Developing Independence

independent2The 15 minute forum last night was led by science teacher Becky Owen, as this is the area she is looking at as a part of her learning innovator project.  Becky started off by saying how her thoughts have shifted around independence, as she has been thinking about ‘Growth Mindset’. She used to think about ‘Independent Learning’ as students working entirely on their own, without any input from their teacher.  The problem with this, is that without input and feedback from a teacher, students can often compound misconceptions, which are then hard to ‘undo’.  Also, they are unlikely to truly challenge themselves.

Last year, some students led a 15 minute forum on the big 4.  When asked about independence they said:

“Before we are set off to work on a task independently, the idea we are working on needs to have been explained to us thoroughly by the teacher…..otherwise we won’t be able to do the task very well.


“Keep checking our work – otherwise if we are just working independently and get it wrong, we won’t know!”

This has resulted in a shift of thinking towards ‘developing independence’, as summed up by the following diagram:

independenceWhat this suggests is that independence can only really be developed if it starts with high quality input from the teacher, in terms of  explanation and modelling.  From here, students can then move on to joint practice and construction – as they begin to practice and develop what they have been taught and so ‘construct’ their thoughts and learning.  As their learning is consolidated through this practice, they can then begin to apply their learning and begin to develop the idea more widely and come up with their own questions.  It is during these last two stages that they are really developing independence as they grow in confidence and become less reliant on the teacher.   Questioning and feedback from the teacher are still vital throughout.

With this in mind, Becky has been thinking about strategies that she can do with her students that address the ‘joint practice and construction’ and ‘application and development of learning’ stages.  She has been using the ‘7 monkeys’ strategy – noone seems to know why it is so called – alongside DIRT. As outlined below:

row7monkeysAs outlined on the above slide, students work through a sequence of 7 activities to develop their ideas about the learning, following some initial input from the teacher.  This ususally starts with reading a piece of text, scanning for key words and then trying to turn the ideas into a diagram (more on this here).  The middle tasks are then flexible, but it always ends with an extended question which is usually peer assessed.  The idea here is that as students work through the different tasks, they are developing and consolidating their ideas about the topic – and becoming more confident about working with a greater degree of independence.  The tasks are designed to develop skills that will contribute to this e.g. skimming, scanning, summarising etc.

Questioning and feedback from the teacher are ongoing through this process, to avoid misconceptions being compounded and to ensure an appropriate level of challenge.  The tasks are also an opportunity to develop resilience – as students have to work through some of the more challenging tasks.


So towards the end of the lesson, students are then presented with a question to assess their learning – see above.  They are encouraged to use as much of the information as possible from the previous tasks to develop their response. This could be a great opportuniti to develop paired writing as discussed in Andy Tharby’s great blog here.

rowPeerAssOnce they have completed their written response, students are then given some guidance on how to peer assess their work – as in the slide above.  Students are then asked to give each other some feedback about how to improve.  Some guidance for students on this can be:

feedback should

This simple structure – kind, specific and helpful – is key if students are to give useful feedback.  Initially they will need some support with this and need it to be modelled with them.

Following the peer feedback (or instead of) the teacher can also give written feedback on their written response to the question.  The following slide is then used to support students with understanding the feedback and then using it during some DIRT – Directed Improvement and Reflection Time:

rowRespondingAnd finally….

Students understand this process of learning with increasing independence very well and from a young age….as demonstrated in this picture below, which illustrates how my son Jude learnt how to jump a ramp on his scooter:


The same principles apply in our classrooms – we as teachers just have to provide the right conditions for it!

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5 Responses to Developing Independence

  1. Pingback: Developing Independence | Learning Curve

  2. Reblogged this on paddington teaching and learning and commented:
    A great blog post on developing independence in science students, but the steps can be applied across every subject.

  3. Pingback: 365 Days in my shoes Day 325 | high heels and high notes

  4. Pingback: 2013 – A year of blogging…. | Class Teaching

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