Independent learners, unite!

We all need a little help being independent. Credit: Mimi and Eunice/ Nina Paley

We all need a little help being independent. Credit: Mimi and Eunice/ Nina Paley

Remember that first thrill of excitement when you learned something new and that you could achieve it on your own? Now that’s something that we hope our kids experience for themselves, but how might we help them along towards independent learning? As independent learners, the process of acquiring new knowledge or a skill would be autonomous and motivated by your own desire to grow and improve. Today, let’s look at a few things we can do as educators to empower our kids to be confident in their quest for knowledge.

There are a good number of characteristics that define independent learners, but today, let’s look at a few challenging areas – making mistakes, developing curiosity and overcoming obstacles.

Oops! You’ve made a mistake

If the idea of making a mistake send shivers down your spine, you’re not alone. While it is now popular to encourage learning from your mistakes, that won’t mean anything to your kids unless you show them how. Your kids are not likely to view mistakes as learning opportunities unless you do. Talk about mistakes in that light to your child. Admit your mistakes, as difficult as that may be. Not only does it drive home your message, but it teaches your kid that no one is perfect, parents and teachers included and helps them avoid perfectionism. Treat the process of asking questions for clarification in the same way.

What’s that?

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

Sir Ken Robinson

Alas, much has been said about how traditional schooling stifles a child’s innate sense of curiosity. Here’s how we can progress from saying to doing.

Give your kids the space they need to be creative. Begin by offering low-stakes tasks, where they can make mistakes in a controlled setting. Small decisions such as putting away the groceries, picking an outfit or taking a vote on a class activity help sow the seeds of autonomy in your kids. Once they’re confident that they can make effective decisions when the stakes are low, it makes decisions a little easier when the stakes are high.

Encourage the kids to draw on their previous experience when they consider their options. For example, if they need to choose a plant to grow for their science project, ask them if they remember their experiences with that particular plant, or how an older sibling handled the same project. This may require a bit of scaffolding, but tapping into prior knowledge and experiences helps make the process of decision-making more relevant.

And then it happened!

“The course of true love never did run smooth”

– William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 1 Scene 1

The broken-hearted among us would agree with Shakespeare, but every learner would agree that the course of learning anything is anything but smooth too. So what should you do when things don’t go as planned?

Acknowledge your child’s efforts rather than results. More often than not, we get upset (or excited) over the way things did (or did not) turn out. For example, “Look at the mess you’ve made!” as opposed to “You were trying to get a drink for your dad! Let’s see how you can get all the juice into the cup.”

When kids start to think of learning in terms of effort as opposed to merely being fixated on results, they learn to see learning in a different light. And any effort they make in the future is not seen as a daunting, cumbersome burden because they dread obstacles, but because they see obstacles as a natural part of learning.

Flying solo

Learning anything is never easy, and learning to do it on your own is even tougher. But ironically, both educators and learners can take solace in the fact that they are not alone in their quest towards acquiring that all-important life skill – independent learning. After all, learning is for life. And that includes learning how to help your kids learn. Here’s to all the lessons that we’ve learned from our mistakes, and the ones to be learned.

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