Independent work time


A problem:

Autonomy — being able to exercise choice in what you do with your time — is a human necessity. Quality work, emotional contentment, long-term personal growth: all of these depend, in part, on a person's ability to engage in the activities that they know they need to engage in.

In most schools, students have little autonomy.

Our basic plan:

For a significant portion of each day, students get to choose what they'll be doing — let's dub this their "independent work time".

This won't be the entire day — there'll be periods where we're all gathered together. But during independent work time, students will get to choose between many different options of pre-defined activities (drawing a plant, reading a book about their Learning in Depth project, re-engaging a nettlesome math puzzle, dissecting a toaster, copying a map, and other curricular pieces you've seen bandied about on this blog!).

During this time, students will be fairly autonomous, sometimes working by themselves, other times in partners or small groups (depending on the work). The teacher will be required to check that they're doing their work, and help them when they're stuck. The teacher will also confirm when a student hits a predefined level (say, being able to draw a map of Australia by heart to a certain degree of complexity), and records it.

To help students choose wisely, we may help them write up "work plans" at the beginning of the quarter (fine-tuned each week), which they can follow or riff off of.

Our goals:

  • Students get experience in planning and self-management.
  • Students get greater satisfaction in their work.
  • Students are able to match their mood to the type of work: e.g. math if they're in a creative mood, technology-dissection if they're in an analytical mood.
  • Students simply get more learning done.

If you walk into our classrooms, you might see:

Stumbling into our classroom, you might be surprised to find that everyone is doing their own thing — but that they're not running around wild. Rather, they look intently focused on a specific thing. After a while of observing, you might notice that a group of children who had been discussing the lyrics to a Tin Pan Alley song break up and each independently consult their work plans, checking off the box that says "music" before they move to different stations.

Some specific questions:

  • Is there a better phrase than "independent work"? (I'm pulling this from the Montessori category of "works", which I'm shamelessly stealing this whole idea from.)
  • Is there a better phrase than "work plans"? (Please let there be a better phrase than "work plans".)
  • Can we have the teachers' records be stored electronically, say, in a Google spreadsheet?

Brandon Hendrickson

Seattle, WA