Hmm .. there’s a lot of information online about the value of independent learning skills
Most would argue that it’s a vital component of a students education. Consequently there’s some really good advice about developing independent learning skills, such as setting time aside, variety of work, short meaningful goals etc.
However I thought it might be useful to break the subject down into ‘actual events’ – to cultivate an ability to learn without constant help. So, here’s a list, in no particular order. I’ve also added a few notes.
What do I need for independent learning?
Concentration skills
Building a concentration skill take time and develops with practice. It won’t happen because you’ve sat in front of your homework for 2 hours – however much you might want it to.
The key ingredients of learning to concentrate are workload and expectation. The thinking is the ‘more work I have the more I need to concentrate.’ If you’re anything like me it’s ‘the more work I have, the more I need to procrastinate.’ Either way being presented with an hour’s homework isn’t any guarantee that concentration will just happen.
It’s far better to build in small steps and take pride in every achievement. So aim for 10 minutes of short productive tasks and don’t worry about having to learn everything in one sitting. You should allow time to absorb the information but, as you train your brain, it’ll reward you with quicker access to facts and figures.
Confidence skills
Increased concentration and quicker access to memory will lead to improved confidence. That’s probably the goal of most learning – not simply the confidence to answer the questions in hand – but the confidence to use this information to build in the future.
Elsewhere on this site (and with anyone who’ll listen) I talk about thoroughness and developing arithmetic skills. These will give you the double benefit of concentration and confidence. So, before tackling Pythagorus, spend 10 minutes reciting your nine times table. It’ll tune you into maths, prepare your brain to absorb some information, encourage concentration and work wonders for your confidence. I know you won’t need the nine times table for the question, it’s just using the time to greater effect. Rather like an athletics ‘warm up.’
Also remember what you’re good at, and use the ‘feel good’ factor to help when times are tougher. A strong independent learner demonstrates confidence because of what they’ve achieved – and perseverance as their knowledge builds.
Well laid out work
Particularly in maths, there is a tendency for students to ‘overcalculate.’ With some questions, completed calculations can be used in the next part. I’ve seen many test papers where the same sum has been written twice – even in the same question. Perhaps a few minutes spent putting the calculations in a logical order would be of use.
Additional marks are usually awarded for ‘showing your working,’ so a few comments about this:
- read the question three times and underline the bits that matter
- divide the answer section into two
- if you can, write an estimate of the answer at the top of the left hand area
- use the right hand area for calculations
- make sure your calculations are clear
Logical thinking, writing intermediate steps and breaking into manageable tasks all demonstrate a learner with solid independent study skills.
Understanding what’s required
.. is probably the most difficult independent learning skill to develop. As maths moves to more real life ‘functional’ questions – so an understanding of language is required. For instance:
‘calculate 3/16 of 220 ‘
is more directed than
’16 people worked in a factory making cars. 220 cars are made each week and 3 people are responsible for producing the estate version. How many estate cars are made each week?’
The second question is more reflective of a real situation and it’s quite difficult to sort through to the maths. Finding your way through what’s actually required can be quite challenging. A good independent learner needs to develop the skill to identify the relevant information.
There are a couple of other key skills that you might also consider in ‘understanding what’s required’. Perhaps one of the most assumed is ‘being able to follow an example.’ Text books are full of them and we just feel that a student will benefit. In reality I think that most people – including myself – learn by trial and error. It’s not great maths to just push a few buttons, so being able to follow an example is a good independent learning skill.
At one point, if you rang a call centre with a computer query there was something called an ‘RTM’ problem. The translation is ‘Read The Manual.’ Computer software suppliers consequently developed very sophisticated help programmes that work with the user. Unfortunately a static textbook just can’t compete. We need to find ways of getting more dynamic content to students – such as the excellent Maths Wrap videos :-)… and a couple of other sites like Khan Academy.
Unfortunately however, building independent study skills isn’t about a video. It’s about you and you’re ability to follow examples in whatever format they are given.
Review your work
Finally, once the question is answered it’s useful to review your work. Asking great questions such as ‘is that reasonable?’ or ‘have I chosen the best method?’ will really help to develop independent learning skills. Your marks might also improve as ‘self correction’ will take place. Occasionally adding a ‘k’ to a ‘kg’ might make all the difference.
So, here’s a checklist to help you develop independent learning skills:
Independent learning skills evaluation
Skill |
Comment |
Concentration | Aim for 10 minutes initially and increase to 20 minutes (in one sitting) |
Are you better in the morning or evening? | |
Does a quiet or noisy environment suit you? | |
Confidence | Use a warm up exercise- such as a times table |
Celebrate what you achieve! | |
Well laid out work | Spend time creating a neat answer ‘template’ |
Don’t overcalculate | |
Understand what’s required | Write, or draw a picture, to represent the steps |
Try to estimate the answer | |
Learn to read the examples / questions thoroughly | |
Review your answer | Ask great questions such as ‘is that reasonable?’ |
What marks would you give yourself? |
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