Building Student Independence

As the school year is coming closer to the end, I look at preparing for the last few projects of the year. My students have probably two more projects for this school year. I look forward to this time of the school year, because the last project my students do they are responsible for creating. It’s their choice of what they will do. I wait to do this type of project until the end of the year because I feel it is important for my students to have some critical skills under their belt before they start on their own.

Some of the skills I feel they have to know before the have their own independent project is:

How to form a central question to answer: When starting out on an independent project it is important to have that central question to answer. That question is what the whole project is based on. Forming that question is what can make or break a really good independent project. Through out the year I show my students the central question that they are to answer. We break it down in to parts, and I walk them through the steps of their projects. As the year goes on, I give them more and more independence.

How to research effectively: Once my students have their question broke down into parts, they begin to research. I have found if they break down the large parts of the project into smaller parts students don’t become encumbered so much. Those smaller parts help students to begin to weed out the unnecessary information that will at times take them off task. I encourage them to find some information that will ultimately lead them back to the central question.

How to organize material into usable set of information: Some of my students’ weaknesses is organization. I walk my students through a plan on how to organize their research into topics, sort of like a mind map. I give them a few ways on how to organize the materials they find, using file cards, charts, graphs, Google Docs, pictures and videos, and website or blog creation.

One aspect of all the projects that we do in my program is the fact that I incorperate as much technology as I can that will help them. Technology isn’t going away. They need to have technology skills for their future careers. They also need to know how to adapt from one kind of technology to another.

While working on their projects, I encourage my students to talk over social media. At the beginning of the year I set up an Edmodo account for them to talk. Many of my students are on Facebook, twitter, or Instagram with each other, and so they already talk and share anyways. So why not take a few minutes and check in with each other? They can use Instagram to take pictures of their research they found or want to share. I also encourage them to share emails with each other. Just as a back up to using social media.

Why do independent projects? I believe there are many reasons for this.

1. They get the chance to complete a project with little intervention by adults. This gives them the freedom to take their project wherever they want to.

2.  Gifted students have no problem in grasping main points. By doing an independent project they will have the chance to find the main points themselves, and have the chance to research those points as deeply as they want to.

3. Students get the chance to learn how to take notes that fits their style of learning. Which leads to organizing the way their strengths leads them to.

4. Most of my students work in groups. So sharing responsibility is important. It teaches them they need to trust others to do their fair share. It also makes them to put into places rules and consequences to control their group so the work is shared.

5. Finally, I think doing independent projects helps to build  personal strengths and helps students to become confident. I have seen students who are unsure of themselves at the start of the project to become more confident as projects come to a conclusion. Sometimes it takes something hard like a project for students see their strengths, and to see their confidence go up.

I don’t know how you feel about independent projects. I don’t know if you see what I see when students are working on projects, but I do know my students benefit from doing them. Its’ one of those things my students look forward to. It’s one of those things I can hear them brainstorming about throughout the whole year.

The overall goal of doing independent projects is get students to become more independent. When they become more independent they are taking more of an ownership in their learning.

What do you think? What’s your take on independent projects?


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