How independent are your kids in learning?

Definitions of independent learners (the ideal):

personalized education

The Advantages:

1. Inspired to Learn

2. Intrinsically-Motivated to
Make a Change

3. The COURAGE to take the road less travelled.

WHY should we nurture more independent learners?


1. Each child is different.

2. Each child has unique strengths.

3. Each child has unique interests.

4. Each person has the ability to contribute new ideas solutions to old problems.

My first princess, Amrita, first learned the word “independent” at a tender age of 5. One random day, she suddenly blurted out: “Mommy, I want to be independent!” And that has always been her way to learn – whether it’s learning to play the guitar, or doing her ballet till her toes bled, or doing spins on the ice, she is totally self-directed and self-driven, as with the rest of my kids.

Last year this month, we were in Nashville, Tennessee, to explore song-writing and performing in the music city of the world. Feels like a very pleasant dream now. But it did happen (she raised her own funds there)

and we did stay for 2 months (by volunteering at the hostel we we were staying at)

and she did play out there at many amazing venues (4 times at the legendary Bluebird Cafe,

and at the Commodore Grille at Holiday Inn, and many others). And we did make lots of friends there. Came back with loads of pleasant memories. She wants to go back again. Next year. Maybe I’ll let her go on her own next time. Just maybe.

My second princess (“But I want to be the FIRST princess!” was her oft-repeated phrase at the age of 2) learned the word REBEL at the age of the Terrible Two! So naturally “NO!” was her favorite word and tantrum was regular routine. But with mountains of patience (I don’t know how I managed to summon it, but I did) and years of trying and failing, and trying and failing again and again….(tried out drama, ballet, art, violin, competitive swimming…..) we are finally closer to the place where she truly wants to be – dancing her way to self-fulfillment and happiness.

She took part in her very first national level dance competition in Showdown 2012 at a tender age of 15, got chicken-pox at the most crucial stage, but persisted on and emerged Top 12 with her crew. Not a bad start for a young girl struggling with dyslexia.

Her story was featured in Ken Robinson’s international best-seller, “Finding Your Element – How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life”. She wants to travel the world one day. And she doesn’t want Mommy to tag along. That’s my rebel daughter 🙂

Lastly, my Prince Charming (junior) seems like a happy-go-lucky, clueless lad, who loves movies, Japanese anime and OST (Original Soundtracks) and plays the piano (rendering his drum set a display piece in the living room, but I’m happy I finally have a child who can take over my instrument!).

He actually learns to play his favorite OST’s from YouTube. There is a huge following on YouTube on pianists who play only OST music! That’s an eye-opener for me. Some of these musicians even do touring around the world like celebrities playing to their fans! Perhaps my Prince Junior may one day be like one of these pianists performing for the ardent fans. Who knows?

Nothing is impossible in the Age of Possibilities!

Or maybe he’d end up as a professional card-fighter. Or a chess master. Or an aikido sensei. Or all of the above! Why not?

The Turnaround Challenge

Perhaps most prominent among this research—and one that is helping drive current classroom practice—is a study called The Turnaround Challenge, which was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In the study, school improvement experts described what they saw as the most effective personalized learning model, where instruction is organized around:

…a short feedback loop of formative assessment, adapted instruction, further formative assessment, and further adapted instruction… The evidence from HPHP effective-practice research on this strategy is overwhelming: Chenoweth’s recent case studies (2007), [1] the CPE/Caliber Associates research review (2005), [2] Marzano’s meta-analysis of research on student achievement (2000) [3], and most individual studies cite this kind of feedback-based instruction as having profound impact on student achievement.[4]

These blended learning models offer students unique pathways—different paths towards common standards-based learning targets—and voice and choice in how they learn. Guided by their own goals and standards-based learning targets, a personalized learning platform allows students to co-construct learning sequences based on learning preferences. Students map their own learning path, scaffolded by real-time feedback, multimodal learning tools, interventions, and continuously adapted instruction.

So the question now is: HOW do we nurture independent learners? They don’t just become independent learners like magic. We as parents and educators need to provide them the tools, the space and the freedom to choose what they want to pursue.


Interest arises either:

A. Directly.
B. Indirectly.
C. Manufactured.

Example of direct interest.
Movies, Music or Movement

Example of indirect interest.
Movie Soundtracks or theme songs from movies or tv series can spark an interest in playing a musical instrument. Because of Taylor Swift’s songs, Amrita was inspired to learn how to play the guitar and to write songs. Because of hip hop music, Sam was inspired to learn street dancing. Because of movie-soundtrack music, Arian was inspired to learn to play the piano. So interest in something can be sparked by something else.

Or it can be manufactured.

Example of manufactured interest.
Movie merchandise

Once the interest has been ignited (directly, indirectly or manufactured), the child will start going deeper into the subject, as the curiosity has been stoked.


To be interested in something, one has to have a very curious mind. Toddlers are the most curious explorers as they crawl and climb and run and jump or roll on the ground just to see and to touch something that interests them. This should be encouraged as long as the child is not getting himself in danger. The usual reaction of parents is to stop the child from exploring his environment. But we should not stop them from doing so because this is how children learn to follow their curiosity and to act upon them.

To sustain children’s natural curiosity, they need to hear more “YES’s” than “NO’s”. So make a conscious effort to say YES! to your child!


PLAY is a crucial element in the learning process of child. This can be seen even in wild animals like the tigers and the lions. But as they grow older, this playfulness is taken over by cautiousness, which in itself is not a bad thing as it can be a matter of life and death for the animals in the wild. But over-cautiousness and hinder a child’s development as he or she may be too afraid to take risks and chances.

The benefits of unstructured play

“The authors (of University of Colorado) studied the schedules and play habits of 60 six-year-old children, measuring how much time each of them spent in ‘less structured,’ spontaneous activities such as imaginative play and self-selected reading and ‘structured’ activities organized and supervised by adults, such as lessons, sports practice, community service and homework. They found that children who engage in more free play have more highly developed self-directed executive function. The opposite was also true: The more time kids spent in structured activities, the worse their sense of self-directed control. It’s worth noting that when classifying activities as ‘less structured’ or ‘structured,’ the authors deemed all child-initiated activities as ‘less-structured,’ while all adult-led activities were ‘structured.’”


Never try, never know!

Try, try and try again!

When the going gets tough, the tough gets tougher!

The Story of the Sanitary Pad Man

A school dropout from a poor family in southern India has revolutionised menstrual health for rural women in developing countries by inventing a simple machine they can use to make cheap sanitary pads.

Arunachalam Muruganantham’s invention came at great personal cost – he nearly lost his family, his money and his place in society. But he ôkept his sense of humour.

He saw a problem before him, made great effort to understand it (at great personal expense!) and experimented relentlessly until he succeeded in building a simple machine to make cheap sanitary pads so that women can function normally and healthily. He also created entrepreunial opportunities for them!


3 things you need to remember about going on an independent learning journey:

1. There will always be challenges ahead – they just evolve as you go along. It is HOW you face them that make or break your interest.

2. But nothing remains the same forever. The stressful times will pass and the happier times will emerge! And happy times will pass and other challenges will arise. But hey, isn’t that what life is all about?

3. It’s NOT about you. It’s about your child’s/student’s learning path to a life well lived! You just work behind the scenes to make it happen for them. And stay out after that!

Presented at the Inspiring Learners Education Conference on June 2, 2015 in KL.

This entry was posted in Personal. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s