I can’t believe that April is half over! It seems like I forgot how quickly the time goes once spring arrives. We are down to under 40 days left in this school year — where did the time go?
Anyway, today I’m going to discuss another initiative that I’ve been piloting this spring with my students: independent learning time.
Immediately following our classroom walks, which have continued to be a pleasant aspect of our afternoons, my students have been engaging each day in “independent learning time.” During this time students can, so long as they’ve met expectations for work throughout the morning, work on any activity of their choice, as long as it is somehow related to learning.
Philosophically, independent learning time makes so much sense to me. How can we expect to develop students who are creative, critical thinkers when we are always telling them what to do during every minute of their school experience? By removing the directives about what students will be doing, I have found that my students are creating surprisingly rich learning experiences that are catered to their interests — all by themselves!
After an initially rough couple of days during the beginning of the implementation of independent learning time — my students were flabbergasted when they were given the authority to direct learning according to their interests — things have settled nicely over the past few weeks. ILT has become such an exciting time in our classroom! I’ve learned so much about what makes my students tick since implementing ILT, which has also helped with keeping our classroom flowing smoothly all day long. The kids look forward to ILT and don’t want to miss a second of it, so they have been increasingly motivated and focused during the other parts of the day.
So, you might be wondering what my students have been up during ILT. Here’s a short selection of some of their self-chosen and self-directed activities.
- Learning how to write in cursive
- Learning multiplication
- Exploring how different types of paper and folding lead to different results in paper airplanes
- Creating a book about recycling
- Using pattern blocks to create mandalas and to try to build multi-story structures
- Using Toontastic (an app) to create their own animated stories
- Exploring natural objects collected during our afternoon walks
- Working on reading books of their choice
- Asking to spend more time working on projects from other parts of our day(!)
As you can see, my kids aren’t just “playing” and pretending that it’s learning; they are stretching their minds in significant ways, all on their own.
My hope is that the sense of wonder surrounding ILT will translate to their time at home. If students learn the skills of managing their own learning at school, they will be much better equipped to create their own learning experiences at home. My vision as a teacher has always been to cultivate students who are curious, self-directed learners; ILT time is one of the most significant (and initially scary!) steps that I’ve taken toward making that vision a reality.
This is wonderful practice. I used to love these times myself. I am pleased that you are able to make time for such important learning practices in an environment that seems to be increasing its expectations for structured and directed teaching. Children learn so much more when they are able to direct their own learning. Good on you for giving it a go. Your students learning will thank you for it.