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I spent the last week in a kindergarten classroom, and it reminded me of how important it is to set your students up to be independent (unless, of course, you like managing a circus).

My plan was to do big work with kindergarteners this week. HaHaHa!


By the end of the first day it became quite clear that students had a wide range of needs and skills, and would need some help working independently. It is hard to reach a goal when students are putting papers in your face saying, “What do I do now?”, crying because it’s too hard, or shaking the butterfly habitat too hard.
I had to change tactics and spend two days developing routines with which we could co-exist (ideally I would spend at least two weeks teaching and reinforcing routines).

When you work in a student-centered class and value differentiation, students need access to work that they can do independently and materials they can access easily. Introducing one independent activity at a time, ensures students better understand the process and expectations. Here are a few examples:

  • a folder/journal to keep work


  • access to objects to count and counting charts
  • worksheets with numbers to trace
  • old problems to revise in their journals
  • solve an old problem using a new model
  • add on explanations to a finished piece or add on explanations to someone els’s piece
  • math stories to read
  • paper to write your own problems


It takes a village to run a student-centered classroom. I compel you to find a teacher or teachers who you can plan with, confer with, and confide in. I believe the same must be done for students. One way to increase student independence is to provide a strategic partner or partners who they can go to for support. The more they can depend on one another, the more time you will have to confer with students one on one or in small groups. It also sends a clear message to students, that you believe they are capable of figuring things out for themselves. Make it a common practice to check with a partner before checking with the teacher. Create a routine that includes daily, specified partner time, and teach routines or prompts for how to talk with a partner.


Just as great writers develop ideas, write multiple drafts, revise, edit, and finally publish their work, we too, can use this same proven approach in math. Students can develop and mull over multiple ideas, approaches and strategies. They will need multiple drafts as they develop their knowledge and skills, and they will need to make revisions and edits. When we accept these stages as part of the learning process in math, we leave more room for independence, perseverance, and learning.