Independent work of students on practical employments (42890)

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Declaration of Independence

Teachers and parent-teachers can't go it alone. They need good materials to assist them. With good materials students will work independently and will persist at their work. With good materials your teaching task is manageable.

It is virtually impossible to individualize instruction without individualized learning materials. Having students work on their own is a hallmark of individualized instruction.

Section I provides background. Section II makes suggestions about how teachers can best manage students' independent work. Section III provides lists of available independent-learning materials. Section IV is a list of the publishers referred in Section III.


Section I

1. Background: Principles of Teaching Two Kinds of Assignments

2. Assigned School Work: Part of a Continuum?

3. Mastery: Is It Practical?

4. School Work: Do Students See It as Purposeful?

5. Asking Students Questions

6. Whole Class Instruction: Is It Out of Date?

Section II

1. Strategies for Managing Students' Independent Work

2. Choosing Work According to the Curriculum

3. Test Often, Test Widely

4. Keeping a Studious Classroom

5. Obtaining Student Commitment to Independent Work

6. Providing for Student Management of Classroom Materials

7. Choosing Learning Materials for the Independent Learner:

8. Using Trade Books

9. Using Workbooks/Kits/Centers

10. Using software

11. Using the Internet/On-line Services

12. Sending Independent-Study Work Home

Section III

1. Learning Materials for Independent Learners

2. Learning to Use Computers/Using Computers

3. Foreign Languages

4. Language Arts/Reading/Literature

5. Library/Work/Study Skills/Research

6. Logic/Critical Thinking/Creative Thinking/Art/Interpersonal Skills/Across the Curriculum

7. Mathematics

8. Science/Health/Social Studies/Environment


1. Independent-Study Courses By Correspondence

2. Courses on the Internet/On-Line

3. Internet Resources for Students

Section IV

1. List of Publishers

2. Teachers grades 5-12: willing to try out my reading comprehension tests?

3. Test Directions

Section I

1. Background: Principles of Teaching. Two Kinds of Assignments

Teachers make both closed and open assignments.

Closed assignments are a follow-up of material taught. Often, they are practice. All students do the work of the assignment in the same way. Examples of closed assignments are:

  • Do all the calculations on page 120 of the book.

  • Write the transcription twenty times as carefully as possible.

  • Memorize the poem on page 50.

Open assignments provide for student diversity. Examples of open assignments are:

- Write a half page about your weekend.

- Find three new words in the dictionary and write sentences using them.

- Continue working in your workbook.

Using the techniques taught to the whole class, draw a picture with crayons illustrating the season. Although closed assignments are necessary for the sake of mastery, they do present problems:

- Students vary in how long they take to complete an assignment. Take an example. The teacher teaches a whole-class handwriting lesson on forming the capital B. Posture, hand position, and how the pencil is held are all taught in the lesson. The students are then given an assignment to practice the formation of the capital B. The fast students get the work done in short order. The slower students complete only part of the assignment.

What should be done with the students that finish the work quickly?

Should the laggards be required to complete the assignment?

This frustrating situation exists every day in every classroom in the world. There is no excellent solution. However, the students are least frustrated when the work seems easy to them. Rather than gearing the assignment for the average student, the teacher can gear the assignment for the below average. Students who complete the work quickly can turn to open assignments.

The effect of this is that the slowest students work on closed assignments most of the time, while the fastest students work on open assignments most of the time.

2. Assigned School Work: Part of a Continuum?

The great thing about a textbook, workbook, or kit is that is continuous - the student can see that he or she is progressing systematically. Each assignment relates to what came before and what will come ahead. Students see the educational purpose of textbooks, workbooks, and kits.

Teachers who teach from a textbook have the problem solved of how to organize work so that it is continuous.

There is a problem in the more open style of teaching found often in elementary schools. Usually, textbooks are used in some subjects, such as math and spelling. Occasionally, social studies, science, language, and health textbooks are used. However, when a decision has been made not to use a textbook as the organizing structure for a school subject, what can a teacher do to make the work continuous and to have students see it that way?

One technique is to use a syllabus and to share it with students.

Another technique is to use contracts. The assignments are all listed together, and the student progresses from one to the next. Either the student or the teacher puts initials next to each assignment as it is completed. Contracts are most often used in assigning "extra work."

Another technique is for the teacher to select an educational objective from the "scope and sequence" curriculum guide and to pursue it for a stretch of days or weeks. The educational objective is displayed in the classroom and is referred to by the teacher as the unit or task underway.

Students benefit from seeing their progress. When handwriting exercises, spelling tests, creative writing, and math tests are saved in folders or notebooks, students can see their progress over time.

When a notebook containing new vocabulary words or a notebook containing new sight words is kept, students can review the words they have learned and see their progress.

3. Mastery: Is It Practical?

Mastery is the goal of all teaching. In a classroom there is a special problem: the students vary so much in knowledge and abilities that it is impractical to expect all students to master the material taught.

Even in first grade not every student masters the material for the grade. When it was common practice to "hold back" students, many students failed first grade. Although nowadays few students are held back in first grade, nevertheless not all students master the material for the grade.

As students grow older, the gap in knowledge and abilities among them widens, and getting all students to learn the basic materials for the grade or course becomes even more difficult than it was in the early grades.

Should teachers throw up their hands and give up on the slower learners? This is a mistake that some teachers make.

Slower learners respond to conscientious instruction. There are several strategies that teachers employ:

1) The teacher teaches a single student or a small group during class time or after school.

2) A faster student is assigned to help a slower student.

3) The teacher finds special instructional materials for slower students to work on independently either during school time or at home.

4) The teacher enlists the parents to teach the child at home using instructional materials supplied by the teacher.

5) When mastery is sought, as it should be, the importance of testing is readily apparent. With test results in hand, both teacher and student can see how well the student has learned, and plans for next steps can be made.

4. School Work: Do Students See It as Purposeful?

Can anyone argue with the idea that students should feel that their school work is meaningful/purposeful/ important? Everyone recognizes that they should see it that way. Nevertheless, it is commonplace in classrooms for students to work on assignments day after day just because the teacher says to. These students do not see the long-range purposes, such as these, provided as examples:

In first grade, learning sums to 12, recognizing a basic list of words, knowing the parts of our bodies, etc.

In fifth grade, learning meaningful long division with decimals, understanding the meaning of a paragraph, understanding the contributions of ancient Bactria and Khorezm to our culture, etc.

When students do not see their school work as meaningful/purposeful/important, they rely on the teacher to urge them to work. When they do see their school work as meaningful/purposeful/important, they are self-reliant - they learn for themselves.

What can a teacher do to make school work purposeful to students?

1) Talk up the goals and objectives of a course or unit of study or school subject at the beginning of the year and periodically as appropriate - before work is begun.

2) Let students know, through pre-testing and other means, what they don’t know so that, as they progress, they have a sense of learning and of having learned.

3) Keep folders of work completed so that they can see their progress.

Class instruction is the norm virtually everywhere, even though students vary enormously in their abilities and knowledge. Beginning reading is taught in kindergarten and first grade, long division with decimals is taught in fifth grade, Uzbekistan government and law is taught in ninth grade, and physics is taught in eleventh and twelfth grades.

Why is this so? Anyone who has taught a class knows the answer.

It is beyond the capacity of any one teacher to teach a whole class of students each at his or her own learning edge. Can you imagine teaching the intricacies of long division by decimals one student at a time?

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