How to Create Independent, Responsible Learners

As a homeschool mom my greatest wish is to look at my children and say, y’all go do this. And then they do it! I know, it’s a dream we all have and it sometimes feels like it may never happen. Recently I chatted with Dennis DiNoia from Mr. D. Math. Dennis is a long-time educator who has written TEACH: Creating Independently Responsible Learners. We chatted about how to help kids to be not only independent, but more responsible for their own educations.

DiNoia defines independence as being free from outside influences. Our kids having independence is when they get to say what is allowed to influence their decisions. They get some ownership over their own decision-making. We can use their school and learning as a way to practice independence as a teen so that once they are grown, they act and think independently. Learning to work within the structure of our homeschool is one of the ways we do that.

DiNoia encourages us to to let students know that the work is theirs. He says, ” You tell them this is your work. So what does that mean to you? Asking them the question and actually letting them discover for themselves. Kids will tell you the coolest stuff.”

Step One: Checking Your Own Work Gives Ownership

One of the ways Mr. D. encourages moms to give kids ownership of their work is by having them check the work themselves. When the kids are younger this is something you want to do alongside them, and model what it is like to check the answers to see if it is correct. Once kids reach the middle and high school years, they should be able to check the answers for themselves, making sure that the work is 100 percent complete and correct before turning it in.

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DiNoia considers this a vital skill.

“It’s amazing to me when we look in the work world. How often you get something from a staff member and you have to send it back to them, right? Because they didn’t check their own work before they sent it to you. I thought about that and I realized, when do we ever really get trained in that? And we don’t because we’re so used to, I do my work. I give it to mom, mom checks, my work, gives it back to me, tells me what I did wrong. Then I either fix it or I don’t.”

When students start checking their work, they start owning it. They start asking questions. They want to know why they got it wrong. Instead of us telling them it is wrong, they see it for themselves.

Step Two: Have Them Present Their Work

What do you do about the child who would just copy down the answers when given the teacher’s guide. DiNoia has a solution.

“You have them present their work. And what’s great for young people is that they get to have a say in how they present it. Maybe they want to make some kind of a show out of it. You get a little artists and they wanna do a performance. Other people wanna read what they’re doing. Other people wanna make PowerPoints or they want to do a video. There’s all these different ways to present their work. Or they just want to teach you.”

If a child is able to present the work to you, or teach it back to you, you know they are actually learning the material and not just copying the answers.

As with checking the work, learning to present or teach the material is going to take the student some time.

“Sometimes it starts out, and it’s a little wonky — it doesn’t go well.” DiNoia explains.  “Why is that? Because kids are learning how to present themselves at the same time as the material. What do we want from them as adults? We want them to be able to present themselves in a way that they communicate clearly and that they’re presenting their ideas. It’s organized, it makes sense. Again what we’re doing is getting them ready for the future. We’re giving them an opportunity to take that ownership, to be independent and to say, this is my work. I own it fully.”

This may not happen easily the first few times a child presents his work. It is going to take practice.

Step Three: How Moms Can Help the Process

Beyond having a child check their own work and then present it or teach it to mom, the final thing moms can do is be patient with the entire process.

Learning how to do those two steps may take some time to get right. Stepping back and letting the child struggle and fail is actually part of the learning process. DiNoia likens it to learning to ride a bike. Falling is not failure, but part of the process of learning to balance. Everyone will learn the task at different speeds and in their own way, but if you never try and fail, you will never be able to ride.

“What’s great is that they’re processing, they’re learning and they’re discovering for themselves.  They will  sometimes come up with better ideas than we do, because they’re looking through their own eyes,” DiNoia explains.

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