Encourage Independent Learning from Home: A Teacher’s Approach

As I find myself at home today with my four children ages 5 to 11, I am trying to wrap my head around a plan of attack to ensure that the next 2+ weeks of no school due to the Coronavirus pandemic ends up being a unique opportunity for learning.   Although my many years as an elementary school teacher has provided a plethora of experience to pull from, it by no means prepared me for instant-homeschool.

So I started where any teacher will start: with a plan. Considering my four children but not wanting to write four different plans, I came up with a simple template that lists all their school subjects.

Then I thought about how I would create learning objectives. For each subject. For each child. Over multiple days. Ugh…way too overwhelming.

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That’s what got me to thinking about my experience teaching children and what most inspires student learning. And the number one thing that comes to mind: choice. What if the subjects are used to provide direction to learn more about their interests and not the other way around? So I asked them, “What are you interested in learning more about?” My 9 year old immediately piped up, “Rollercoasters!”

Perfect! Now the wheels in my teacher-brain were spinning. All of his goals for each subject can stem from learning more about roller coasters. He can read books about roller coasters (reading), research roller coasters in different countries (social studies). Write about roller coasters (view this Discovery School lesson plan to get an idea). And science is covered in a final project where he experiments with the design of a roller coaster of his making. BAM! Four out five subjects covered under one roof.

But what about Math? I decided that the best place to start here was online math fact practice. There are so many great internet math practice sites. I also added the task of writing roller coaster word problems which is a great tie-in to both language arts and math.

So I’ve got my template and some ideas. Now it’s time to get them in writing so my kid can run with it. In true teacher-speak, my goals are the intended learning and NOT the activity. But I’m a mom who has faith that if my kids are engaged in this thing they are interested in, they WILL learn. Every child is different so I’m also not going to be afraid to abandon or change the goals when they lose interest. Flexibility is key. When we are ready to get going for the day, the question becomes, “What are we working on today?” This will be quickly answered by looking at the plan and as the old teacher adage goes, monitor and adjust.

Now that I have my goals, the rest of the template is geared towards notes and feedback based on the work for the day. In other words, after my son reads a book about roller coasters, what should he DO with it? In this case, he is going to write about what he learned, perhap adding to his Science list of roller coaster words. In teacher-speak, this is consolidating knowledge and this could be in the form of many things: writing a summary, making a diagram, journaling, making a list, etc… I’m telling him what he needs to do but I’m leaving how he does it wide open.

So now what??? As anyone who has kids or works with kids know, keeping interest is a constantly moving target. So when I see that the study of roller coasters is starting to go down-hill, what do I do?

This brings to mind the giant box phenomenon. It never ceases to amaze any parent at how long a kid can play with a giant box versus even the latest and greatest video game. Why? Because of our innate drive to innovate and create something new!

In the next post, I will reveal the Interest-based Learning Plan project template. This template provides the natural next step to put all of that new learning to a greater purpose.