmire

Dana Tuffelmire has been writing for DMS for three years. She taught elementary school for seven years and earned a master’s of education degree with a specialization in literacy. She is currently a stay-at-home mom to two sons. Her dream is to one day write a children's book.

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