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Video transcript

Presenter intro: Peps McCrea

To learn effectively, pupils need plenty of opportunities to think hard. Sometimes we need to do this thinking on our own. There need to be times during lessons when pupils work independently. Pupils are more likely to do this well when teachers give clear behavioural expectations for independent practice. We need to provide support and guidance when pupils work on their own.

Presenter main

Independent practice is about letting our pupils practice on their own. Our ultimate goal is that pupils are able to use their knowledge and skills without teacher input. This means free of the support of any teachers or other adults in the room.

Independent practice helps pupils to understand and explore content. We know that pupils need a chance to play, go over content or consolidate learning on their own. Even after first being exposed to the content, pupils need a chance to continue to practise independently. Practising can also help retain content so that pupils are able to use it in the future. But knowing how to work on your own is a discipline that needs to be learned. How can teachers help?

First, you need to teach a pupil what your expectations for independent practice are. This involves knowing what expectations are and then explaining them to pupils in detail. Your expectations should be made clear through manageable, specific, and sequential instructions. Once you’ve shared your expectations, you need to check your pupils have understood them. Ask specific questions that test for understanding one instruction at a time.

When you’re confident that pupils have understood your expectations, there’s still more to be done. During independent practice, you need to monitor how pupils are getting on. This might involve seeing their play or work by circulating the room. You should use this time to check pupils are meeting your behavioural expectations. Where they are not, you can support them as least intrusively as possible, by giving them a quick reminder. Make this a positive reminder. Instead of telling pupils what they shouldn’t be doing, for example, “don’t talk”, tell them what they should be doing, “work in silence”.

Setting up independent practice requires a lot of thought. You need to explicitly teach your expectations. It might be easy to assume your pupils should know what is expected of them, but they may well not. Or they simply might’ve forgotten. Although we call it independent practice, that doesn’t mean that teachers don’t play an active role. Teachers need to actively monitor and support pupils to enable them to work on their own.

Presenter exemplification framing

In the next example, you will see a model of how to establish behavioural expectations for independent practice. As you watch focus on the following:

  • Teaches and rigorously maintains clear behavioural expectations for independent work
  • Monitors pupil work during lessons, including checking for misconceptions

Exemplification: Ambition Institute coach

If we want pupils to focus on their learning and do well during independent practice, we need to establish clear guidelines. I’m going to model how to share behavioural expectations before independent work and how to support them to stay focused during this time.

I want you to imagine that I am teaching a year six English lesson. Pupils are going to spend 15 minutes writing an opening to their own story. Over a sequence of learning, I’ve prepared the class for this task in a number of ways. We have studied the genre that they are writing in, and the pupils have created storyboards to structure their story. For the opening, we have co-written a model for the class and I have written some sentence starters and created a word bank for them to use.

With this preparation, I’m confident that the pupils will be able to complete the task independently, but I still need to support their behaviour.

“OK, you’re now going to spend 15 minutes writing the opening to your story. During that 15 minutes, I need everybody to be working in silence so that you can concentrate really hard. If you get stuck, before asking for help, I want you to look at your storyboards, the model that we’ve just created together, and the word bank and the sentence starters in your books. If you still feel that you need help, then raise your hands. And either myself or Ms. Stevens will come to you.

Ishmael, can you explain to everybody what I’m expecting you to do in the next 15 minutes?

[Pupils gives correct response]

Great. And Aisha, if you get stuck, before asking for help, what things should you look at?

[Pupil gives correct response]

Thank you. OK. Does anyone have any more questions? Nope? Great. So I’m going to put 15 minutes on the timer, off you go.

[Teacher scans the room and then circulates as pupils practice]

Everyone should be writing, or reading through their storyboards or the model on the board, or that word bank and the sentence starters in your book. I can see lots of pupils are using really well-chosen adjectives to set the scene, well done.

If you’ve got your hand up, can I ask you to check that you’ve read through your storyboards or the model on the boards, or those sentence starters and the word bank in your books before asking for help. Thank you. So those of you who are putting your hands down, that’s showing really good problem-solving.”

Let’s unpick this model. Firstly, I set clear expectations for behaviour. I stated what I wanted to see and hear from pupils. Pupils were to work on their own in silence for 15 minutes.

Secondly, I shared the expectation that before asking for help, pupils should read through the model and scaffolds provided. I asked two pupils to reshare these expectations, partly to check for understanding, but partly to restate the expectation to the class. Critically, I was also sure that they had the knowledge, skills and scaffolds to be able to complete the task.

During the independent work, I circulated and made sure that most of the time I positioned myself so I could see the majority of the class. I actively show the pupils that I was checking their behaviour. And when I saw pupils starting to drift off task, I quickly reminded them of my expectations. For example, "everybody should be writing or reading through their storyboards". This reminder was phrased positively. It’s more helpful to remind pupils what they should do rather than point out what they shouldn’t. I also use non-verbal signals to individual pupils when required. I want to support pupils to keep on task without interrupting others. I also kept pupils on task by acknowledging pupils who were meeting my expectations. For example, "thank you to those putting their hands down".

Independent work is critical for pupil learning. However, in order for it to be successful, teachers must be sure that pupils have the knowledge and skills required for the task, be clear on their behavioural expectations before pupils start and circulate to keep pupils on track.

Presenter key ideas

In this video, we have looked at how to support pupil behaviour during independent practice so that we can help them to stay focused. Now read through the key ideas. Which of these ideas does the example illustrate the best?

  • Teach and rigorously maintain clear behavioural expectations for independent work
  • Check pupils’ understanding of instructions before a task begins
  • Monitor pupil work during lessons, including checking for misconceptions

Presenter summary

Independent practice is a skill that pupils need to be shown how to do well. Our pupils need support and practice to get the most out of it. When we get this right pupils are able to do some of their best thinking on their own and strengthen their understanding in the process.