Why is independent practice important?
Independent practice can arbitrarily be viewed as the third phase of learning. It is where pupils practise new material without support from adults, and eventually, resources. Rosenshine (2012) recognises independent practice as a vital part of learning because it provides pupils with the much-required opportunity to complete a procedure or activity over and over. He identifies ‘overlearning’ as necessary for pupils to become fluent or automatic in a skill. When pupils become automatic in a process or skill, they free up their working memory which can be used to apply their learning to new contexts.
The more pupils practise the material, the stronger the retrieval strength becomes. Without enough independent practice, pupils will find it more challenging to recall information or procedures at a later stage as the retrieval strength of the new material won’t be as strong.
Planning the right practice activity
During independent practice, pupils should work on the same material covered during guided practice to give them an opportunity to consolidate their learning.
For example, if you covered finding the area of rectangular shapes during guided practice, then that’s what pupils should focus on during independent practice. It would be inappropriate to ask them to find the area of compound shapes as the strategy for doing so is different. Pupils would need to see this being modelled and engage in guided practice before working on this independently, otherwise you are likely to obtain a low success rate from many pupils and need to reteach the material. Therefore, it is vital you carefully plan both the guided and independent practice, so they focus on practising the same material.
Independent practice should be planned to ensure pupils think hard about the material they have covered during guided practice. This seems straightforward and obvious but can be more challenging than it might appear.
Sometimes, you may think you are planning activities that provide opportunities for pupils to practise or demonstrate the knowledge that you have been developing, but this may not always be the case. In order to complete an activity successfully, pupils need to have all the knowledge required. However, certain aspects can be overlooked when planning independent practice for pupils.
An example of this could be pupils writing a newspaper article to demonstrate or practice their knowledge of a topic (Enser, 2019). Unless they have been taught how to write a newspaper article – how to generate a catchy title, how to write in columns, or how to use direct and indirect quotes – then they won’t get the opportunity to practise what you intended. Because of the limitations on working memory, they will be consumed with the features of a newspaper article, instead of demonstrating or practising their knowledge of a topic. If, however, the pupils have already mastered the writing components of a newspaper article, then this could be a suitable way for them to present the material they are learning about. It is important that pupils have the relevant domain-specific knowledge before being asked to apply their knowledge or think critically.
Therefore, it is important you spend time carefully planning activities that provide pupils with the opportunity to practise or demonstrate their learning, taking into consideration any additional foundational knowledge they may require.
Which activity is the most appropriate?
It is important to ensure the independent practice enables pupils to practise the new material you have taught them. Take a look at the scenario below and select the activity you think is the most appropriate.
The focus of the lesson is for pupils to shade 3D objects to show light and shadow. You begin the lesson by explaining how you can shade objects to show light and shadow. You use ‘Think Aloud’ to demonstrate your thought processes whilst modelling shading 3D compound shapes with light coming from one direction per shape. You then complete guided practice where you invite pupils to tell you which areas to shade darker and which areas to shade lighter and why. You then ask them to have a quick practice at their tables on a similar shape, addressing any misconceptions that you identify. You then decide pupils are ready to complete some extended independent practice.
Which activity would you give them?
When starting pupils off on a task, it is also important to check they understand what to do before they begin. This helps to ensure they can begin immediately. There are a number of ways you can do this, but one way is to ask pupils to repeat instructions back to you before setting them off.
Think about an activity you recently set. Consider the following questions and record your response in your notepad:
- how successful were pupils at this activity and why do you think that was?
- is there anything you would do differently next time?
Providing further guides and scaffolds
Throughout a lesson, you will provide pupils with a large amount of scaffolding and support. This will firstly occur during your explanations and modelling and continue during guided practice. This helps to ensure pupils develop a strong understanding of the material you are teaching them.
When first setting up independent practice, you may need to continue to provide scaffolds to ensure pupils achieve a high level of success. These scaffolds will guide pupils through cognitive and metacognitive processes, which will help to break the tasks down into its constituent components without the direct input from a teacher. Before you explore different ways to do this, let’s recap what cognition and metacognition are.
This is the thinking. It’s the thought processes involved in applying a cognitive strategy or approach to solving a problem or completing a task. For example, using long addition to find the sum of two numbers, or using a mnemonic to help you memorise a spelling.
This is the knowledge that pupils have about:
- the task they have been given
- the cognitive strategies they could use
- their own abilities
Pupils apply this knowledge when completing a task. This knowledge can be applied at three main stages. When:
- Planning how to tackle a problem or complete an activity
- Monitoring how successful their approach is at solving the problem or completing an activity and adapting it if necessary
- Evaluating how successful they were at solving the problem or completing the task once it’s complete
During guided practice, you should model both cognitive and metacognitive strategies by using ‘Think Aloud’ as you demonstrate, but pupils may still benefit from prompts that help to break tasks down into constituent components without your direct guidance or support. This can be done in a variety of ways, some of which you have already explored:
- You might provide pupils with worked examples to use as a point of reference when completing independent work to demonstrate the cognitive strategy or approach
- You might provide pupils with partially completed examples to focus their thinking around the part of a cognitive strategy or approach you want to develop
- You might provide pupils with a checklist to prompt cognitive and metacognitive thoughts
As you have previously explored worked examples and partially completed examples in module two, this section will focus on using checklists.
Checklists to scaffold cognitive processes
Using checklists can be an effective way to scaffold pupils’ cognition by ensuring they remain focused around the success criteria of a task.
This can help to break the task down into its constituent components and prompt students’ thinking during independent practice. The following examples demonstrate how this might look in different contexts:
If the independent practice requires pupils to describe a character using metaphors and similes, the checklist might consist of the following:
Have I grouped my ideas into clear paragraphs?
Have I used a simile effectively using like or as? e.g. His smile is like a ray of sunshine. His smile is as radiant as the sun.
Have I used a metaphor effectively? E.g. Pools of blue and hazel stare steadily into the distance.
Have I re-read my work to check it makes sense?
If independent practice is to balance chemical equations, the checklist might be:
Have I replaced the name of each substance with its symbol or formula?
Have I checked whether the equation is balanced?
If the equation is not balanced, have I used numbers to balance it?
If you are in a setting where pupils can’t read yet, such as Early Years, you can use images as a visual prompt.
Providing pupils with a checklist for cognitive strategies acts as a scaffold to ensure that pupils remain focused on the key learning points. They help to break down the task into its parts and prompt pupils to consider their next steps.
These questions should be modelled by you during guided practice using ‘Think Aloud’ but displaying or giving pupils a checklist during independent practice can support pupils to take ownership over their learning as they are required to monitor and check their work.
Checklists – Elizabeth Arkle at Extol Academy Trust
Listen to Elizabeth Arkle talk about how she uses checklists to scaffold pupils during independent practice.
This year in English, I really wanted to make children’s planning of their writing more meaningful and something that they actually used. I noticed that all too often children would plan a piece of writing through a sequence of lessons but then almost abandon the plan and just try and write from memory. They would frequently go and get a SPAG checklist, or a year group assessment grid, and then write something that was often poorly organised and did not meet the purpose for the writing.
I wanted to give children a way to plan ideas for vocabulary and sentence structure, but also see clearly what should be in their writing so I decided to use a checklist to act as a prompt.
Before a piece of writing, I plan a checklist, together with the children, that is specific to that piece of writing. We call it ‘ingredients for success’. As it is developed
the children, not just given to them, they take it very seriously. I always start the process off by adding some non-negotiables – these will be my specific aims for this piece of writing. For example, it might be to include speech, or to focus children on expanded noun phrases for description. From there the children will start to offer what they think should be included and we develop this together. Lastly, if they have been given a next step target from their last writing – for example, to remember commas in a list – they will add this to their own.
What we include in the checklist varies from piece to piece, but means we have a very specific and relevant checklist to guide children through their writing. Pupils are encouraged to physically tick things off on their list as they go to keep them on track.
It also gives me the chance to give my children writing at greater depth a further challenge by adding other elements to their work. Similarly, I can remove elements from some children’s checklists to help keep them focused on the skills they need to work on.
Planning writing in this way has really helped children to develop independence in their writing. It did need a conscious investment of time at the outset. To begin with, children would sometimes come up with simple punctuation points. Now, however, they are beginning to think for themselves about what makes a good piece of writing and will make much more thoughtful contributions, such as starting sentences in different ways.
One other advantage of these more specific checklists is I can add specific targets for individual children very easily. For example, one child – although a good writer – was persistently using ‘and then’ in their writing. By adding this to their checklist, over a couple of pieces of writing, they have almost completely stopped doing this.
I have found checklists to be a vital resource when building pupil independence whilst still providing a form of scaffold.
Checklists to scaffold metacognitive processes
Using a checklist can also be used to scaffold pupils’ metacognition during a task, which supports them to self-regulate their learning.
Here, checklists would include questions to support them during the planning, monitoring and evaluation phases of the work they are doing.
Below is an example of some questions you might use if the independent practice required pupils to complete a self-portrait. This example has been taken from Metacognition and self-regulated learning (EEF, 2018).
Questions during planning:
- ‘What resources do I need to carry out a self-portrait?’
- ‘Have I done a self-portrait before and was it successful?’
- ‘What have I learned from the examples we looked at earlier?’
- ‘Where do I start and what viewpoint will I use?’
- ‘Do I need a line guide to keep my features in proportion?’
Questions during monitoring:
- ‘Am I doing well?’
- ‘Do I need any different techniques to improve my self-portrait?’
- ‘Are all of my facial features in proportion?’
- ’Am I finding this challenging?’
- ‘Is there anything I need to stop and change to improve my self-portrait?’
Questions during evaluation:
- ‘How did I do?’
- ‘Did my line guide strategy work?’
- ‘Was it the right viewpoint to choose?’
- ‘How would I do a better self-portrait next time?’
- ‘Are there other perspectives, viewpoints or techniques I would like to try?’
Displaying a checklist containing metacognitive prompts during independent practice supports pupils to plan, monitor and evaluate their progress whilst they work without teacher guidance. This helps to build their metacognitive strategies and reminds them of the thought process that an expert would go through.
Using collaborative practice to best effect
Rosenshine (2012, page 16) states that “an important finding from information-processing research is that students need to spend additional time rephrasing, elaborating and summarising new material in order to store this material in their long-term memory”. This suggests that discussion can be a powerful form of practice, and collaboration with peers presents opportunities for this to occur. Research shows that paired or group activities can increase pupil success (EEF, 2018), but what can you do to ensure it is effective?
What makes effective collaboration?
There are some key features that can support effective collaboration:
- Practice – key skills of listening and responding need to be taught when asking pupils to talk to their partner or work as a group (EEF, 2018). Pupils will not inherently know how to do this well. Therefore, you need to decide how you want pupils to work collaboratively and support pupils to do so effectively through clear instructions and practice.
- Structured tasks – tasks that are well structured and promote talk and interaction tend to have the greatest impact (EEF, 2018).
- Prior knowledge – as with any practice task, when working collaboratively, pupils must have all the knowledge they require in order to complete the task successfully (Enser, 2019).
- Groupings – it is important that you carefully select pupils who will work together well.
Collaborative practice in action
Watch one of the videos below to see how collaboration can be used as a form of pupil practice. Consider the following questions and record your response in your notepad:
- what might the teacher have done prior to this activity to ensure this collaboration is successful?
- what prior knowledge did the pupils need?
Collaborative practice – Early Years - Bethan Hughes at Reach Academy
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Collaborative practice – Early Years - Bethan Hughes at Reach Academy [AD]
Collaborative practice – Primary
If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Collaborative practice – Primary [AD]
Choose one of the videos below to hear an example of how collaboration is used in the classroom and answer the following questions in your notebook:
- how could you use collaboration in your classroom?
- what steps would you need to take to make this successful?
Collaborative learning – using roles
Collaborative learning is an effective way of encouraging and developing talk in the classroom. Effective collaboration can support pupils to develop their understanding of a concept or topic as it provides pupils with an opportunity to hear and evaluate ideas that might be different to their own.
One example of when I used collaboration was when my class were looking at ‘Who was to blame for the death of Bess?’ in the text The Highwayman in year 6.
In order to set the ground rules for the lesson I ensured that I had gone over the talk rules and expectations for this lesson. At the time our main focus was to wait for a break in order to give our opinion so that we were not interrupting. My pupils were not used to this, so this was an aspirational and challenging target. Prior to the lesson, I prepared pupils through circle time where we explored appropriate behaviours when discussing a topic, such as waiting for an appropriate gap to speak and listening carefully in order to build on to a point or disagree respectfully.
The children worked in groups of 4 and each was assigned a role. The group leader directed the conversation and ensured that all children were involved. The scribe participated in the discussion and recorded notes. The group member took part in the discussion and ensured that they were challenging the views of others if they didn’t agree. The reporter shared the group’s ideas with the rest of the class. I find that groups of 4 are ideal as pupils have a shoulder partner (someone who is sitting next to them) and a face partner (someone who is sitting opposite them) so it makes it easier for them share and communicate their ideas and ensure all pupils’ voices are heard. The pupils had been using this structure for group work for about 4 weeks and were now using it well.
Prior learning of the group roles included group role cards to show the children what their expectations were in that role. I had created a video of a group of children executing the roles well from the previous year. This gave the children a good example of what this should look like. We also used the roles regularly in any talk-focused scenario so that they began to build up their confidence in their role.
To ensure all pupils could meaningfully engage in the discussion, I ensured that the children had a clear understanding of the text that we were looking at. This had been a journey over 3-4 weeks in the build-up of work and unpicking of the text. I also ensured that they had a clear view of the characters throughout the text and we had built up character profiles by using ‘role on the wall’ for each character on the working wall that they could then draw upon to base their opinions around.
In order to support the children further, I then used the Tower Hamlets progression in Language Structures to create persuasive talk frames. The children then built their opinions from evidence in the text and used the talk frames to convey these. At the same time, they practised waiting for the gap and using the talk rules that were the focus for that lesson. This enabled the children to have an in-depth conversation with high-quality language and structure for support.
My role throughout was to listen to the children’s ideas and prompt their thinking when necessary to scaffold or extend their learning. For instance, one group thought they had come to a collective decision and all agreed straight away on who they believed was to blame. I then asked some questions to encourage further reflection and deeper thinking, which instigated a new line of enquiry.
Collaborative learning is something that I ensure is at the heart of every lesson within my class. I group pupils of mixed attainment into groups of four. I always remind children of our talk rules before we begin to discuss our thoughts. This ensures the children are aware of the expectations when discussing their opinions and can do this respectfully.
Using groups of four for collaborative learning - Robert Gardner at Bishop Chadwick Catholic Education Trust
Collaborative learning can be a very productive learning activity for students. However, there is a caveat: it has to be very carefully planned and structured, with very clear timings and very clear stages to the activity, or very clear roles for students who are taking part. Students also have to be very much prepared for the task in terms of their prior knowledge of the topic, if you want them to be successful and successfully engage with the collaborative activity.
There are lots of different ways to set up collaborative activities. I would use something called a Kagan structure in my classroom. Generally two or four students take part in that. I would never really have larger group sizes than four but that is possible obviously.
These collaborative structures have very clear stages and instructions; students work collaboratively towards a common goal. They all have to take part to achieve that goal, but they are doing this in a framework that is very much directed by the teacher in terms of the timing and moving through each stage of the activity.
One example of this is a consensus activity where students aim towards reaching consensus. So, students are given a question or a debating point that they work on alone before they share their ideas together, and then they discuss those ideas with the group at large, with the whole class at large. So for example, with a recent year 10 class, we were working on Macbeth_and I posed the question or the debating point: “Macbeth is a wholly evil character. Discuss”. First the students were asked to work independently, they didn’t communicate with their group colleagues at all at first. They had to think about their key ideas, their initial thoughts, maybe some evidence in response to that question of Macbeth being wholly evil. Once they’ve had that time, which is important, that prior knowledge, activating that prior knowledge was important, once that time was up, I signalled for them to get together in their groups and each of them took turns to share their ideas. Again, that was very much controlled by me through timings. The aim was to stimulate some debate but also to look at any similarities that students might have once they had shared their ideas, in order that they could craft a group consensus in response to that debating point on _Macbeth. When directed, someone from each group acted as a spokesman and they shared their ideas with the class at large, so we had a whole class discussion after the collaborative activity.
The features of this task that made it successful were:
- Every student had a clear role to play
- The task was very structured in terms of timings and when we are moving through each stage
- Students had enough prior knowledge to be able to succesfully engage with the task
- And they were given that little bit of individual time at the very beginning of the task just in order to think about that prior knowledge, to kind of reactivate that prior knowledge, I suppose, before the group consensus We could contrast that very structured approach with something I’ve done in the past which wasn’t successful. I would pose a question to a group, so "discuss this in groups" I would say after I’d given them a topic area. Now, that didn’t give them any struture at all. And I have done this before in the past, I’ll hold my hands up. The students lacked direction; some students did nothing; some students dominate the conversation. They weren’t given time to think about prior knowledge, to activate that prior knowledge, to formulate their ideas. So this task, when I’ve done that in the past, were unsuccessful, a lot of students didn’t benefit from that.
There are lots of different ways you can actually group students. I would tend to group students in terms of ability, but you can have mixed ability groups, based on their prior attainment for instance. You should always bear in mind, whenever you are putting groups together, potential pastoral or behavioural concerns within the group, that is very, very important, those things that could manifest when students are working together.
Using multiple groupings during collaboration - Joseph Craven at Northern Education Trust
Group work can serve a really useful function. It builds on and can help to develop pupils’ confidence, as well as ensuring effective preparatory thinking and planning before any high-stakes questioning or writing.
I use collaborative work frequently but one example of when I have done this is during a year 11 English Literature revision lesson when we were exploring a key question related to the text A Christmas Carol: ‘How is Scrooge presented at the beginning of the novel?’
The pupils were already sitting in mixed attainment groups of four and each had a number 1-4. I started with a ‘Think-Pair-Share’ activity so that pupils had time to individually reflect on the question. I gave them 30 seconds to think and then one minute to write down their own ideas. I then gave them two minutes to discuss their ideas with a partner who was sitting next to them. I then gave them a further four minutes to share their ideas with a partner sitting opposite them, which would then lead to a group discussion where they would hopefully come to a consensus for the answer to that question.
I then wanted the class to explore how Scrooge is presented throughout the whole text. I asked pupils numbered 1 to focus stave (or chapter) 2, pupils numbered 2, to focus on stave 3, pupils numbered 3 to focus on stave 4 and pupils numbered 4 to focus on stave 5. I asked pupils work independently for 2 minutes to bullet point ideas about the presentation of Scrooge in their stave. After that, I asked the Number 1s to move to a designated table at the back of the room, the Number 2s to a table in the middle, the Number 3s to a table also in the middle, and the Number 4s to a table at the front. I always ensure pupils make this transition quickly and quietly so that it doesn’t waste learning time. As pupils have become more familiar with this transition, the routine has become quicker and more efficient.
In their new groups, I gave pupils 5 minutes to share ideas, to pass around their bullet points, to add to their lists and so on. When they are doing this, I circulate the room to support, stretch groups and individual pupils where necessary, focusing on those who require the most support.
When the timer finishes, pupils move back to their original groups and have one minute each to share their notes with the rest of the group. During this phase, it’s quite normal and quite lovely to hear praise, applause and other positive modes of feedback that the pupils give to each other. After this, I took whole-class feedback by asking individuals to share their points and we discussed these as a class.
I find collaboration a great way to scaffold pupils’ learning and have noticed it works best when tasks are well structured, when pupils are familiar with any routines involved and when pupils have the prior knowledge required to meaningfully engage with the tasks set.
Gradually removing scaffolding
Whilst it is important to provide scaffolds when first setting up independent practice, it is important that you remove those scaffolds over time to increase the challenge and ensure pupils develop complete independence.
Choose one of the videos below to listen as a teacher talks through an example of how they removed scaffolding over time to increase pupil independence.
Removing scaffolding in Primary maths - Debra Ridley at Extol Academy Trust
When revising multiplying and dividing by 10, 100 and 1000, I noticed that a small group of pupils were still struggling to grasp this concept, particularly when decimals were involved. The scaffold I used was a number slider so that when working out a calculation, the pupils could use the scaffold to see what was actually happening to the place value of the digits when being multiplied or divided.
This is the scaffold I used (presenter shows number slider).
While the pupils were using the slider, I asked them questions to check and deepen their understanding, such as: what has happened to the value of the numbers? Which direction are they moving in? How many places do they need to move and how do you know? These questions helped to scaffold pupils learning by breaking down the process into small components so they could understand each step.
After they had used the slider, I asked the pupils to record the calculation in their books and then write the answer directly underneath it. Their answer was then represented in the squares on the page as well as on the slider. It was at this point I asked them to look at the squares in their maths books and we discussed how the movement of the digits could also be represented by the squares.
By transitioning from the concrete tool – the slider – to the use of the squares in a maths book, I reduced the level of scaffold given to pupils. Using squares in the maths book made pupils think harder about the direction the numbers should move and by how many places they should be moved because they no longer had the concrete resource to rely on.
It’s important that scaffolds like this are eventually removed entirely, as pupils need to be able to answer questions like this independently, to ensure they fully master the concept and skill.
After independent practice, the pupils were able to be confident in multiplying and dividing by 10, 100 and 1000 without a concrete resource. They now use the squares in their maths books as a guide if they need to and, when doing this without squared paper, they know they can quickly draw a grid, like this one (show an example of the grid) if necessary, to help them ‘move’ the digits. The use of a concrete tool transitioned to a mental strategy that pupils can draw upon when needed.
Removing scaffolding in Secondary MFL - Joanna Macaulay at Northern Education Trust
Both within a lesson and throughout a series of lessons, it is important that there is a logical progression. This often takes the form of initially presenting new information through explanations and models, then practicing new material and skills in a collaborative way, before providing pupils time for independent work. Throughout this process scaffolding should be provided and then eventually removed as pupils’ knowledge develops and they require a greater level of challenge. To support pupils to be successful in their work, I try to be consistent in the strategies and structures I use to explain key concepts. I find this helps to build pupils’ confidence and consequently increase their levels of motivation.
When teaching pupils how to write in French I break it down into its components parts by first teaching them the key structures that build a basic sentence, then how to extend a simple sentence, and finally how to construct paragraphs and extended pieces of writing.
When teaching these components, I initially provide pupils with a scaffold to support their practice. These scaffolds might be writing frames to support with sentence structure or vocabulary prompts to support with translation. Pupils can use the vocabulary prompts to change key components in the writing frame, such as using different adjectives, verbs, connectives and opinions.
Then, during guided and independent practice, pupils use these writing frames and vocabulary prompts to support them to construct their own sentences whilst following the correct grammatical structures.
Over time, I reduce the level of support provided in the writing frame by removing the amount of words or structures given, and I then challenge pupils to recall the structures from their memory which helps to build their learning and independence until eventually they no longer require writing structures to support them.
What is important to note in this example is that the principle of progression from formulating basic sentences to extending sentences into paragraphs remains the same. Once these structures are stored in the pupil’s long-term memory, they can recall them and draw upon them when learning about new topics or vocabulary. Using the same writing frames and structures each time supports all pupils, particularly those who are lower attaining in French, as it allows for increased practice and therefore increased success.
Removing scaffolding in Secondary history - Alex Fairlamb at Bishop Chadwick Catholic Education Trust
One example of when I used scaffolding and then gradually removed it was when I tasked my pupils with answering a source utility question. This is one of the more complex History skills as it requires pupils to study sources and determine how useful they are for a given enquiry by evaluating both their content and source. Therefore, I scaffolded learning by first modelling how to approach answering a question like this and then gradually removed this scaffold throughout the lesson.
To begin with, I broke down the question for them into its component parts by using a technique called ‘RUSS the question’ – ‘Read it, underline it, summarise it, then solve it.’ I then began to use ‘Think Aloud’ to model unpacking what the question is asking. For example, by saying “What does ‘How’ mean – I know from previous lessons that it means you’re required to give a judgement.”
I then began to model how to structure the response. First of all, I modelled checking the question and mapping out where the different components would appear in my answer by saying things like:
“What are the key words in the question? What do those key words mean and what therefore is the question asking me to do? I’m going to now summarise the question by making a checklist for this question so that I can ensure that I have included everything that it is asking of me – I must include: three paragraphs, evidence from my own knowledge, and I must include explanation."
After this, I began to model completing the task, demonstrating my metacognition by thinking aloud about what I was doing, how and why. During this stage of the lesson, I began to remove scaffolding and support by asking pupils to contribute as I modelled completing the task. This enabled me to guide and support their responses. Once I felt pupils were secure in their understanding of how to answer this question, I tasked pupils with independent practice.
For the independent practice, I provided pupils with a partially completed example to continue to scaffold their responses. This further reinforced their understanding of the different elements of the question and ensured their thinking was focused around the key learning points.
So throughout the lesson, I gradually removed the scaffold of teacher support to increase pupil independence. During independent practise, pupils were not expected to work entirely without scaffolds and instead were given a partially completed example because I knew they would require some form of support. However, over time, depending on the pupil and their progress, I began to remove scaffolds for source utility questions. I began by transitioning from a partially completed example to using checklists to support and prompt pupils’ cognitive and metacognitive processes. Once pupils had internalised the structure and processes involved in the question, I was able to remove the checklists entirely. The speed at which this was done varied for different pupils to suit their differing needs. To further support pupil independence, I ensure I consistently use the same structures when answering questions.
I always challenge pupils to progress to independence – the scaffolding must begin to come down at some point, but when appropriate. Don’t be fearful to put scaffolds back into place if errors are made and it is required.
The level of scaffold and the length of time you provide pupils with will depend on the task and the pupil’s current understanding. Therefore, it will most likely look different for different pupils. This will be explored further in module five.
Guided and independent practice will be observed in your next mentor meeting. To help you to prepare for this, identify the lesson you will teach and spend the next 15 minutes planning to include effective practice.
When planning guided practice, remember to consider:
- what will pupils need to know prior to guided practice? This will inform what to include in your explanations and modelling
- what key teaching points will the guided practice focus on? These will be the parts pupils are asked to contribute to.
- what methods or strategies will you utilise? E.g. thinking aloud, partially completed examples
- how does guided practice build on from your explanation and modelling?
- how does this guided practice prepare pupils for their independent activity?
You could also refer to last week’s online study materials and reflect on your previous mentor meeting to support you.
When planning independent practice remember to:
- plan a practice activity focused around the material pupils have learnt, ensuring they have the required knowledge to complete the task
- provide further guides and scaffolds where appropriate
- if using collaboration, consider how you set pupils up for this to ensure it is successful.
Below are some additional resources that you might find useful in supporting your classroom practice:
The importance of independent practice - Primary
Listen to Sharon Stevenson talk about the importance of independent practice in primary
Independent practice in Key Stage One builds pupils confidence and enables the teacher to make an assessment on strategies pupils are using and to gain an understanding of what pupils have learnt. The teacher knows what pupils interests are and where challenge or support is needed to revisit a particular concept that maybe proving tricky for pupils.
The teacher needs to be clear on expected learning outcomes and the steps needed through scaffolding. This will ensure pupils are ready and prepared for working independently with success. pupils’ resilience to work independently and the desire to achieve is key in this area. The teacher should ensure relationships with all pupils are strong, consistent and respectful in order for the pupils to develop confidence in their learning within the classroom environment.
The teacher needs to take risks often to allow pupils to make mistakes and to create a culture of risk taking as a way of the pupils learning and remembering more. Pupils should be encouraged to attempt tasks and challenges on their own when they are ready but also reassured that they can ask for help, clarification and support as and when required.
Teachers make judgements on individual pupil performance during independent tasks throughout every lesson based on observation, marking of work and through questioning. This will inform the teacher which pupils are confident to work with independence and those who still require encouragement and further scaffolding.
It is important to review and discuss independent learning with pupils in order for them to further develop confidence and to ensure they have opportunities to reflect on their own learning. This feeds into assessment for learning so the teacher can make adjustments in planning to ensure all pupils achieve.
Independent practice in secondary - Joanna Macaulay at Northern Education Trust
Listen to Joanna Macaulay talk about the importance of independent practice in secondary
The ability of pupils to apply their learning in a new context is the benchmark that something has been learnt. According to Hattie, “learning is the process of developing sufficient surface knowledge to then move to a deeper understanding such that one can appropriately transfer this learning to new tasks and situations”. Independent practice is used to develop this deeper understanding.
In order to prepare your pupils for independent practice and to help them achieve meaningful success, you should provide clear explanations and models to develop the pupils’ understanding of necessary foundational knowledge and skills.
When pupils are engaging in independent practice, you should be the ‘thermostat’ in the room. You should provide assessment opportunities to identify when to turn the temperature up and increase the level of challenge given to pupils, and when to turn the temperature down and provide additional support or even re-teach material to help pupils master challenging content.
Independent practice is the long-term goal for all teachers because it is the point in the teaching cycle where teachers can accurately access if pupils “have got it”.