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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Kids need to learn independently and together

Learning online taught her students to be independent, resourceful and productive, writes Kyle Redford, who teaches fifth grade at a private school in the San Francisco Bay Area. But they forgot how to learn together.

In fall 2020, many of the students in her Zoom Room were "independent learning superstars," writes Redford. "I was struck by their appetite for independent challenges and their flexibility, resourcefulness, problem-solving skills, and self-discipline."

Those without learning challenges, family issues or inadequate technology became self-directed learners, she writes. "Once their schedules had been cleared of typical schoolwork and after-school activities, they had discovered — or rediscovered — a multitude of interests worthy of their time, energy, and focus."

Her 2021-22 students were even more independent. But when they returned to class, they faltered.

They struggled to listen to each other in discussion. They failed to explore below the surface of content and ideas in lessons and discussions. Their empathy for the characters in the whole-class novels we read was minimal, and their implicit understanding of texts was weak. Observations were shallow. Curiosity was almost non-existent — and so was enjoyment in learning.
. . . For these distance-learning whiz kids, the learning process had become driven by wanting to get the work done quickly so they could get back to playing video games, living online, or doing whatever they liked to do in their "free time."

She worked on teaching students to discuss and connect ideas.

For the year's final project, each student chose and researched a subject, then created a children's picture book about it. "They shared their research, debated text structures, and offered composition ideas . . . bouncing ideas off one another," writes Redford. Their "capacity for independence made them strong researchers, and their renewed collaboration skills helped them interact with each other in generative ways while remaining focused on their individual projects."

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