How can children's independence be promoted and measured in the primary classroom?
This research set out to explore ways in which children’s independence can be promoted and measured in the primary classroom – to highlight strategies and skills that enable children to operate independently, and to identify tools that might be used to measure levels of independence. As an integral part of this process it was necessary to consider the role of both the teacher and child - to identify characteristics of more-independent and less-independent children, including attitude and motivation, and to undertake an analysis of classroom organization, teaching style and teacher-expectation and the implications of these upon the child. In order to answer my research questions I undertook an action research project, both ethnographic and naturalistic in nature, in my own classroom with myself acting as complete participant immersed in the production of grounded theory – theory that was particular to me and the children I was teaching but which may help to enlighten other teachers engaged in reflexive activity. Data collected was largely qualitative, but quantitative data was also used particularly towards the end of my research when I had a firmer idea of what I was looking at and for. This research identifies a typology related to the characteristics of children exhibiting varying degrees of independence. Within this typology there are children whom I have called Hiders, Seekers and Props – children who hide (or keep a low profile), children who seek out attention, help or reassurance, and children who manage themselves, their work and their environment, not overly reliant upon the help or reassurance of others, and perhaps offering assistance to others on occasion. The research, in identifying characteristics of more- and less-independent children, also seeks to clarify what is meant by independence. My definition of independence views it as a multi-dimensional state, the dimensions including physical, social, intellectual, organizational and attitudinal independence. Children may display varying degrees of independence in each of these dimensions – because they may be considered relatively independent in one dimension does not mean that they will necessarily be independent in another, they may be Hider as regards intellectual independence but a Prop organizationally. For some children, especially the Hiders, a first step towards independence may be in identifying appropriate moments to seek help, whereas for other children such as the Seekers it may be necessary to help them distinguish between when it is appropriate or inappropriate to seek help, and perhaps to channel a possible need for attention into supporting other children. Whilst it may not be possible (or desirable) to make children entirely independent, it is possible to teach them strategies that might increase their independence. In considering how to promote children’s independence, high teacher-expectations are crucial. Despite identifying the importance of high expectations of independence, however, teachers who responded to my questionnaire tended to give priority to the development of social, organizational and physical independence rather than intellectual independence regarding the latter as difficult to achieve within the constraints of the National Curriculum. This lower priority may feed lower expectations resulting in children being kept intellectually dependent upon the teachers responsible for their education. Another factor, however, is the current testing and reporting arrangements – the need to be seen to have done well in the eyes of the general public, and the erroneous impression that intellectual independence equates with lower standards. Of course, if children are not being spoon-fed the apparent standard of work may drop initially, but with a long-term view standards will increase because children will have the knowledge and skills to achieve away from the spoon. It is vital that we take this long-term view. This thesis includes a range of practical recommendations for other teachers interested in promoting children’s independence.