Sparking Independent Thought


Teacher language is so critical in fostering independence and resilience in students. So many times as I’ve walked by children and adults interacting and have listened to the dialogue I have thought, “Oh, if only you knew these secrets.”

To create independence and self-reflection a teacher needs to always answer a question with a question and never do for a child what they can reasonably do for themselves. Many times children are on the cusp of their understanding and merely need the adult to confirm what they already know. I found this happens quite frequently when I am reading a book aloud and the children are processing the content or the narrative. They will often ask what does…mean? My first response is “what do you think it means?

Nine times out of ten a child is able to answer that question accurately. Now, If I simply answered a question, where is the learning in that? Also, such a response validates to the child that it is alright for children to think while they are listening or reading and use their own schemas to figure out what it is that they are wondering about. This also applies to children’s work.

Many students come up to the teacher and ask, “Is this done? or  “Is this good? An adults first response should be, “what do you think?” Students will often say I could add more and if they don’t the teacher could respond, “Is it your best work? “Did you add details or use your strategies?” In this way, it is up to the child to evaluate the work and not left to the adult to give praise.

The new teacher evaluation rubric in Connecticut require the children to be the independent thinkers in the classroom. In order for a teacher to receive and exemplary rating the children must be the ones asking the questions, solving the problems, aiding their peers and reminding each other to be following the classroom rules. This kind of independence isn’t going to come from the teacher constantly stating what is expected, it will come from the teacher asking and expecting the children to know.

In a classroom, and in our homes, the children should be the ones helping each other putting the straw in their juice boxes, tying their shoes or spelling an unknown word. We should never do for children what we can reasonably expect them to do for themselves. If a child’s pencil falls to the ground, let them pick it up, if their chair isn’t pushed in, expect them to push it in. When bigger problems arise, teach them the strategies they need to speak to each other to solve the problem using “I” statements and active listening skills.

In order to become a lifelong learner, students must begin to build their own stamina for learning, sense of wonder, grit and problem solving strategies. A recent article in Mind Shift expresses this point very clearly. Praise doesn’t work! It is contradictory to what educators are trying to accomplish. We need to build the strategies in children for processing their own strategies and ingenuity. We need to give children process praise not product praise. If we compliment children on the process by which they tried to solve a problem or complete their work rather than the work itself, we will go a long way in improving their ability and willingness to take on harder tasks.

When we tell a student exactly what they did to try to solve a problem, or the process they used to complete their work we are building their ability to problem solve and become more independent. think of it this way: Why are video games so successful? It is because they tell the player what they have to do to achieve a goal, they let them fail and learn from their mistakes but they don’t do it for them, they let them try, try again. As children complete more and more tasks, the tasks become harder and harder but so does the child’s grit and determination to complete the task.


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