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What ever happened to independent practice?

In an effort to increase comprehension, collaboration, and conversation independence may not be getting the attention it needs


I am noticing a trend. When you listen into classrooms you hear vibrant conversations, debates, and questions flowing through the room. Students who were once forced to “sit and get” are now allowed to participate more fully in their learning, and this is a wonderful thing.


Where once, students had to follow teachers’ step by step instructions, face forward, and work on problem after problem alone, they are now being given the freedom to discuss their thinking with a partner, solve fewer problems, and approach problems from multiple perspectives.


Unfortunately, in many classrooms, when it is time for assessments, teachers are finding out, too late, that many of their students lack the ability to solve problems on their own.


Upper grade teachers unpack word problems well into the school year. Teachers are ready and willing to coach students until they arrive at a solution. Unfortunately, assessment day comes, students get stuck, and their cries for help and collaboration go unanswered. Many students are not prepared to go it alone, and we, the teachers, had no idea. Shame and frustration arise when many of our students fail to show understanding on independent assessments.

Has our desire to support our students set some of them up for failure?

If testing conditions do not allow for collaboration, then SOMETIMES, classwork should not allow for collaboration. If testing conditions do not allow for physical tools, then SOMETIMES classwork should not allow for physical tools. If we have to coach our kids through a problem, do they really understand it? If we wait until the assessment to find out students do not understand, then we leave little or no time for revision or intervention. I don’t want to cause students any unnecessary pain or shame.

We must find a balance between collaboration and independence. Independent practice can be built into our weekly schedules or students may be WEANED off our support as the weeks and months go by. We can prepare students by planning SOMEdays that are free from coaching and collaboration in order to ensure and confirm they are able to problem solve independently. Isn’t that the whole point of what we are doing? In addition to lessons on number lines, let’s add in some lessons on what to do when you get stuck, then let students get stuck. Reflecting on this work will provide vital information for both you and your students.