5 Steps to Fostering an Independent Learner


Building the Team


As a former classroom teacher, I know how tremendous of a help that parents can be in their student’s learning. As a teacher, you try your best in figuring out which are the best learning strategies and create specialized plans with your students’ abilities in mind. While a teacher helps your students progress in their learning, the time and support that a teacher can provide for each student is minimal when compared with the impact that parents can have with the student at home. All students, no matter their ability and success level, has room to improve and the students that receive support from both their parents and teachers will have greater chances at academic success.[1]


This often neglected relationship between parents and teachers is a powerful tool that can help foster a student’s ability to learn. However sharing progress and creating goals between the parents and teachers are meaningless without the inclusion of the student within the process. The student’s willingness and agency in taking part of their own progress is foundational in achieving success because it is the student that will be the one doing the work and contributing towards their own personal goals. Students spend most of their time in either school or home which make teachers and parents their coach, mentor, and guides. Knowing your role in this team will greater the chances of your student succeeding.[2]


Removing the Stressors


An important part of your student’s success is something that is not usually taught in the classroom is executive functioning skills. As defined by Harvard University’s Center for the Developing Child, executive functioning skills are “the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully.”[3] There are many studies and research done on development of executive functioning skills during preschool and early elementary school grades as this is the ideal age that students develop these important tools for success. Learning and assessing whether your student has these essential executive functional skills and are utilizing them properly is an important first step in developing a plan of action.


As important as it is that students develop these skills at an early age, there are many stressors that can hinder the development of them. Stressors such as lack of self-confidence and an increase of negative emotions can cause students’ executive functioning skills to deteriorate. Interventions modeled after Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) can prove to be beneficial in providing the necessary support that students need.[4] Emotions are an important and often forgotten part of the learning process. Students are often getting challenging assignments to do on their own as homework and this can cause stress or emotional distress. Utilizing tools from SEL interventions that help students improve skills such as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making, parents can help their student achieve greater success and increase their executive functioning skills.[5]


Steps for Success


Keeping in mind your role as a team member, executive functioning skills, and Social-Emotional Learning interventions, here are some 5 key steps to assess and create an action plan that best suits you and your family:


1. Ask yourself the tough questions. Assess your role in your student’s academic achievement. Do you have a clear role and have you ascertained your duties within the team? Coming up with honest answers to questions like these is key in figuring out the best plan for your student.


2. Communication with your student and teachers. Keep an open line of communication with your student. Start by listening to what they think their stressors are and practice patience when coming up with a plan. Whether your student is in elementary school or in high school, it’s always okay to reach out to their teachers. Teachers can help you by providing key information about your student’s academic progress and they can be a key player in enforcing your eventual plan.


3. Create an action plan. After determining what the stressors are and what areas that the team wants to tackle, come up with a plan with your student. Agree upon a reasonable yet challenging set of goals that can help your student progress in their studies. Make sure that there are clear and manageable steps that can help your student always know what the next step is and to help them not feel too overwhelmed with a challenging goal.


4. Stick with the plan. After assessing the problem areas and creating your plan, it can be quite difficult to follow your plan. Make sure that you check in with your student in a timely manner and provide any extra support that they may need. Students may need accountability and encouragement, especially at the beginning of this process.


5. Reassess. Plans are not perfect and they are subject to change. Figure out the parts that do not work and be open to changing your plan. The main goal is to find the best solution for your student. Make sure that your plan is feasible yet challenging so that your student needs to make the necessary progress to their studies and to help them achieve their academic goals.

Article Contributed By: Michelle Nam



[1] Hughes, J., & Kwok, O. (2007). Influence of Student–Teacher and Parent–Teacher Relationships on Lower Achieving Readers’ Engagement and Achievement in the Primary Grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99(1), 39–51. http://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0663.99.1.39


[2] https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/16/05/building-success-home?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=Usable+Knowledge&utm_term=&utm_content=


[3] https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/executive-function/


[4] https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/16/05/building-success-home?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=Usable+Knowledge&utm_term=&utm_content=


[5] Desai, P., Karahalios, V., Persuad, S., & Reker, K. (2014). Social-emotional learning. Bethesda: National Association of School Psychologists. Retrieved from http://proxyau.wrlc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxyau.wrlc.org/docview/1634178662?accountid=8285

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