Introducing Independent Practice into the classroom is probably one of the most important yet challenging periods in the classroom. Ironically it is not something that you can just jump into which could be compared to starting a play from the third act. There is a gentle ease into getting students to a point where they are able to work successfully on-task and independently much as there is a flow to the plot of a story. So, let’s keep this analogy going and look at each stage of independent practice as the acts of a play.
- Introduce Independent Practice. This a block of time where the students will work independently or collaboratively without your assistance. Since you will be working with a small group of their peers, it is important that they take responsibility for their own learning. Reaffirm that during this time, you are working in a sacred learning space with their peers and cannot be interrupted unless absolutely necessary. Reassure students that everyone will have their sacred learning time with you each week.
- Review the rules. Keep it simple. Anywhere from 3 to 5 rules is sufficient for success and conveys what students are responsible for and being held accountable to. Yes, I said it. They are being held accountable. For example, I used 3 rules: 1) Don’t talk to the teacher; 2) Manage your materials correctly, and; 3) Do what you are supposed to do. They seem simplistic, but there is a gamut of behaviors which fit into these 3 expectations. Review each rule explicitly and provide students examples to ensure their success. For example, my students understood that unless there was blood, illness, or a displaced body part- not to interrupt my small group. I would ask, “If you have a bathroom emergency, do you come to me?” Students would respond, “No. Go to Sam, the bathroom monitor.” I would respond, “If you discover your ear is hanging below your elbow, do you come to me?” Students respond with giggles, “YES!”
- Provide alternatives to disrupting the small group. Remind students of how they may meet their needs without interrupting small group learning; who to go to for questions, how to go to the restroom, where to find the supplies they need, etc…
- Review the routines. Remind students of the parameters for working independently by asking them explicit questions about how to manage any materials or activities. This may include what to do if you break a pencil, how to travel across the room, where to put finished work, or how to attend to the level of noise in the room.
- Ask for any clarifying questions. It’s just that simple. Provide wait-time to ensure students have time to think about and ask any question. This way, there will be no excuse for not knowing.
A reminder of the rules, routines, and activities should happen before every session. It is a quick hit, less than a minute, that keeps the expectations of practice at the forefront of students’ awareness. Remember this may feel “top heavy” at first, as consistency is key; but over time this will reduce dramatically. With that said, you are now ready for Act One!
By: Terri Hamilton