Encouraging Independent Learning


Reading Eggs CEO Matthew Sandblom discusses the benefits of handing over the reins sometimes and encouraging young children to take ownership of their own learning, as was the case for thousands of young children during the Reading Eggs Read-To-Cure Challenge. 

When we first launched the Reading Eggs Read-To-Cure Challenge in Australia last year to support the Children’s Cancer Institute, we received an overwhelming response from families nationwide. With a helping hand from their parents, over 10,000 kids between the ages of 3 and 13 signed up for the Challenge and began preparing themselves to complete as many books and online reading lessons.

Children who participated asked their friends and families to sponsor their efforts as they worked through the hundreds of online reading lessons and e-books available in the program.

Reading Eggs works so that the reading lessons are self-paced, interactive and one-on-one – allowing children to build their reading skills independently and receive different rewards when they complete the lessons. While parents are able to track their child’s progress with an integrated reporting feature, it’s up to the child to take control of their own learning – repeating lessons if necessary, reinforcing key concepts by completing corresponding games and puzzles, and choosing which books or series to read from the online library.

Children raised funds by improving their reading skills on their own within a short period of 5 weeks. The sense of accomplishment many of them experienced brought up two important insights into giving children a degree of responsibility for their own actions – one being around the altruistic benefit of helping those around them who are less fortunate, and the other around the enrichment of their own personal learning experience.

Responsibility for taking positive action towards others

A notable US study published in 1982 revealed that 4 to 13 year olds who were asked to donate their Halloween candy to hospitalised children ended up donating more of their candy when they were made to feel personally responsible. Researchers achieved this by saying things like, “I will be counting on you and you and you … I will put each of your names on the bag of candy I give tomorrow to the sick children”, rather than “please give them as many as you want by putting the candy in the box on the table”.

Children generally respond very well when given the responsibility to help make another person’s life better. In this case and in the Read-To-Cure Challenge, children were eager to do what they could in order to improve the lives of other children who were going through a difficult time with serious illness.

Responsibility for their own learning and achievements

Empowering children by taking ownership of their own learning can sound like an intimidating idea to some. But the truth has always been that children are natural learners; it comes down to finding ways in which they can discover the joy of it for themselves.

Author and researcher Dr Barbara McCombs decided to observe different teaching styles in a Colorado school, in motivating problem students to sit through a maths lesson without causing any disruptions. What she observed in the most successful classroom inspired her to later write a book titled “Motivating Hard-To-Reach Students”.

Without having the visible presence of a teacher, the students in this particular group filed into their maths class and immediately began working quietly on their pre-assigned projects. This happened without the slightest command or provocation from a teacher.

Dr McCombs finally spotted the teacher kneeling in the back of the room searching for reference materials. A student walked up to him to ask a question and then returned promptly to his desk. As the students worked, the teacher would walk around now and again to check on their progress.

The key to this success was that their teacher instilled in them a sense of responsibility that transcended everything but their desire to learn. By saying, “This is your class … we can do it any way you want as long you learn the maths”, he was laying out the ‘non-negotiables’ at the beginning, and then leaving the overall options and details up to his students.

In the case of our program based on parents’ feedback, even the most stubborn and reluctant learners have become deeply engaged with learning how to read. The lessons completed during last year’s Read-To-Cure Challenge covered various core literacy areas including phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. With a clear and charitable objective in place, parents gave children the opportunity to navigate through the Reading Eggs program by themselves, being proactive in supporting a good cause and achieving their own learning milestones along the way.

Matthew Sandblom is the CEO of educational publishing companies Pascal Press and Blake Learning, creators of the Reading Eggs program. 

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