5 Tips to Help Online Students Learn Independence
If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow. —John Dewey (1859–1952)
When students are involved in online education, becoming self-reliant independent learners is important for strong academic performance. While they have teachers to instruct and assist, high school, middle school, and to some extent, even elementary school online students need to learn how to prioritize tasks, manage time effectively, self-assess, and self-correct while doing schoolwork on their own.
As a parent, how can you help your student master these skills? Here are five tips that will help you coach your student to be more independent, starting your child on a path to success:
1. Set Priorities and Goals
Which tasks are most important? When faced with multiple classes, assignments, and projects, students can easily become overwhelmed before they begin. Help your student organize her work to identify the large goals and all of the small steps to reach them. She will feel better prepared to handle schoolwork on her own if there are manageably sized goals clearly outlined.
Small steps also teach how the process of learning is an ordered sequence. Every concept builds on the one learned before. Breaking down projects into a list of steps will show there is a clear beginning, middle, and end.
This process of creating manageable steps for a homework assignment or term project can be overwhelming by itself, leading to procrastination. That’s where the parent’s role of Learning Coach comes into play. After helping your student through this process a couple of times, he will be able to break down his own assignments. You are the facilitator in his journey to becoming a more independent learner.
An example of these guided steps for a research project looks like this:
- Identify a topic and thesis statement.
- Conduct research.
- Take notes (define how to note-take: jotting notes, annotations, mind-mapping, etc.).
- Outline important points.
- Begin drafting/writing.
- Solicit feedback from peers and/or teachers.
- Edit and improve based on feedback.
- Present the research project.
2. Ask Guiding Questions
Ask your student guiding questions to elicit critical thinking on his part. This allows for self-discovery of solutions to problems and sparks creativity for new ideas. Asking open-ended questions will help your student increase his understanding through the learning process. Examples of closed questions are those that have a yes or no answer, have a true or false answer, or are multiple choice. Some examples of open-ended questions that require critical thinking are:
- Why is _____ important?
- What is the significance of ____?
- How would you put ____ in your own words?
3. Involve Your Student in Lesson Planning and Give Teaching Opportunities
Although online school provides a complete curriculum and preplanned lessons, teachers and parents work as a team and have the ability to fine-tune lessons to suit the individual student’s needs and interests. As a result, students typically have more choices about how they learn and practice new concepts. Involving students in the planning process gives them a sense of ownership of the subject material. They will also feel more motivation with their responsibility in the learning process.
There is no better way to learn than to teach.
—Benjamin Whichcote, Moral and Religious Aphorisms
Another way to empower students with this “ownership” is to switch roles and allow them to teach you! The process of preparing a lesson requires identifying key concepts, researching, delivering the subject matter in a way that is interesting, and then evaluating how well the information was taught (generally done through quizzes and tests). Each of these steps enhances the learning process.
With ‘old-school’ methods of learning, where students sit in a classroom setting and are taught a lesson, the amount of information retained declines after only ten minutes (J. Thomas, “The Variation of Memory with Time for Information Appearing during a Lecture,” Studies in Adult Education 4 : 57–62).
However, memory retention improves dramatically when students are given the opportunity to teach the subject matter. In a research study with Greek junior high computer science students, the students not only preferred alternative learning methods with student research and teaching but also had far higher levels of learning retention than with teacher-led education. They also exhibited positive attitude shifts and showed improvements in creativity, teamwork, and communication.
4. Self-Monitoring and Self-Assessment
With an online school experience, students may have fewer opportunities for peer interaction and assessments during lesson time. Learning how to give self-assessments is an important skill for those students needing to be more independent learners. Monitoring the learning process is always more effective when your student is thinking, I am doing this so that I can learn that. Being goal-oriented will help students identify important information when it comes.
Self-assessment requires introspective thought. These four questions will help guide your student’s self-reflection:
- Where am I going?
- Where am I now?
- Did I learn what I needed to?
- What do I need to do next?
Additionally, the American Psychological Association has identified another aspect of self-assessment, namely, awareness of the student’s emotional development. There are many factors other than teaching styles and lesson material that contribute to your student’s ability to be a self-directed and engaged learner. Bullying, or alienation because of learning difficulties, can distance a child from her ability to learn.
Guide your students through evaluating and improve their own emotional states through these guiding strategies:
- Model and encourage positive attitudes, particularly about learning.
- Teach them to have positive introspective self-talk to help them work around negative thoughts.
- Make them aware that many learning difficulties can be overcome with a bit of additional effort.
- Assist in students’ ability to identify and label their own feelings. Labeling feelings enables them to articulate what they need to overcome challenges.
Understanding that self-management of feelings and how feelings relate to the learning process and one’s behavior teaches students that they aren’t victims of their own feelings.
5. Give Students Room to Fail
This step can be difficult. Children must have some alone time to work creatively and critically through lessons and challenges in order to learn to handle them independently. As parents, we often want to give our children everything they need and spare them from any failure or pain. But sometimes the best learning experiences happen when things go wrong and students are able to learn from failure or mistakes.
We all have tremendous potential for success, but our own fear of failure can prevent us from even starting. Children need to learn to overcome that fear and be willing to take challenging risks—and to persevere—even with the possibility of failing and making mistakes. Understanding that failure is just part of the learning process rather than a defining end will help your student handle it with resilience and become willing to accept new risky opportunities as they come. And learning to be resilient in situations of failure is a key to future happiness in life.
Coaching Your Child Through Failure
Here are a few steps to help your children through failure:
- Acknowledge their feelings and empathize with them.
- Explain that everyone fails, and relate a story of a time when you experienced failure.
- Encourage a growth mind-set by teaching your child that failure is an opportunity to pick up the pieces and construct a plan to do better the next time.
- Remind them they will have more chances to try again—that their failure was actually a positive learning opportunity.
Our children need space to learn these lessons on their own. As a parent, you can be there to give advice and offer a listening ear when your children need to vent frustration, rather than micromanaging their failures and quashing their future potential for success.
Invest in Your Student’s Independent Learning and Future Success
Teaching students how to be independent learners not only helps them be more successful academically but also boosts their self-confidence. They will feel confident in their own ability to resiliently overcome stress and challenges in life. Taking the time to guide your online student’s academic success through independent learning is an investment in his or her future.
How have you coached your online student to learn more independently? Share your brightest ideas and success stories in the comments.