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Promoting Young Students' Independence & Confidence

Instructor: Sharon Linde
Though every child begins to develop a sense of self before entering a classroom, a teacher plays an important role in encouraging the growth of autonomy. In this lesson, we will discuss appropriate strategies for building students' independence and confidence.

Building Autonomy

Effective teachers understand that all children are different. Each child is unique, learning and developing in his or her own way. They know that varying elements in a student's life, such as personality, culture, and learning style, or the way a child uses and makes sense of information, means they need to offer myriad learning opportunities. In other words, successful teachers know how to design and manage learning environments that support and challenge all learners while encouraging development.

One aspect teachers need to focus on is the development of student autonomy, or self-sufficiency as displayed through independence, confidence and interdependence. Children with strong autonomy skills are able to make choices for themselves, are sure of themselves as individuals, and feel comfortable letting their preferences be known. In a kindergarten classroom, for example, a child with autonomy might know where pencils are kept, how to sharpen them, and when it is a good time to do so.

Building Independence

Children learn about their world and themselves through their experiences. In school, students learn about how to interact with peers and adults and navigate the classroom. When students visit different learning centers, areas in the classroom designed to allow students to practice their skills, they reinforce their knowledge through their experiences.For example, When a young child tries to pour milk into a cup, he learns about how to tilt the pitcher and aim the stream of milk so that it goes into the cup and not on the table.

Keith is a kindergarten teacher who wants to build confidence and independence in his students. By providing experiences that foster autonomy, his students gain a sense of independence, or a feeling that they can rely on themselves. This helps them feel more empowered and instills a growing sense of confidence. For example, if a student in Keith's classroom breaks a pencil during math, her sense of independence allows her to solve the problem without his help.

Appropriate Experiences

Keith wants to provide activities that his students' confidence and allow them to make autonomous choices. To do this, he needs to design learning activities that are both individually and age-appropriate. What does this mean?

Age-appropriate activities are those in which a typical student can find success. For example, in his kindergarten classroom, Keith will introduce basic number skills and work on one-to-one correspondence. This is an age-appropriate skill, as most students in his class know and recognize numbers and can count to ten. A skill like counting coins, however, would not be age-appropriate as students are not developmentally ready for the complex concepts needed for this skill.

Individually appropriate activities are those that consider each child's unique aspects such as personal interests, learning styles, and level of development. When designing learning activities to support number sense, for example, Keith can make sure he provides manipulatives for students who learn best by touching and moving objects.

By making sure experiences are appropriate, Keith helps his students build independence. Teachers can help foster independence and confidence in young students by providing choices and giving them real responsibilities. Let's take a closer look at how this works.

Providing Young Children Choices

Providing opportunities for students to make choices allows them to feel independent. Keith gives his students choices during 'center time,' when they are able to choose the activities they want to participate in. He also gives them choices throughout the day in simple ways, such as letting them choose where to sit during 'story time' and finding their own places when they line up to go to the cafeteria. He lets them know that he trusts them to make smart choices and is there to help if they need it. By communicating his faith in them, he also builds a sense of interdependence, showing students that they can also rely on one another.

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