Teaching students to work independently is a vital task for all teachers but especially for teachers of split grades.
Set Clear Expectations
Create an anchor chart with your expectations. When teaching these to students remember that you must do this in a variety of ways. You must Tell them, teach them, show them, post them, practice them, reinforce them. In Daily 5 they call this building stamina but it can be used in all subjects.
- Tell students that you want them to work independently and that you need them to do this so that you can teach the other group of students.
- Ask them what this should look like in your classroom and write it down.
- Have a student demonstrate what this looks like in your classroom. Have another student demonstrate what this doesn’t look like then have them fix it.
- Practice, Practice, Practice. Have the whole class practice this and time them. Start with 2 min and work up to 20min.
- Make a chart to track their progress.
- Be ruthless, and picky. If any student does not follow the rules stop the time and try again later. That is all that they can handle. If you have students that struggle with this due to specific learning needs have special contract with them to build their endurance.
- When it starts to slip or fail again that means it is time to practice again. Reinforce your expectations
- When students are building endurance do not help them. Walk away, watch from your desk, or corner of the room. They have to be able to control their own behaviours without your support.
- Once they begin to show some endurance with working independently begin to teach the other group of students. But hold them accountable for the work you have assigned. Collect everything (even if you don't always mark it, make them think that you are and monitor the students who are not using their time well and make a independent work contract with them)
- No excuses and no buts. This does work with 98% of students. Generally if students are not working independently it is not the student but the teacher’s expectations of what is acceptable that is confusing. Be critical of yourself and ask yourself are my words and actions consistent. You may be unknowingly reinforcing your student’s dependence on your control.