Independent Learning at Joanne Todd Christian School

There has been a great amount of confusion in the past regarding the philosophy of “Independent Learning” at Joanne Todd Christian School and how it relates to our educational model.  We have had to clear up several misconceptions between parents, teachers, and students as to what exactly independent learning is and what that means for our students.  To have a positive and healthy academic environment our educational philosophy is clearly stated with any and all questions answered in a timely and concise manner.  So without further ado, let us explore what independent learning is, what it is not, the outcomes, and how we can achieve them together.

Independent learning is an educational model that looks to foster the growth of flexible and critical thinkers.  How does each student best learn the material presented?  How does the student process the information and make connections between current and past data that allows them to draw logical and rational conclusions?  Of course this looks different at varying ages and levels of development, but the goals are the same.

One of these goals is to move the learning process beyond the classroom by sparking the student’s curiosity.  Our world is God’s creation, it declares His Glory, it shows His handiwork (Ps 19:1), and through the student’s interaction with creation, learning is an everyday activity.  By encouraging the student to translate their classroom education to the entirety of life’s experiences, what they learn becomes more concrete and through this they learn to observe, ask questions, and formulate ideas while exploring God’s classroom.

Because of this, we want the student to focus not only on the goal of learning, but on the process as well.  The student should develop a concept of time management and organization that allows them to grow into mature and productive adults.  When students learn not only to organize their time but also their thoughts, they are learning skills that are highly valued in the workplace.  These skills lead to an individual’s sense of control and responsibility over the outcome of their education.

Some Important Characteristics of Independent Learning

While we here at JTCS have modified the independent learning model to better fit our particular situation, there are some truths that are inherent in the philosophy:

  • As stated before, it allows students to take charge of their learning
  • Encourages effective questioning and dialogue
  • Helps students to make informed choices regarding learning activities with planning, support, and guidance from teachers
  • Promotes curiosity, passion, inspiration, discernment, self-motivation, self-accountability, critical thinking, and persistence
  • Above all it instructs the students in Learning how to Learn

What Independent Learning is Not

Many think that independent learning is where the student is independent from the teacher.  This could not be further from the truth here at Joanne Todd Christian School.  Our teachers, aides, and volunteers take an active part in the overall development and maturation of the students under our care.  With that in mind, independent learning:

  • Is NOT a student working on their own without any supervision
  • Is NOT less teacher guidance
  • Is NOT using technology without a clear sense of focus and direction

This approach to learning is not one where we throw the children to the wolves…..they are not handed a text and told, “Here, learn this and get back to me.”  Each student is different and will need a certain level of differentiated instruction in order for them to maximize their potential.  This instruction may include extra class time, out of school tutoring, and/or developing an individualized learning plan for the student.

We will do whatever it takes to help the student along on their educational journey from kindergarten to young adulthood and while the grading system is used to reflect the student’s grasp of the material, it is not the only thing to consider.

Some Important Considerations

Therefore, Independent Learning is not a myopic view of education that solely focuses on grades.  We do test and record grades and want your children to excel in this area, but the following should also be considered:

  • Has the student matured since coming to JTCS?
  • Are they being prepared mentally, emotionally, and spiritually for adulthood?
  • Have they shown a willingness to learn on their own?
  • Is there personal growth apart from academics that is evident?
  • Has their ability to communicate improved?

Our Responsibilities as Families

As stated above, independent learning is not the total independence of students from educators.  The Biblical model of education begins with the family.  Is education important in our homes?  Is learning encouraged simply for the sake of learning?  Is a love of learning being promoted and nurtured in our young people?  These questions can only be answered by those in the home. Therefore, learning is not confined to the walls of the school, but is a profound life experience shared by family and friends.

Our Responsibilities as Educators

However, we as educators have responsibilities to our parents and students that are upheld.  First, teachers display a passion and drive to lead the learning and model intellectual curiosity. We must not only ask the right questions in regards to the material, but also in regards to each student.  Are they struggling?  How can we better serve them?  Are they excelling?  How can we better challenge them?  Are there issues outside of school hours affecting how they learn?  Then how can we better support both our students and their families?

We must have positive relationships with our students.  These positive relationships between teacher and student are not  confused with the worldly concept of continual self-affirmation.  Not everything our students do is praise-worthy and therefore sometimes discipline is in order.  When teachers discipline a student, it should be corrective in nature and  lead to a growing respect between student, faculty, and families that results in relationships based upon mutual trust and a shared responsibility for learning.

We need to provide proper feedback in a timely manner.  How is a student to learn the proper way of doing things unless we show them where they have made errors? This does not squelch imagination and creativity in the student, but should direct and focus their God-given abilities in the right direction.  Praise for doing well and correction when in error are not mutually exclusive, but are two sides of the same coin.  Teachers encourage their students for their efforts while not glossing over mistakes in conjunction with proper instruction.

Teachers are to ask the right questions in order to elicit independent thinking in the students.  This guided learning is imperative to setting the learner on the path of life-long critical thinking.

  • How should this problem be solved?
  • Is there a better way to accomplish the desired goal?
  • What motivates people to do the things they do?
  • How can we not repeat the mistakes of history?
  • How can what we are learning not only improve our lives, but the lives of those around us?
  • Why do we even need to learn this?
Wrapping it up

In conclusion, independent learning is a wonderful way to induce students to learn the very important skill of critical thinking.  It also leads them to take ownership of the results of their labors all the while showing them that learning is not confined to the schoolhouse.  It must also be remembered that teachers play a vital role in maximizing the students learning and developing the skills that are necessary to succeed.

What do you think?