Increasing Independent Work time can mitigate learning loss

Guest post by Lis Bluford, @LisBluford @EdLightPBC

To accelerate learning, we need to focus on student work output daily.

Students show us their learning every day. It’s our job to give them time to show us their understanding and listen.

Authentic student work should be at the center of learning.

As part of my role at EdLight, I’m constantly observing remote classrooms of all ages. One of my greatest takeaways is how few classrooms prioritize independent work time.

I recently observed a 60-minute lesson where the teacher skillfully modeled a procedure and engaged 100% of students in a guided practice. While this was impressive, I kept waiting for students to have a chance to apply the learning themselves through independent work or an exit ticket time. It never came.

Unfortunately this has become a trend with remote / hybrid learning. Perhaps it’s the camera that makes us want to perform, but for whatever reason, teachers are reluctant to have students working independently + quietly.

Supported independent work time is the number one thing you can do to increase learning, whether you are in person or remote.

When I was teaching in person, administrators were confused by the sheer volume of work completion in my classroom. I reserved at least half of class time or more for supported independent work. And it worked — my students performed at the top of our network of schools.

Silently watching students working may feel uncomfortable, but time spent trying hard on challenging tasks is never wasted. Here is why that matters, even in remote learning:

Benefits for Students

Independent work is important in building stamina. As students grow older, they are required to sit and work alone for longer periods of time. As a teacher, I have to facilitate this ability to focus for a sustained block or on a single project.

This is one of the best ways to support students of various learning styles and personalities. For students who are quieter and more reserved in group discussions, this might be the only time you get to understand if they really “get it.” You can’t hide behind independent work.

With the increase in formative remote learning tools (selecting a multiple choice answer, drawing on a trackpad) students have minimal opportunity to interact with content with pencil and paper. Handwritten work facilitates deep thinking in a new way, gives students a welcome break from technology, and guides younger students to develop the occupational skill of handwriting.

Extended work time allows students to show mastery of content of a single standard in a variety of ways. You can give multiple versions of one math problem, ask a question various ways in reading, etc. The more independent work, the more students can show their understanding of a concept.

Benefits for Teachers

The more work students are submitting, the easier it is for teachers to find the misconceptions. Teachers can check for understanding by looking at student work before class is over and figure out the gaps in learning in order to address them.

Giving feedback to students on their work will allow teachers also see higher engagement, which can help build relationships.

But what does “supported independent work” mean?

Teachers must find a way to give feedback to students in the moment when they complete their independent work. Whether this is on a Google Doc, in an online learning portal, or on paper — so long as you are acknowledging work!

Another great way to support independent work is to close out the lesson by showing an example of work a student completed that day. It can be work that students fix together or an example of mastery. Either way, this can build a culture of teamwork and pride over work completion.

If you’re looking to push student understanding in your classroom – sit in the silence, break out the pencil and paper, and let kids work. For more than just a 5 minute exit ticket at the end of class. I guarantee both you and your students will grow from it.

About the author: Lis Bluford has taught in high-performing charter schools for ten years, demonstrating exceptional student results. Most recently, her fifth-grade students earned the #1 student growth in the state of Massachusetts. She is currently the Master Educator at EdLight, where she tutors students virtually while prioritizing targeted feedback.

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