Independent Learning

I was in third-grade this week for the first time.  It was quite an experience for me to go from teaching 5th grade last year (and for the previous 4 years) to go to a 3rd grade room!  I had a definite learning curve on how to teach the students!  One thing I learned was that I threw too much technology at the students too soon!

We are studying a rock unit.  The end goal of the unit is for the students to present to the class answering the following question, “How does the rock in my hand fit into my world?”  I knew these students had limited computer time, so even when I was planning the unit I had pared down what we were going to do.  The plan on Monday was to introduce the students to the unit and then set them free on a website I had created (located here) to gather information on the three types of rocks.  I also was going to use the website Exploratree to have the students fill out a graphic organizer online.  Well, the students had such a hard time figuring out how to research on the internet that the online graphic organizer completely overwhelmed them!  I think my problem was two-fold.  1.  I expected that the students could do more than they could on their own and 2.  I did not model, step-by-step what I expected the students to do.

For my first problem, that I expected the student could more more than they could on their own, I think ultimately this comes to the fact that, in general, teachers spoon feed students.  Meaning that the students, since they were in kindergarten, have been told exactly what they should learn and when.  The students don’t have any stake in their learning, because it is all doing what they are told!  The students didn’t know how to look at a question and tackle the question to find the answer.  When I told the students to go to the websites and find information, they had no idea what to do!  I quickly figured out that I needed to walk them through researching on websites, step-by-step.  The students needed to understand that if they didn’t find what they were looking for on one website to try another!  I spent the next class period we had together, methodically walking the students through how to research on a website and what to do if they don’t find the information they are looking for.  It was interesting for the timing of this lesson because a 2nd grade teacher was telling my principal this week that she is struggling with teaching guided reading because the students in her class don’t know how to manage independent learning.

I think as we shift from the “sage on the stage” model of teaching and moving into more student focused learning this problem will disappear.  As students aren’t directed in their every thought and action from a teacher, then the students will begin to branch out!  I guess my biggest problem was that I didn’t even consider that students wouldn’t know how to direct their own learning, but just like everything it is a process!  Maybe, if we never forced students to sit and listen to a teacher talk all day, and instead we put kids in groups where they could research and learn in a guided, self-directed way their exploration senses from preschool wouldn’t ever disappear and be replaced by a “you tell me what to do” attitude.