Fostering habits of independent learners.
Do students need a lot of help in lessons in your subject? I should re-phrase: Are students constantly asking for help in your lessons?
I get a LOT of questions from students in my Maths lessons. A good deal are related to self-esteem/confidence: “Mr Campbell, is this right?” Not indicative of a growth mindset, but sadly pretty common. My natural response would be “You tell me!”. The same goes for “What do I do next?” and “Can you tell me what I’ve done wrong?”. Usually, when prompted, students can reason their way through the problem they are encountering. Sometimes a little scaffolding is needed, but it is amazing how often the students do all the work themselves.
Of course, there are always some who have not yet grasped the idea or technique with which they are grappling (in fact, this should apply to every student at some point in a good lesson) – these students might be in urgent need of my time, but at the back of a queue of “is this right”-ers.
So in the status quo each of the protagonists described above (including me) is being prevented from working to their maximum potential by the whole setup. There are two questions:
- Why do students so often need me to prompt them to think for themselves?
- How can I make them more independent learners (thus making more time for those who really need teacher input)?
There are some great practical ideas for prompting the sort of habits which we would wish to see, my favourite two being:
“3B4ME” – written in classic (and brilliantly outdated) text speak, this is a quick slogan to remind students that they should be consulting (at least) three sources before the teacher. I’ve seen a few interpretations of this, my favourite being “Brain, Book, Buddy, Boss”
“SNOT” – along the same lines as 3B4ME, but probably more memorable to a 14-year old and a lot more fun to say! Stands for “Self, Notes, Other, Teacher”. Thanks to Kerry Wade of Clifton School, Rotherham for that one. She said she would ask her students “Have you snotted?”. Brilliant!
Why is this on my mind right now? On Saturday night when I was meant to be marking but was instead lurking on Twitter I saw this tweet:
This was something I used to do all the time, but which had somehow been squeezed out of my mental teaching toolbox. So I had to reply…
And a brief, but inspiring, conversation ensued and I resolved to bring this technique back to my classroom.
So what happened in school this week? Well, I tried the 5 min thing with my Year 8, 9, 10 and 11 classes, and I threw in SNOT for good measure! Some of the things I learned:
- If you get everyone’s attention and say “I need to tell you a little bit about snot”, you really have their attention. Helps if you write “snot” in green pen on the board.
- All the classes embraced SNOT pretty quickly. Some Y9s rolled their eyes at first, but soon one girl was asking “Please can I move next to Emma as I’ve got no one to snot with?” – brilliant!
- In response to a request for help, use Kerry Wade’s line “Have you snotted?” – it works a treat!
5 Mins no teacher support
- I gave them 5 mins warning each time and this worked well – they know they have to make sure they understand the task properly in that time
- Combines really well with SNOT – I had written a horrible green “snot” on the board and so I rubbed off the “t”, telling them “you only have “sno” for the next five minutes
- It was good to see girls who are usually VERY dependent on encouragement finding other resources or simply getting on with it.
- Students got up and moved round the classroom to discuss the work. It worked.
- You have to choose the task, and the time within the task, carefully, otherwise you can leave them out to dry!
The main thing I noticed after each 5 minute period was what I mentioned in my tweet at the weekend: When you tell them you’re putting the “t” back into “snot”, you never get the equivalent of 5 minutes’ worth of questions fired at you.
Conclusion? At least some of them have been more resourceful and determined than they might otherwise have been, and figured it out for themselves. It is not a revolution in the classroom, but it is surely a good start.
What do you do to encourage independence in your students? And what is the answer to question 1 above?