Steps to Independence

by Jimmie Lanley on September 9, 2011

Maturing in independent learning is one of my goals for Sprite’s middle school years. I have found that keeping my list of broad goals right in the front of my Mom Notebook keeps me focused on making opportunities for them in the weekly lesson plans.

As amazing as it is, it is far too easy to forget the overarching goals in favor of the tiny details of reading assignments and exercises.

I thought I’d take a moment to share specific things I do to nudge Sprite towards more independence in her learning.

1. Using lists

I am a list maker, and Sprite has inherited that from me. Of course, it’s not so much the list as the satisfaction one gets from crossing off a completed task.

Sprite loves to know “what else do I have to do today?” I used to be irritated by that question. It seemed to say, “Let’s just get this over with. I hate this.” But that wasn’t what she meant at all. (Funny how talking to your kids clears up so much!) Knowing what is left to do helps her have the big picture for the day’s work. She’s not expressing distaste, but a desire for more control over her homeschool day. And she finds the countdown to done very motivating.

Lists don’t have to be fancy. She sometimes marks things off of my own planner or makes a post-it note list like the one pictured. That’s all it takes, so we keep it simple.

2. Being alone

Giving her some directions and leaving her to work is something that we worked up to. It does take time. But now with Sprite in seventh grade, she can get up in the morning and know exactly what to do in a few subjects. She seems to enjoy telling me that she’ll check in after she has done her math, Bible, and vocabulary.

When she’s ready for more direction, I offer that. And then I leave her to work.

I’m always available for help, but I think that being out of the room prompts her to try to work out her initial problems on her own before asking me to come back. She has now grown to like working alone where she can listen to her own choice of music (and set the the volume she prefers) and sometimes audio books.

3. Asking her to assess her learning

A question I like to ask is, “How did you do?” I want Sprite to evaluate her own learning before I give any assessment. Was the work easy or hard? Was it done with excellence or were there distractions that fostered mistakes? Is there something we can change so that next time the learning goes smoother?

For those of you with middle schoolers and older, what do you find most helpful in moving them towards independence?

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