Monday, November 19, 2012

Growing Independent Learners

In parenting, it seems like you almost immediately begin working yourself out of a job.
First there is potty training, independent eating, and simple chores.  Then, soon enough, your child is bathing on his own, making sandwiches, and completing helpful tasks around the house.  Each of these successfully learned lessons leads to increased responsibility and independence for your child. 

It is the goal.  Each child needs to become responsible and independent of you, because eventually your child will be launched into adulthood.

The same can be said of homeschooling.

From the first few months of homeschooling onward, you are working yourself out of a job. 
  • Teaching a child to read and comprehend leads to individual pursuits of books and processing of ideas.
  • Teaching a child to add and subtract leads to life skills necessary for budgeting, handling money, and business.
  • Teaching a child how to write letters and words leads to creating reports, resumes, business letters, and essays.

So, why, when it comes to homeschooling, do many of us cringe at the idea of giving our children more responsibility for their own education?  Is it the regulations which clearly outline what has to be done and sometimes when?  Is it our own educational backgrounds which deemed the teacher responsible until graduation?  Is it fear of failure on our child's part?

Moving Children Toward Independent Learning

Teacher Led or Directed Learning -  In the very early stages of education, all learning is teacher led or directed.  You provide the lessons, materials, time, or experiences for your child to learn.  Maybe your child has some say over when he does math, or which books you read to him, but ultimately, you are still in charge of all his learning.  Lower elementary grades are filled with a lot of this type of learning. 

Teacher Facilitated Learning - After the child matures and learns to read, the teacher's role, while still important, lessens slightly.  The child is now able to read and understand increasingly harder works.  However, the child still needs you to facilitate his path.  You are still in charge of all his learning, but he is beginning to work on some of it by himself.  Maybe he reads a few of his lessons on his own and you help him through the troublesome areas.  You, his teacher, are facilitating his lessons, making sure he remains on task, and helping him progress.  Typically, the upper elementary grades are when a child starts to slowly take more responsibility for his own learning.

Student Led and Teacher Supported Learning - Once the student is able to begin directing his own learning, he should start.  He will still need guidance and accountability.  There will still be times when he has questions and needs taught.  You are not giving up your role as teacher.  You are simply allowing him to navigate through his lessons with your support.  Middle school is a perfect time to start transferring responsibility to your child.  Perhaps your child will begin using a syllabus for a course.  He begins to check his own listing daily, instead of relying on you to lay out his work.  Maybe he will transfer to weekly assignments where he must decide what is done on a specific day to meet these weekly deadlines.  Maybe instead of walking him through every step of a research paper, you simply assign the paper with a due date.  There are many different ways your child can begin to take the lead in his own learning.  However, your role is still vital.  You will need to hold him accountable, and when necessary help him get back on track. 

Independent Student - Eventually, this is the goal for all individuals.  An independent student is able to look over an assignment or course, break it down into smaller tasks, schedule the tasks, and complete them.  He can study for a test on his own.  He can research the answers to his own questions, checking various sources, navigating through propaganda, and discerning author's intentions and motives.  He can analyze statistics and studies, recognize when a publication is simply promoting an agenda, and realize which sources are dependable.

These stages of independent learning can be progressed through at different paces depending on the student, style of learning, method of homeschooling, etc.  Regardless of when or how your child becomes an independent student, who is able to learn on their own, it should be the goal of every homeschooling parent.  Someday, they will no longer be in your school.  Someday, they will need to teach themselves.  Helping them learn to become independent students now, while in your homeschool, will help them greatly.

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