Independent studies a working document (Brett Wilkin 2012)

Theory of Independent Studies.

Independent studies can be operated at many different levels from Prathom 3 or 4 up to University level. The strength of these studies is in their ability to extend students and make them think.
Traditional classrooms didactic teaching style is known to dampen a student’s desire to learn where as activities such as Independent Studies have been shown to enhance a student’s desire to learn and the students become more involved with their own education at a thinking level.

Independent studies also teach students how to learn without the needs for teachers later on in life (life long learning). Students can make big steps to becoming an autonomous learner through Independent studies. Correctly run students get the feeling that studies are for everything and to find out about things is fun. When the topic is stipulated or guided, students get the feeling that all study is just work.
 The web site teaching expertise has this to say about the importance of what an Independent Study can do for the student. Independent learning skills promote pupils' ability in reviewing, recording and reflecting on their learning. They also encourage independence in problem-solving, decision-making and organization. However, they take time to establish and, for many pupils, require deliberate teaching and modeling.

Any doubts as to why Independent Studies should be an integral part of Education.

 Watch the video.

The Essence of an Independent Study.

The essence of an Independent study is, it is the students study not the teachers the students study not the teachers. The decision-making processes are the students and the teacher has to stop teaching and act as a facilitator. The essential goals are the teachers but it is important to give the students as much ownership of these goals as possible so they also have to own the responsibility (To learn responsibility you have to be given responsibility).

The best Independent studies do not need to concentrate on a topic. The topic can be of a student’s personal interest. It is the quality, style and type of presentation at the end that is the most important. To put it another way it is the process rather than the topic that is important. The learning the students can gain is also amplified by letting them have control over the topic. There are many issues for learning here, one is to have some control over your destiny (in this case some control of their life in the classroom) and the concept of anything is worthy of research and learning, even the things a students sees as fun not school work.

Guided Learning.

Guided Learning is the prime role of the teacher in conducting Independent Studies. The teacher has to ask guiding questions to make the students develop the solutions to their own problems. (Guided learning is not giving direct instruction).

The student’s role.

The students’ role is to establish goals and how they are going to show evidence of their understanding of the topic/s. The topics could be an hypothesis Big Idea or skill (e.g. genres in writing). The problem for the student is what is evidence and how do they show evidence of understanding.

Objective Big Idea or Hypothesis.

First of all the aims and objectives have to be established, traditionally these relate to the Governments aims for education and then the established school curriculum.
To put it another way, why are you doing the independent study and what do you intend to get out of it. It may be the government has stated students are to understand Thai culture and history, or you are trying to teach the students the importance of reading skills. Don;t forget the more stipulated the topic is the less of an Independent study it is and the more a research project it becomes.

The Independent study can be topic orientated or skill orientated. The skill orientation method is for the results or evidences to show understanding of specific skills. For example, the student has to understand the place of literature in peoples lives. The assessment could involve evidences of different Genres. The topic can then have a focus on something the student is interested in such as comic books adn in the assessment the student can be assessed on their understanding of different genres.


Giving the students a lesson on the rivers of Thailand is not conducive to Independent study. However, having the students Brain Storming or mind mapping a project based on the rivers of Thailand past present and future and their importance to Thai culture, could be a good Independent Study. Within the guidelines for assessment the students may have to present evidences of different writing genres combined with auditory and visual evidences. The students would become active learners as opposed to passive recipients of knowledge that will be forgotten in the next week after the exam. The main issue for the teacher is not to become too restrictive in the guidelines so the initiatives are taken away from the students to simply form another teacher centered classroom.


The teacher introduces the Study and explains to the students that the independent study is a requirement of the curriculum, not a requirement of the teacher. In this way any angst the students who are having problems with the study will be directed as more against the governments requirements and the teacher will maintain a much more affective working relationship with the students. The students will see the teacher in the role of someone actively helping them so they can show results to some other more important body. This working relationship is very important to capitalize on as it extends the teachers effectiveness.

The teacher should not state, give me a project on dance in Thai culture.
As an example the students should get something like, show me evidence of how Thai culture has affected and will affect Thai’s, What is the result of that now and what is the future of Thai culture.

Evidences of understanding.

Consider: The past was, the present is, and the future could be.

How to show evidence.

To show evidence of understanding the student would need to present their information in several different formats and each format should be supporting each other in evolving demonstration of understanding.
For example when teaching writing styles. The independent study has to show understanding of several different genres. One of the presentations could be a play using a script; another could be a critic of the play. Another presentation could be a movie of the play and yet another could be a lecture about the implications of the play with lecture notes.


When the teacher introduces the study, it is in terms of questions based on the students initial and developing planning.
'How are you going to show evidence of this’?
‘How are you going to show understanding of this'?
‘What can you do to show me you understand'?
Structure your goals (Mind mapping is good here).
Structure the goals so there is a relationship to all 4 Hermann Brain Dominance this should mean the student is training the whole brain and also relate the final product back to Learning styles of, aural, kinesthetic and visual presentations.

All of this would be tailored to suit the age group as this is predominately for older students.

To link to Brain Dominance, assessment will typically include the concepts of Organisation and structure (green dominance) and relationship to people and humanities (red dominance). For the blue and yellow dominance's, assessment would be related to specific goals (blue dominance) and art, culture and global issues for the yellow dominance. Economics global warming Thai health your relationship to the bigger picture are all typical yellow brain thinking. This can be part of the process of the study so that all students get to work in their preferred Brain Dominance and Learning styles. This becomes an affective tool if the I.S. is a group project with a group focus. Once again this wuuld tend to be for older groups.

The teacher will need to lay some ground work as to what is evidence, evidence will be things such as the theory and practice, what does it look like, what will it look like. Some of the best evidence comes from future concepts such as what can it do for us in the future. Where else can it be used? Are there any other ways it can be utilized? A good hypothesis helps here as well if it is not to limiting to the students thoughts.

Implementation Rules of Engagement.

Goals established and rules of engagement established then process needs to stated.

  • Your study is to show evidence of.........skills in.......about .....and.....
  • No two evidences are to be the same.......plagiarism checked..............
  • Submit an application for the study.........must contain a time line of the students making.......................
  • All work is automatically checked for plagiarism (copied work).

Reference all work.
Assessments can be a combination that includes peer assessment as this helps develop critical evaluation and thinking skills. The planning can be in groups of 3 but all evidences submitted can be individual work if individuality is required. The groups are good for helping each other and discussing ideas.
Brainstorm ideas of based on topics and how to show evidences of understanding. This can be in groups of 3 (optional) ... social learning is a very powerful learning tool.

Note: Application to study. In the class of the Learning Management example for this website the students were required to produce an application to study. For these older students it was their first I.S. and they thought it was free time :). To ensure there that the sense of direction for study was appropriate the application to study was a planning document for the teacher to get a sense of the students ideas. 

The students will produce a document as an application to study. Upload the document to the eLearn course for approval and feedback. Extensive use is made of a LMS (learning management system) as this helps simplify the extensive feedback and redirection needed to assist students doing Independent studies for the first time. This process also facilitates the negotiations with the teacher in English in an EFL environment.

Teacher will approve/not approve study and ask guiding questions as to how the student proposal shows evidence of understanding. Teacher will ask questions as to how the student intends to present their study. (Keep in mind Brain Dominance's and Learning Styles). Working.
Students will now start developing their arguments and evidences.

Methodology in the classroom.

It is very important the teacher does not slip into telling the student as this immediately slips from a ‘Student Centred Classroom’ to a ‘teacher Centred classroom’. It also creates the problem of the student doing what they think the teacher wants to see as opposed to solving the question of how to show evidence.

Important: Guiding questions.

Guiding questions should show the student the way, not teacher statements as to expectations.

Expectations should have been clearly established at the beginning when the guidelines were established, or altered the next time the Independent study is given. The guiding questions could be like 'what were our original goals we established? Which goal relates to your question?

Presentation of evidences. In the case of use in this Learning Management activity.

Students will have at least

  • • One visual presentation (Acting, movie etc). Peer assessment.
  • • One spoken presentation (Lecture, poetry, reading of story ie original work), Teacher assessment via rubric.
  • • One written presentation (A study on ?? for the class to read and assess.) Self assessment with critic.
  • • One graphic presentation. (Poster, in depth visual timeline with graphs etc. A cartoon story about topic. A newspaper article that illustrates your evidences. Peer assessment,
  • • A presentation to the community.

Community assessment.

Assessments will involve.

  • How your project relates to people and community.
  • How the structure and order of your evidences in the presentations demonstrates understanding.
  • Whether understanding is achieved through the goals or original hypothesis.
  • Understanding being reached by relating to the bigger issues such as environment health national education etc.


Students = develop goals and objectives for evidence with references
Teacher = facilitator and helper.

Supporting comments.
This article looks at increasing the first of these attributes, namely developing increasing pupil independence in learning. Independent learning skills are an essential preparation for life and for transition to, and success in, vocational, college or HE courses. Independent learning skills promote pupils' ability in reviewing, recording and reflecting on their learning. They also encourage independence in problem-solving, decision-making and organisation. However, they take time to establish and, for many pupils, require deliberate teaching and modelling. Therefore if pupils are to become actively involved in increasing their independence in their own learning, they need firstly to acquire the ability to learn how to learn.


The role of the teacher

Teachers need to set and clarify learning objectives, expectations and boundaries and to share these with pupils. They need to assist students to acquire the knowledge, skills and understanding and plan structured opportunities in which to demonstrate, practise and apply these skills and to reflect and build on their learning. This may require consideration of strategies and procedures to increase flexibility so that the curriculum:

  • • is delivered through a varied but balanced range of teaching methods (e.g. didactic, active and experiential)
  • • meets the needs of all learning styles (e.g. visual, aesthetic, kinaesthetic, reflective, theoretical, pragmatic and active)
  • • helps pupil to make connections with other learning by breaking large tasks into manageable steps and demonstrating the relevance of what is being learnt, now and in the future
  • • encourages pupils to participate by ensuring they understand outcomes and have opportunities to review, record and reflect on their progress
  • • supports assessment for learning through teacher, peer or self-assessment.


Learning to learn demands a solution-focused approach to classroom tasks and determination to overcome obstacles. It requires pupils to be empowered to influence the way in which they approach and complete their learning. This suggests trust between teacher and student and a sharing of identified targets that are negotiated and agreed. Learning to learn increases the responsibility upon the pupil to accept their role in directing their learning; and for pupils who are familiar to more didactic schooling, this may appear unstructured. However, it can lead to greater engagement with learning, reduce disaffection and support skills for learning throughout life.

For elementary and junior high, it is sometimes a GATE study where the student receives a packet and must research their topic and formulate and answer questions. At the end, they develop and present a product, although not all GATE systems participate in this action. (GATE = Gifted and Talented Education{BW})

School districts cannot force students into independent study programs; students and parents choose this type of study on their own. Independent study programs are designed to help students who have health problems, are parents, are gifted, are working, or who find that regular classroom settings do not meet their needs.

Teaching Gifted Students Through Independent Study
by Susan K. Johnsen and Krystal K. Goree ‘Most students might define an independent study in the same way as this 3rd grader, but it is much more than reading books and writing papers. Independent studies may be used for solving community problems; uncovering new questions; writing histories; and, most importantly, helping a student create a lifelong love affair with learning’.


Any doubts about why Independent Studies should be an integral part of education, watch the video again.


Additional information