Students working independently writing in a notebook

The Best Ways to Create Independent Learners During Science

June 9, 2024 2 Comments

Fostering student independence in science class is essential for enhancing engagement and deepening understanding. This post will discuss various strategies to encourage students to become independent learners, such as hands-on experiments, technology integration, collaborative projects, inquiry-based learning, and more. These methods aim to build confidence and autonomy in students, benefiting learners from elementary to high school levels.

Why It’s Important to Create Independent Learners

Shifting to a student-driven learning environment offers significant benefits. Here are some key reasons to consider this approach:

  • When students make decisions in the classroom, they become more engaged.
  • Autonomy in the classroom increases students’ comfort with science and boosts their self-esteem.
  • Independent learners also make classroom management easier. When students take on more responsibilities, it frees up time for teachers to focus on other tasks, such as small group instruction.

You can’t expect that students will know how to work independently when they enter your classroom.  As with all things, they must be taught how to work independently.  Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Establishing Clear Routines

Students need to be taught how to move, work, and collaborate in your classroom.  Don’t assume that they will know what you want them to do.

Here are just a few things to consider: How do you want them to enter and leave your classroom?  What should they do when they arrive?  How should they get materials?  How do they clean up?

Teach, reteach and look for stumbling blocks.

If the routine isn’t going well, it’s a sign that the routine needs to be retaught. But, before you reteach a routine, determine where your stumbling blocks are.

For example, maybe students need to collect their notebooks at the beginning of class. If there is only one place for them to pick up their notebooks, this creates a bottle neck and slows them down. Instead, adjust the routine to make it more more quickly.

One of the best ways to improve a routine is to add a layer of visual support. I’d highly recommend using this book to help you establish visual routines in your classroom.

Picture This! Visuals and Rubrics to Teach Procedures, Save Your Voice, and Love Your Students

This book will help you make your expectations incredibly clear through visual expectations, non-verbal redirection strategies and more.

Pros:
  • Helps make classroom expectations more clear without adding a ton to your task list
  • Ideas for redirecting students non-verbally
  • Tons of examples
Cons:
  • Some of the expectation included are outdated (ie. dress code)
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

Establish a Clear Entry Routine

Routines are crucial in a student-driven classroom. An entry routine is a must.

For example, establish a routine where students start a warm-up as soon as they enter the room. A simple, regular warm-up routine allows students to set it up and complete it independently.

A self-sufficient warm-up gives you the first five minutes of class to take attendance, check in with students, or review exit tickets from the previous class. Click here to learn more about my warm-up routine.

3Use and Share a Digital Agenda

I make an agenda like the one below using Google Presentations and share it with my students.  I have them bookmark it so they can access it whenever they need it.

Google Slides Sample

At the end of the day, I take all of the extra papers and put them into a file for that course.  When students return from an absence, they can see what they missed and find it in the file.

I also post links to all of the documents.  This helps students fill them out electronically (if they would prefer to do a digital notebook), and they can use accessibility features that are embedded in their Chromebooks like increasing font size and text to speech.

This process helps keep students informed and saves me a ton of time.

Notice I also include all three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards.  This makes that connection clear for these students, but it also helps me make sure I am writing three-dimensional lessons.  An editable version of this agenda is available on my TPT store.  Click here to access it.

Establish Students Jobs Creates Independent Learners

When my daughter started school, I noticed she always had a job in her class. This began in kindergarten, where her teacher rotated student jobs weekly. This allowed my daughter to contribute to the classroom, resulting in an incredibly organized, clean, and well-run environment. The teacher wasn’t frantically cleaning up after students; instead, the students took responsibility for their space.

This was a revelation for me. If a kindergarten teacher could manage 32 young children and get them to care for the classroom, I could certainly do the same with middle and high school students.

In a science class, there is always so much to do. Assigning student jobs is a fantastic way to increase student independence.

Easy Access to Lab Equipment Make

For students to choose their own lab equipment, starting as early as 3rd grade, the equipment must be well-labeled, organized, and easily accessible. Students also need a strong understanding of how the equipment works.

One of my student jobs is a lab monitor. This student ensures that all glassware is washed and equipment is put away at the end of the period. This practice saves a lot of time on lab setup and cleanup.

Teach Students How to Work in Teams and Resolve Conflict

There isn’t ONE solution to that helps students to work together. But, it is helpful to start with a great foundation. I’d highly recommend starting your school year with respect agreements.

If you’ve never hear of them, check out this episode of the podcast where Nicole talks all about using respect agreements in her classroom.

Use Peer and Self Assessment to Create Independent Learners

This tip will need to be its own blog post because there is so much to say.  I will try to keep it brief.

When students have the opportunity to assess each other and themselves, they learn so much.  Also, if you properly scaffold this process, they can come away with valuable feedback.

One of the ways I do this is by having students review each other’s work using the rubric that I will ultimately use to grade student work.  Students can use the rubric to identify areas that need to be worked on and provide substantive feedback.  This process is also valuable to the person providing the feedback.  As they go through each component of the rubric, they can also reflect on their own practices and see another potential method for solving the same problem.

The Single Point Rubric

The key to peer and self assessment is clear guidelines. My favorite tool to make sure the expectations for a given task is clear is the single point rubric. If you aren’t familiar with the single point rubric, check out this blog post.

Erin Sadler

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2 Comments

  • Clare Freeman October 13, 2020 at 9:11 pm

    Thank you
    Thank you
    Thank you
    For sharing your knowledge, experience, …

    • Erin Sadler October 13, 2020 at 9:13 pm

      you are so welcome!

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