Saturday, December 5, 2015

Developing Independent Learners

Dear Readers,

As many of you know, I am an avid reader. I spent my summer exploring the idea of how to foster the development of independent learners in my classroom. I gained many ideas and strategies from the following resources:
  • Teach Like a Pirate (Dave Burgess)
  • Ditch That Textbook (Matt Miller)
  • Pure Genius (Don Wettrick)
  • Learn Like a Pirate (Paul Solarz)
  • 50 Things You Can Do in a Google Classroom (Alice Keeler)
The two questions that have been at the forefront of my mind while planning are:
  • How do I create learning experiences?
  • How do I implement instruction that allows for students to be in control of their learning?
Book Clubs

I am currently using Book Clubs as my instructional model. I wanted the experience to be as student driven as possible. My first step, of course, was to determine the components to be taught based on our school curriculum. I then started reading. I had a few titles in mind that would fit the unit, but wanted more options. The more I read, the better I am able to fit students with books they will be engaged in.

Choosing Books

After reflecting on the unit and essential learning, I chose three titles that I felt would engage my particular group of students. To my pleasant surprise, they were ALL excited about their book choice! (Presently, they are engaged and enjoying the texts as they work through them.)

Forming Groups

I compromised. I did not allow students to choose the groups, however I based my decisions on who I felt they would feel comfortable engaging in meaningful conversations with. I also kept the groups to 3 students per group. Now, I have the flexibility to keep them in small groups or combine them with the other group reading their title for a group of 6. (I have done this during their first Check-In which worked well. They started with their "base group" and then joined together.)

Book Club Expectations

This was the area I wanted students to have ownership over. I provided them due dates for the books and an outline. Their task was to:
  • Create Group Norms 
  • Write in Check-In and formal Discussion Dates
  • Determine the Reading Log (what chapters would be read by when)
As a model, I shared a Bookmark from a Professional Reading Circle I am a participant of. They did a fantastic job working together!

They were then able to choose their meeting space in the classroom. The chart paper posters were hung in their meeting area.

The students are provided a list of leadership roles (such as the facilitator) and independently assign roles within the group. They can change and rotate from meeting to meeting. 

Group Meetings

While reading the resource pictured below, I came across a wonderful idea! The students will have both Check-Ins (5-10 minutes each) and full Discussions (15-20 minutes each).  It also provided an idea to "kick off" book clubs. I made a Ziploc Bag for each student with post-its and a sweet treat. They loved it!

Modeling and Coaching

I have chosen a separate book to read along with them. I model the skills and strategies in my own book that they practice with me, in groups and independently. 

Additionally, I keep a writer's notebook. My planning also includes writing in response to reading and keeping my notebook updated. Students have access to my notebook whenever they need a reminder or to use as a guide.


As we head into week two of book clubs, some reflections I have as their teacher:
  • It is such a joy hearing them say, "This book is really good." It excites me that I made those literary connections.
  • It is difficult, at times, to sit back and allow them to problem solve on their own when they are struggling. It has made me a much better coach in offering guiding questions and modeling strategies for them without doing the work for them or giving TOO much direction.
  • My patience level is extremely high as I release responsibility to my students. Sometimes I sense frustration that I have to help them work through in order to coach that development of independence. 
  • When I do the work alongside them, I am better able to anticipate difficulties they will have. It also allows me to instruct more effectively because of my personal experience.
I want to thank my 8th grade students for being risk-takers. I want to thank them for challenging me and asking questions that push my thinking. I want to thank them for being a wonderful group of students to work with every day.

I also want to thank the authors, colleagues and educators who have inspired me to think outside the box.