At our home school, we have taken some time off for the holidays. We have taken a big, deep breath and are about to dig into our second semester of school. During this breather, I have been doing a lot of thinking. I have been evaluating what works in our school and what hasn't been working. I have been looking at each of my students and asking myself if my methods are working best for that student. Some things are going better than I could have hoped. Other areas need some work.
One of the things I have been working this year is teaching my students to take greater responsibility for their own education. I want them to be independent learners. I have always said that I would never be able to teach my kids everything, but if I could teach them to learn, they would be able to learn anything. So it has always been a great emphasis of our home school to inspire my kids to want to learn and to take personal responsibility for their education.
Independent Learning teaches a child how to learn. Rather than just listening to the teacher tell what he/she knows and then spitting out that information for a test, independent learning requires that the student find the information. It requires time management, responsibility, learning to deal with distractions and focusing on the process (learning) rather than just the goal (getting an A on the test). Even though I got good grades in school I don't remember much from those cram sessions before a test. I do, however, remember vivid details about the things I studied when I was motivated to learn something. I don't think I'm alone. We learn best when we have a vested interest in what we are learning. Besides, I don't know of a single college professor who is willing to hold his students' hands and baby step them through a college course. Once a student gets to college, he had better know how to be an independent learner. The same goes for the work force. The people who get the promotions are going to be the ones who know how to learn new things and grow their own skill set -- without a lot of prompting from their boss.
My oldest child, May-May, has taken full responsibility for her education. At the beginning of the school year, I simply gave her a list of course requirements and course deadlines. She is responsible for scheduling her own work and staying on track. She completed her first semester course requirements with flying colors. If giving a student this much freedom shocks you, let me relieve your fears. Giving her the ability to decide her own schedule has freed her up to learn even more than I required. For instance, she voluntarily spent her Christmas break mapping and beginning to track the territories of the local birds (using their songs and flight patterns) so that she will be able to locate and monitor their nesting sites this spring -- because hanging out at the mall isn't nearly as cool. Oh, and she has been studying the International Phonetic Alphabet -- you know, in case she ever finds herself stranded on a remote island and has to write me letters in a formerly unwritten tribal language. I don't worry about her too much...
My other high school student, Mustache, is fast on her heels. I gave him course requirements for a couple of his classes at the beginning of the year and he has handled the responsibility very well. I find that kids pretty much do what is expected. If you expect them to play video games all day, they will. But if you expect them to take responsibility for a class, they will. Not to be outdone by his sister, Mustache spent his school break studying robotics and computer programming. Now that he has proven himself a little, I am planning to give him a "Weekly Requirement Check-List" for the classes I have been teaching him. This will list everything he needs to complete by the end of the week. It will be up to him to make sure it gets done. Of course, if he doesn't do it, then he will have to spend his weekend doing school work while the rest of us play. It doesn't take long for kids to decide it is better not to procrastinate when it means they lose out on the fun things. It's is a great way to teach time management and responsibility.
My elementary school student, Rocket-Boy has been almost completely working with me, but it is time to start inching him toward independent learning. I plan to give him a "Daily Requirement Check-List". His check-list will have all the schoolwork he needs to complete for that day. I will monitor him much more closely, of course, to make sure he stays on task. He is ready for more responsibility, but looking at the whole week at once would overwhelm him. He struggles to stay on task sometimes, but I have a sneaking suspicion that when he sees what he needs to do before he can go do what he wants to do, he will fly through his schoolwork. Problem solved.
So what will I do with myself while my students are independently learning? I will be working more closely with Pickle Mickle, my preschooler. She is ready for some new things, but I haven't been able to take the time I needed with her. I want to take the second half of the year to really focus on her.
Don't worry, though. I make sure that my independent learners are actually learning. And they have proven to me that this system really works. They enjoy learning for it's own sake. That doesn't mean that my boys are doing backflips over English Grammar, but when they have flexibility in scheduling, they quickly do the classes they don't like so they can get to the things they really want to do. Then they experience the thrill of accomplishment, and that makes us all happy.