How to Develop Independent Learners: 3-part Formula

Learning is all around us. Independent learners will thrive in the classroom and beyond!

In this post, we’ll present a straightforward technique for fostering your child’s independence in learning, along with advice and activities to encourage it.

21st Century Education: Being an independent learner

Independent learning is essential for your child’s academic development since it:

  • Builds teamwork abilities
  • Expands the mind
  • Increases resilience and persistence
  • Enhances the abilities kids gain in the classroom and develops discipline

Independent learners are at ease with new concepts and problem-solving approaches. This frequently results in academic success and a higher level of self-assurance in their skills. Additionally, in an ever-changing and fast-paced world, being an independent learner means your child is set to face whatever unknown challenges lie ahead. 

What does an independent learner look like?

Are you wondering if your child is an independent learner?

Well, chances are you’ll already have an inclination. 

Independent learners are:

  • Resilient in the face of adversity
  • Confident tackling new and unknown challengers
  • Likely to get caught up and fixated on a problem
  • Self-aware and can choose learning mediums and formats that are right for them 
  • Critical thinkers with a love for asking ‘why’ and ‘how’

What really sets them apart is their:

  • Understanding of how to learn (metacognition)
  • Reflective approach to learning
  • Awareness of when they need support
  • Ability to maintain a level-headed approach in the face of adversity
  • Organised approach to learning

It’s important to remember that like most things, being an independent learner is a skill and takes practice. As a result, we build autonomous learners by weaving these skills throughout the Bettering Youth tutors approach. 

The Key Ingredients to Support an Independent Learners

In contrast to popular belief, independent learning is not about increased freedom and less structure. In fact, it is crucial that independence is honed through a scaffolded and structured relationship between the learner and the educator. 

There are 3 parts to the equation for supporting independent learners. 

Firstly, they must have an environment that encourages exploration and self-reflection
Secondly, they must feel empowered and encouraged to make autonomous decisions.
Third, they must feel confident managing their emotions in order to stay resilient in the midst of challenges.

Below is a video of our founder and head tutor, Sarahlynn, presenting a workshop to an international community of tutors.

1a) How to encourage independent learning through scaffolding

As tutors, our role is to support students in developing the skills and honing the tools to approach problems in a variety of contexts. We accomplish this in a planned shift in responsibility from us, to the learner. 

It looks something like this:

scaffolding towards independent learning

Students will be given the opportunity to take on more responsibility for their own learning after explicit modelling and teaching of the skills have occurred. This will ensure that the student has a secure understanding of the skills and they will be able to approach questions delivered in a variety of styles.  

Learn more at the Education Endowment Fund

1b) Scaffolding to support independent learning at home:

There are plenty of ways that you can take on this scaffolded approach at home. 

For instance: 

  • Teaching a new task like cooking or laundry
  • Planning an overnight bag 
  • Planning and booking a trip
  • Writing holiday or thank you cards

The key element to developing independence is to model once in real time, then model again with explicit teaching of concepts. And before you shoot off to continue your own tasks, support your child through an example or two and ask them about their own thinking and approach.

This approach will take a few minutes longer to set them up, but it ensures there won’t be any misunderstandings or hassle down the line. 

2a) How to encourage independent thinking by building a growth mindset

Independent thinking is a must-have skill for any 21st-century learner. So how can we encourage and develop this skill?

It starts with making mistakes and risk-taking a commonplace occurrence. For students to feel comfortable approaching new situations, they’ll need to be resilient and not afraid to make mistakes. 

Bettering Youth tutors create a safe space for students to experiment and try things without fear of judgment or criticism. 

We build students’ growth mindset by:

  • Asking students to self-assess, 
  • Getting students to provide evidence that they believe their answer is correct,
  • Questioning them to push their thinking
  • Tracking student-made goals
  • Modelling our own growth and thoughts around a problem 
  • Celebrating the ‘fail’ of the week 

2b)  Building a growth mindset at home

Supporting your child in becoming a resilient learner can be done with a few simple activities:

  • Praise the effort, not the outcome
  • Talk and share your ‘growth moments’ – where something went wrong
  • Celebrate the challenges that they have come up against

For more ideas, check out our Growth Mindset blog

3a) How to encourage resilient learners with emotional regulation activities

What sets Bettering Youth tutors apart from the rest is our focus on emotional wellbeing coaching. This is woven within each session to help students develop self-awareness and critical thinking skills. 

One such way to develop emotional regulation is to start by building emotional literacy. Emotional literacy is the act of identifying and expressing what you’re feeling. It is a skill that can be developed with some modelling and explicit teaching.

Learn more about emotional literacy activities here!

Emotional regulation can be taught by first teaching about the brain, how it handles stress and how this can lead to performance anxiety. 

We always: 

  • Break down tricky concepts, 
  • Help students in developing relevant goals, 
  • Celebrate the wins

In speaking with one of our GCSE maths tutors, he said: “It is important to start with a simple concept, let students build their confidence, and then gradually move on to the more complex information.” And he is absolutely right! When we approach learning in this fashion, we are helping them to build and grow their confidence at each stage so the anxiety to perform is lowered. 

3b) Student Wellbeing Masterminds with Bettering Youth

If you’re looking for an added layer of support for your child in becoming an independent and self-motivated learner, then save their seat in our Student Wellbeing Masterminds. 

Our Student Wellbeing Masterminds are a bi-weekly small group workshop where students of similar ages connect, discuss, and build these exact skills to become independent learners. We dive into the brain, how it works, how it learns, how we study and remember information; we explore motivation and resilience; we cover emotional literacy and regulation for dealing with big feelings and more! 

Until 2023, sessions are completely free. This is a trial period for students new to our community. Of course, if your child is already a member of the Bettering Youth community than their sessions are included in their tuition sessions for this academic year!

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Everything that we do at Bettering Youth is backed by evidence, which is why we wanted to share with
you the research for which we have based our highly successful programmes on.

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