Originally Sent: 3/4/2015
March 5, 2015
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Developing Teens to be Independent Learners
As we head into spring, we hope you still have a spring in your step as you homeschool! Just as new growth will soon become evident outdoors, we pray you see new growth in your teens—not only academically and physically, but also spiritually. If new growth is not yet apparent, patiently watch, wait, and trust the Lord to actively nudge your teen towards maturity.
One of your homeschool goals may be developing your teen into an independent learner. Many homeschool books and articles trumpet the objective of directing your teen toward taking hold of his education and owning it. We agree this should be a priority. Let’s discuss the characteristics of independent learners and the parent’s key role in developing them.
Characteristics of an Independent Learner
An independent learner is a motivated student who takes personal responsibility for his studies. A student proactively takes steps to understand assignments, and he completes those assignments on time. As the primary teacher, parents should purposefully assist their teens by clearly communicating what they expect students to accomplish.
Rather than compiling a daily “to-do” list for your teen, a parent needs to think through goals and standards for each type of assignment and clearly articulate these to the student because he will benefit from your perspective and experience. Parents can use the stated goals and standards as the grading criteria for each type of assignment.
Ask your teen to compile a weekly to-do list. Train him to ask questions if a project, paper, drill, or lesson is unclear because misunderstanding the assignment should no longer be a valid excuse for missing, incomplete, or poorly done work. Well-defined assignments actually help the student work more efficiently and with more confidence. This yields better results. For both parents and teens to become adept at these new skills, it requires retraining for many months.
By the time your teen reaches high school, she should consistently adhere to deadlines you set for her schoolwork. If you haven’t set this standard in your homeschool, then begin a retraining phase now. It is never too late to start.
We recommend that late or incomplete work incur a penalty resulting in a lower grade for the assignment. Although homeschooling allows much flexibility in setting schedules, once you set an assignment deadline, it should not be moved. Although we understand there may be an occasional unforeseen circumstance that warrants moving a deadline, routinely extending deadlines communicates no deadline at all!
For teens to grow as independent learners, focus on teaching time-management skills. By keeping a personal calendar, your teen learns to manage school assignments (for both parent-taught and outside classes) and outside activities such as part-time jobs, volunteer work, sports practices, music lessons, and the list goes on.
Help your teen structure his time so he doesn’t crash and burn due to a hectic schedule. If the calendar shows too much idle time, encourage him to be more productive. Meeting with your teen at the start of each week to review upcoming school responsibilities will train your teen to account for his time. Look for more time management ideas here.
Some teens are more mature than others. Work with your teen at her current stage and introduce greater school responsibilities throughout the high school years to develop greater independence. For example, your new 9th-grader may need encouragement and reminders to complete her writing assignments by the due date. However, by the end of the freshman year, you may want to hold back on the reminders, and instead allow your teen to reap what she sows. Lessons learned from being irresponsible in high school usually carry fewer consequences than those learned in college or on the job.
For those courses you teach at home, stay involved in the learning process. If your teen is motivated to read the math lesson and work through the homework problems on his own, encourage this initiative and cheer him on! However, be careful not to abandon your teaching role. It is advantageous for you to take a few minutes to read the lesson material so you can explain a concept that your teen may not comprehend.
Manage and supervise your teen’s schoolwork by regularly evaluating how well he understands the material. Prior to beginning a course, decide on the best usage of evaluation tools: quizzes, tests, papers, projects, oral discussions or presentations. Look for more details on grading guidelines here.
As another example, your teen may devour books in her English course, and your instinct may be to just stay out of her way! While we don’t suggest you squelch her enthusiasm for reading, we recommend you provide consistent opportunities for her to discuss the reading selections with you. There is joy in sharing what we learn with someone else, and your teen benefits from the chance to articulate her ideas and viewpoint. These ongoing, regular discussions train your teen to take her independent study of the course material seriously.
Develop an independent learner by cultivating your teen’s reading appetite. Interest and motivation peak when you give your teen a voice in literature selection and genres. Analyzing literature is a key skill mastered in high school English courses. Consider reading fewer books but take more time to delve deeper into each of them. Check out these ideas for dissecting reading selections.
Encourage independence in learning by urging your teen to go beyond his textbook. Suggest that he design a field trip that correlates his history lesson with a trip to a war memorial, tour of the state capitol, or battle re-enactment. Let your teen investigate field trip possibilities in different subject areas, and then give him the responsibility for making necessary arrangements such as mapping out the route or setting an itinerary. Independent learners understand the connectivity between book work and real world application.
Going beyond the textbook may also involve searching for additional information outside the scope of the curriculum. If your teen enjoyed Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, suggest she view the movie to discover how it differs from the book. Or, propose that she explore more details about the author, background, and motivation for writing the book. This may inspire her to write a letter sharing her thoughts with the author on the book!
Your Leadership Role in Your Teen’s Education
Raising an independent learner requires parents to stay actively involved in their teens’ learning process. The parental role adapts over time from manager to mentor. We’ve discussed how to accomplish this task within parent-taught classes. But parents still have a vital role when teens take an outside course.
Parents should examine both the course content and the instructor’s credentials. Understand both the instructor’s responsibilities and teen’s responsibilities in the course. Ask whether the instructor will evaluate your teen’s work and award a final grade. You don’t want to be surprised at the end of the year if a co-op teacher has other ideas. Find out if the instructor expects parental involvement in the course or volunteer graders. Gathering this information prior to the start of a course will hopefully eliminate any potential misunderstandings.
Online and co-op teachers only see students for 1–2 hours a week, so parents must supervise at home. When multiple classes meet on the same day, deadline overload can overwhelm teens. Before classes begin, allocate sufficient blocks of time in the homeschool week for academic subjects. Although teens are responsible for completing homework, parents control the homeschool environment and should expect to see teens working at known times.
Once classes begin, establish important controls on limited home resources such as the computer and printer. Because writing papers can take hours, ask teens to print rough drafts, so they can continue to work offline as this frees up the computer for other children. Keep the printer supplied with ink and paper. Set printer deadlines for certain classes. To avoid last-minute printer hysteria and emotional meltdown, establish methods to compile completed homework into special folders, which must be filled the night before.
Ask to see samples of current homework and graded work returned from the instructor. Unfortunately, some teens have misled parents about homework assignments, or they claim to have finished work not even started. Lastly, students should arrive on time and ready to learn.
Although it can be difficult, don’t step between the instructor and your teen. Although the instructor has different expectations, it’s good for your teen to experience interaction with another instructor’s workload and standards. When your teen asks, help him accommodate different methods and styles. If problems arise, guide your teen to know how to approach an instructor. Discuss possible solutions and role play with your teen before he talks with an instructor. These situations develop communication and conflict-resolution skills.
Raising independent learners takes forethought, time, and effort. Relish your role as your teen develops more autonomy in his education. Gently mentor your teen towards increased responsibility using some of the aforementioned ideas. Over the four years of high school, this crucial investment will yield huge dividends. Instead of being spoon-fed, your student will enjoy taking ownership of the learning process and impress you with her newfound abilities.
Join us next month as we share resources and ideas to boost your teen’s study skills.
Enjoying the learning process,
Carol Becker and Diane Kummer
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