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Self-Sufficient Students

316634_5783.jpgRecently, one of the other teachers sent the following email out to everyone at my campus:

Self-sufficient – able to take care of your own needs without help from others

Colleagues, over the next several weeks I will be using some of my sponge time to explore the idea of self-sufficiency in school and at home. We have already learned the definition and brainstormed some examples. Now I am soliciting ideas from you.

  1. If you had to name one or two ways in which you wish your students were more self-suffcient, what would it be?
  2. If you have been successful in teaching your students to be more self-sufficient in school, what method did you use?

My personal response was:

The primary thing that I do in establishing self-sufficiency is to not give them all of the answers. If they ask me something, I ask them how they can find out the answer. Whether that be finding a fingering chart to figure out how to play a note, asking a friend for help (peer tutoring), or helping them better learn how to use online resources or search engines.

My question to you is, how would you answer him? What are some ways that you encourage your students to develop self-sufficiency?

Joel Wagner
Joel Wagner (<strong><a href="">@sywtt</a></strong>) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. <strong><a href="">So You Want To Teach?</a></strong> is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

7 thoughts on “Self-Sufficient Students

  1. Picture this if you will: 20 3-year-olds donning snow gear with their 20 hats, 40 gloves, 40 boots, 20 pairs of snowpants, 40 shoes and a random amount of scarves or neck warmers in a 10 x 10 coat room. It is an interesting affair to say the very least. As a 3-year-old teacher, this was something that we did everyday they had school.

    To help them become self-sufficient I prepared them in several different ways. I gave very specific directions including the order each piece of gear was to be donned. The teacher that is currently in that position also made a visual reminder of the order. I required them to try on their own before asking for help. It is amazing how many students are successful after trying. It is also rewarding to see a student accomplish something she thought she couldn’t do. I would also have efficient peers help others. I am sure there are many other ways.

    I am looking forward to getting to be back in a 3-year-old classroom any day now in the midst of the lovely winter season.

  2. Oh, I forgot to mention thank you so much Joel for starting this conversation! I am looking forward to learning more about making my students more self-sufficient.

  3. I too don’t believe in giving answers. My usual question back to them is, “What exactly didn’t you understand. Show me.” Then they usually figure out the answer. I would like them to read the page and instructions before relying on others to tell them what to do. My students don’t read directions. They just start and then can’t figure it out. I would like them to be responsible for their homework too. One of my students threw her report card away because she hadn’t turned any work in and she was getting bad grades. Her Mom called and I sent another one home plus a copy of her assignments from the grade pro. Should be an eye opener.

  4. High-stakes ELA testing next week and practice/review this past week bring this answer – when my 7th grade students ask for help to interpret a word or question or answer choice, I try to explain how they can figure it out, such as using context clues, eliminating choices, etc. After all, it’s (mostly) a reading test.

    I think the principle of self-sufficiency applies in the testing scenario and also in student independent reading. I train students and employ strategies (such as book talks, student reviews) so they learn how to choose good books to read for the sake of enjoyment and learning. I start with our own interests and skills, “make” us share with each other, thus expose us to various genres/subjects.

    Love your website!

  5. I don’t give my students all of the answers. Part of my Spanish teacher persona is to go into over-drive when students ask me how to say this, that and third. It’s like I am pre-wired to automatically spew out the answer. However, more and more, when they want to know a word, I sat, “Búscala”, which means, “Look it up.” They know what to do when I say it. The other challenge is helping them to use a bilingual Spanish-English dictionary corretly; they’re coming along. I also encourage other students to share their knowlege. When a student says, “How do I pluralize such and such a word?”, I’ll throw the question out to the class. At least one student knows the answer. Students are really very good teachers.

    Anyway, the aforementioned highlight just two things I do to help promote self-reliance, at least in the foreign language classroom.

  6. Ummm i’m in a conundrum – sometimes the “go away and find out” method is abit tedious and i’m a big advocate of telling the answer, coupled with the truth and sandwiched around some extra info which i may have.

    Self sufficiency comes with knowing where to find information, how to find it, and then what to do with it. If you build a good foundation of knowledge which allows them to do that, then you wouldnt need to worry about them bothering you all the time.

    as for 3 or 4 yr olds… You cant make them self sufficient at that age! c’mon even if the kid is a teenager – the answers you give them and the way you deliver it should a)keep the line of enquiry alive and ultimately b)give them the part they need to finish off what they wanted to know.

    anyway i say this becuase i was an impatient kid and still am a semi impatient person, one of my best teachers only gave answers and instilled a good ethos of his into me, dont just get an answer, but be able to verify it and test it for your own understanding. Because being given everything on a plate is not the way life works out in the real world but at the same time, when in the company of those who can futher your knowledge, work with them and help them but when it comes to ‘do’ what you ahve learnt, then the only teacher and verifier of your answer is ultimately yourself.

    Agree or disagree, but i am always forthright with my answers and this was a real sticking point when i was at school, i hated when the teachers said look it up. Sometimes you just cant find it – and maybe it was the day n time n whatever else but seriously – people ask questions and as a teacher, you should teach.

    If you refer them to a book or a set of journals etc, then you could very well say that the day is coming sooner where the books and libraries are the knowlege and the place of learning whilst these things called teachers only ever served the purpose of telling the young’un’s to go to the place of knowledge.

    To me, a teacher is the embodiment of learning through others experiance of that information ( by reading the book etc) whilst it is upto the student to once again… rediscover what the teacher conveyed, so that they may too have experience.

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