Anyone who’s been to school knows just how difficult it can be to get through those tougher subjects. Nothing makes sense, no matter how hard you try. Success feels impossible. You start to feel jittery. You become frustrated. You become desperate. Meanwhile, the classmate next to you just seems to “get it.” It’s so easy to give up on yourself and reach out for help. That’s why it’s important to start raising independent thinkers from an early age.
For young learners, dealing with situations like these can be especially tough. As a result, it’s easy for them to lose faith in themselves when faced with problems. What’s worse, they can even start to second guess their own learning ability! The result is kids leaning on others for help – parents, teachers, aids, classmates… Anyone who seems to know the answer. This creates a cycle of self-doubt and confusion. If we could somehow break this cycle of total reliance on others, we’d find that our approach was wrong all along.
The issue at hand is that we’ve lost the tools for independent learning. If kids can first learn to be more independent at tackling their most challenging problems, a cycle of self-belief and success is sure to follow. But how exactly can we help kids become better at problem-solving? Moreover, what would that mean for the future of a child’s learning?
The Western Model of Learning
The current Western learning model is based on a few principles. Namely, institutional learning, a system of gradation, and mass education. Some, including progressive-thinking education reformist Sir Ken Robinson, have compared this learning model to an industrial assembly line. Kids are grouped by age, given the same questions, taught the same formulas for the same conclusions. All for the purpose of passing the same exam with the same questions. This industrial model of learning may work for some students, but definitely not for all.
Kids are not machines. Thus, trying to manufacture perfectly replicable results every time around will always lead to outliers, mislabels, and rejects. There is a much better solution. It starts with putting the learning power and experience in the hands of the learners themselves. Instead of raising children who can all answer the same question, in the same way, we can begin raising independent thinkers.
The Investigative Learning Method
One teaching philosophy that we live by is the Investigative Learning approach. This technique encourages thought-provoking questions for students to create their own critical thinking journey to arrive at solutions. Our natural inclination to be explorative and experiential learners supports the Investigative Learning approach. Furthermore, it yields impressive results. In this way, young learners build self-confidence in their own problem-solving abilities, which is more reliable than memorization. They internalize what they absorb far better, too. It creates a snowball effect for insight, which will guide them throughout the rest of their lives.
Furthermore, children need a supportive community. Within this supportive environment for learning is a natural accent on individual learning as well. When involved in individual work, young learners are more willing to admit when they’ve made a mistake. They will reach out for a different engaging approach to the problem. The issue is, therefore, seen in their approach and not their natural inability. This also continues to self-advocate when the time comes to defend their conclusions with classmates and teachers.
Tips for Raising Independent Thinkers
Here are some of the best tips for encouraging independent thinking in young learners.
- Set goals
Here’s one great technique at helping young pupils take responsibility and ownership of their own learning. Help students set their own practical goals and encourage them to plan a way to achieve such goals.
- Limit the use of grades and scores
Go against the conventional grain and hand out grades based on effort and responsibility only. Instead, use oral or written feedback to encourage students’ own independent learning.
- Use effective questioning
The aim here is to transfer the responsibility from teacher to student gradually. To promote a greater discourse within the classroom setting, teachers (or parents) should ask relevant open-ended questions. This fosters problem-solving skills.
- Encourage reflection
Utilizing tools such as learning journals can entice students to reflect upon their own comprehension status and, hopefully, improve their confidence as they monitor their progress.
Finally, an essential strategy for effective learning is to have fun! Encouraging a belief that math is fun and exciting (which, of course, it is!) boosts enthusiasm for explorative application. We support teachers who make sure to challenge each learner with support and inspiration at whichever level they might be. The classroom is a playground where individual leadership is built alongside ongoing collaboration.