Independent Learners- "I Let My Kids Do Whatever They Want!"

Just that title alone scares me to death! It is that time of year where we are preparing for testing and trying our best to have our students be successful in the next grade. I was fortunate enough to have an evaluator who really challenges me to extend my "highly independent" students. When it comes to running stations, I have developed a well-oiled machine for my students in stations. Check out my blogpost to manage your stations to perfection -  Stations.

Yes, I could have kept my station world to perfection. I mean, who really wants to start changing things at the end of the year. Why would I not want to be comfortable with what I am doing? I refuse to get comfortable as an educator because it is not about me. I have to do what will be best for every single one of my students. In this case, I have to teach them to do things on their own consciously. I have to show them that once they leave my classroom, or even graduate from high school, they have to make their own decisions to attain knowledge. I wanted to show them that I am not their source of knowledge. They have the potential to learn at their own path.

To my surprise, my students absolutely loved it. I have never had so many questions about what we were doing in class. Here were some of the questions and responses:

You may be thinking, "You don't know my kids! They cannot handle any form of freedom. No, that is not my teaching style." I totally get it. It is difficult to totally let go of what your students do. But here's the thing, if we do not give them some sort of independence, then when they do get it, they will not be able to handle it in the real world. We should be preparing our students to be citizens of our nation, not just students in a school. Think BIG PICTURE.

So what did I do? I created a differentiated checklist for my students to complete a sort of standard-based activities for math. In giving more freedom, I had to be mindful of what each student could truly handle. I am not just going to give them all the same level of work. This independent growth has to be well thought out. The checklist is listed below for one week of activities outside of the direct small group instruction students receive from me. Additional explanations and notes were not included in the their papers. This is for you, teacher friends! :)

Fifth Grade Ready Leaders (My Students are in Fourth Grade) Self-Directed Checklist List for Math

  • Math Activity/Zearn (15 - 20 minutes)

  • Monday - Friday

  • (Each student has at least 15 minutes of practice on the software program It is one of the best programs because it aligns with exactly what we are doing in the classroom. Let's say a student is behind, you can always assign them a lower level of practice for remediation. If a student is surpassing the class, then they can move up to a higher level for enrichment. You can even lower or bump up the grade levels!)

  • Monday and Tuesday

  • Group 1 (This group of students needs a lot of additional support in the mathematics block. Based on their performance in class, they typically do better with repetition and spiral reviews. Each week, I will go up on the level of multiplication strategies and digits.)

  • Two-Digit by One-Digit Multiplication Using the Area Model

  • Group 2 & 3 (Both of these groups are about on the same level. There are maybe one to two students in these groups I had concerns about. However, I created an individual learning path for them in technology to meet those deficiencies. This kept them from being held back in the lower group when it is just an easy quick fix. These group members also tutor the lower group as well. It has done wonders!)

  • Two-Digit by Two-Digit Multiplication Using at Least Two Strategies Board Game

  • Wednesday and Thursday

  • Group 1

  • Long Division without Remainders

  • Group 2

  • Long Division with Remainders Using 2 Different Strategies

  • Group 2

  • Create Long Division Problems and Solve Using 3 Different Strategies

  • Math Games (15 - 20 minutes)

  • Monday - Friday

  • Group 3 (This group constantly has to be challenged, so I have given them some fifth grade standards to master. They will be exposed to rounding decimals to the nearest whole number and or tenth.)

  • Rolling Fraction Numbers

  • Group 1, 2, & 3

  • Adding Fractions with Different Denominators

  • (The first group will work with a group two member to guide them in completing this assignment. This takes the pressure away from me as the teacher to ensure every student is on track, while I am working with my small group.)

  • Group 1, 2, & 3

  • Converting Fractions and Decimals

  • (This is direct practice from the standard we are focused on in class. Although it is a fun activity, students are expected to complete this independently with an answer key to use after finishing.)

Students are in complete control as to when they finish each of these tasks. However, they must be done by the end of the week. We go over each of these activities as a class on Fridays. It is the spiral review for the assessment test. In creating your own checklist, make it short and sweet, but descriptive enough for your students to know what they have to get done. I highly recommend you cover your expectations with voice levels, conscious decisions (work alone, with a partner, or group), and gaining the teacher's attention. Even though you are taking yourself out of the center of learning, you still have a sense of control for the success of your to function at an independent level.

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