Are Independent Students a Myth?


Once in a while, it hits you – you realize that your child is marching steadily towards independence. Maybe it’s when your baby crawls for the first time. Or, maybe it’s when your child can count to ten. Maybe it’s when they go on their first date or even when he or she goes away to college. Whenever it happens, the moment comes when you understand that your child has stepped into independence. As parents we know that our children must become independent, and it is our job to assist them in reaching that goal. For homeschoolers, guiding children towards developing into self-directed learners can be a daunting task because it is sometimes difficult to know what this process looks like on a day to day basis. Can you really expect a six-year-old to work all on their own? What about a fifth-grader? Is it likely that a tenth-grader can learn independently?

Research shows that students left to “figure it out on their own” can become frustrated (at best) or (at worst) disengaged and distracted. In contrast, children who are supported and guided through the process of learning are more likely to absorb and retain information. The Math-U-See program was created with these significant findings in mind and is the reason that videos and Instruction Manuals are made for teachers. To be effective, the teacher should review each video and instruction manual, guide student(s) through practice, and offer much-needed support during the student’s independent practice. To follow up, the teacher should allow the student to teach the material to confirm that the student has mastered the concepts from the lesson. Even though we believe a teacher should always be engaged during the learning process, students can still foster independence through this process; this means, at the end of the program, students are prepared to transition into higher education or a career. Learn how Math Australia’s Math-U-See program fosters independent learning in students across grade levels.


Primary Elementary (Ages 5-8)

At this age, parents must stay with the child during the full instructional period because small children have not yet developed the cognitive skills, discipline, or attention span to self-direct their learning. As the child progresses and becomes more confident, parents may be able to leave the child to practice alone for short time frames. Once you are sure that your child is ready, try making the following statement: “I’d like you to finish the next one by yourself.” Don’t walk away. Instead, sit next to the child and watch while he tries to finish it without your coaching and prodding. After your student is able to complete a task without your assistance, try adding physical distance. For example, while the child is working towards a solution, get yourself a glass of water to allow the student to work through a few problems by his or herself. Over time, allow your child to complete more and more problems without your assistance until he is able to complete a full practice page or test independently. These easy tips give your child the opportunity to become familiar with working independently. 

Upper Elementary (Ages 9-11)

The goal for students at this level is to develop skills that will prepare them to become more independent learners. Although children at this age tend to have a little more self-control and longer attention spans, they still need some assistance and guidance and should be given tasks that demonstrate their progression. Consider allowing the student to read the Instruction Manual alongside you and directing them to take note of important definitions and formulas. This helps the student acquire duplicative study skills – learning through memorization and copying – which is an important skill to develop at this age. Additionally, parents should make sure they ask questions that require the student to critically analyze concepts and rephrase important ideas from the lesson. This boosts comprehension and engagement with the learning materials. 


Middle School (Ages 12-14)

This level is all about the student’s progression into generative activities; in these activities, the student is actively engaged with the learning materials, and he is able to recreate the materials into new forms. Building on the skills developed in the previous levels plus the student’s growing ability to work on more complex tasks, the student should be able to restate concepts and main ideas using his own words while reviewing the video and Instruction Manual. These verbal summaries eventually become notes that students take during the viewing of the video or while reading materials. Students can also create study aids such as note cards and posters to assist with memorizing important information and preparing for tests. By using these strategies, your student will be prepared to take on more responsibility in the learning process, which sets him up for success during the high school level.

High School (Ages 15-17)

At this stage, the student understands how to learn and is primed to take more ownership during the instruction. Students who know which techniques work best for their learning may be able to plan their weekly schedule without your assistance. Students who have learned to both identify and note important information for oral and written summary may be able to review the video and Instruction Manual by their self. There are a number of tasks students at this level are able to do independently; however, students, even at this stage, still need direction from the teacher in the following areas:

1) Setting Goals: Teachers set clear expectations and goals so students know the learning objectives and the amount of time they have to complete objectives

2) Leading Guided Practice: Student learning should begin with teacher-led practice before independent work time is allowed. It’s just like riding a bike! Many of us needed training wheels and our parent running behind us holding the seat until we felt comfortable enough for the parent to let go.

3) Assessing Progress: Parents should get in the practice of checking the students’ work during regular intervals. The “teach back” component of Math-U-See is perfect for this! It reduces the amount of time students spend on practicing lessons they have already mastered, and it lets the teacher know if students need more time with a topic.

4) Evaluating Performance: Parents should review the student’s work every day because miscalculations are easier to correct right away. Parents should also offer praise and encouragement when necessary, and comments and suggestions when appropriate.

Developing independence in students is a gradual process, and using the strategies provided here can help guide your child towards taking on responsibility for their own learning. The Math-U-See program requires an instructor; however, it gives you, the parent and teacher, just what you need to make sure your student becomes an independent learner and maths master! 

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