Independent practice can be daunting. My first time attempting it was an exercise in failure. Picture a new kindergarten classroom with 20 students. Tommy was running with scissors, and Tammy, who was monitoring her classmates, reported anything she deemed wrong. Very few students were focused and on-task. The result was a room full of frustrated and flustered people. It wasn’t until Teacher Nancy came, and modeled how to run groups, that I began to experience success. As I refined my implementation the class was more successful, resulting in students ready to soar with this important instructional practice.
I am sure you are wondering what exactly made the difference for me. First and foremost it was the understanding that, in order for everyone to get the best out of this instructional block, my objective was to prepare my students for success. Everything I did was for that purpose. If my students weren’t successful, then ultimately they missed out on important practice and I missed out on meeting their individual needs. This is a team effort. How do I set students up for independent practice now? Here are 3 ways:
- Teach activities long before students engage in them independently: This step calls for advance planning on your part. Think of activities that students do on a regular basis that can eventually be released to them as independent work. For example; Primary students may focus on writing skills to help develop their hand strength and coordination. All students may use the time to read independently or engage in fluency practice, create a response to something read, revise or edit writing, work on research, or complete a math skill-related task. This is a reoccurring task that is important for learning but can eventually be released to students to implement on their own or collaboratively.
- Embrace classroom routines: From day one in your classroom, begin to teach the routines that will be important for the smooth implementation of independent practice. Things to consider include how to: work collaboratively in groups or in pairs; read independently; manage the materials in the classroom; perform jobs or responsibilities; transition from one activity to another; and take care of basic needs (go to the restroom, use the tissue, get water…).
- Establish the rules and expectations, and be consistent: This starts day one of class and is reinforced throughout the year. Management is key! When students know and understand the expectations, when they have had practice to refine their behavior and have been supported in their efforts, the ease of releasing them to work independently is increased a hundred-fold! This is not an exaggeration. Management is 95% of whether independent practice (and small group instruction) is successful or not.
Remember, students need ample practice to be ready to take on the task of working without the guidance of the teacher. They need time to build fluency. You will know they are ready when they can work or perform a task to a rate of 85% – 90% success. Literally, by being proactive and consistent in your instructional practice, students are set up for success.
By: Terri Hamilton