Teachers need to maximise independent practice in the classroom to ensure students can rehearse their literacy skills, according to literacy expert Sharon Callen.
On Episode 41 of The Teacher’s Tool Kit for Literacy, Sharon said high impact independent practice allows students to truly grasp the content and skills.
“Independent practice is time for learning. It’s about focused practice. When we’re practising as a reader, we are practicing reading. And when we’re practicing as a writer, we’re practising those things within writing,” Sharon said.
“No matter what it is that we are learning, we need time to practise it. And we need to know what it is we are practising, we need to know what does that feel like to do it? We need to be able to reflect on that to go ‘oh that’s not working’ so that we can adjust and try again and work it out. So we’re not just being told how it works, but feeling it, understanding it, experiencing it, reflecting on it.”
With such a great influence on the development of students’ skills, Sharon said independent practice should occur daily and take up majority of the overall lesson.
“We actually need a chance to practise those things every day. Not just once a week, not just every now and then, but every day because that’s what good readers and good writers do,” she said.
“If I do a Mini Lesson and then they don’t get to do anything with it, what’s the point of the Mini Lesson?
“I want to make that distinction that reading practice isn’t doing activities about reading – it’s real reading. If reading practice is looking like a worksheet, and that worksheet might be answering some questions about a book, that isn’t reading practice.
“So we want to be thinking about what is it, whatever strategies and skills we are teaching, how do they work as we are reading? Same with writing, how do they work? So our Mini Lesson is an explanation and demonstration of those things in practice. If it’s a reading Mini Lesson, we are explaining and demonstrating an action as we are reading text and the teacher is encouraging the student to practise along.”
Sharon also explained that while this process can be done at home, the classroom allows teachers to confer with students and ensure the independent practice always links back to the Mini Lesson and shared sections of the lesson.
“Yes, we can practise at home, but our job as teacher is we should be able to have our eyes and ears on them as they’re practising. How are those efforts going? So our teaching actually doesn’t stop at the Mini Lesson,” she said.
“So during my roving conferences during that independent practice time, what do I notice we need more of? So my Mini Lessons aren’t going to be different every day. I want to get better and better at those things that I’m practising. And it isn’t just that they’re practising that one thing. We want them to be integrating all these things that we’re practising.
“I often talk about independent practice being at its most effective and successful when it is wrapped with that Mini Lesson and the share. And while it is the biggest chunk of that time, it’s most powerful when it is totally connected to that explanation and demonstration [the Mini Lesson] and that opportunity to reflect on my own independent practice, even if I’m not sharing that out loud and I’ve just written a little reflection of my own learning that day.”
A successful independent practice session also requires an open culture to be established in the classroom which pushes students to have a go.
“We have a culture in our class. Our independent practice can be private, but it’s helping us to grow. So, the feedback that we get from the teacher in the room as they confer with us or hold us for a little bit longer when they see we need a little more with practice, it allows us to be sent off with a confidence from our teacher and in ourselves to say ‘yes I can give this a go’,” Sharon said.
“Students can go ‘I’m not going to fall down such a big hole that I’ll be lost’. There is a confidence too to challenge myself to try this and go further than I’ve been before.”
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