Developing Student Independence


The article (posted in 2012), "Developmental Stages of Infants and Children", issued by the Wisconsin Child Welfare Training System ( describes typical school-age development of children. Some of the key takeaways from this document highlight how a child as early as seven years old (if not earlier) can begin to show independence in completion of routines and learn to screen out distractions and focus on one task at a time. A child can also begin to feel anxious to please others and become sensitive to praise and blame. As they go through ages eight, nine, and ten, they learn how to cope with losing at games, can become increasingly attentive to peer pressure, and respond relatively easily to discipline. By age ten, a child's friends can begin to be more influential than parents. As they enter early adolescence (around age 11), they can become anxious about peer acceptance, test limits of family dependency, change friends frequently, and have a strong need for achievement and recognition (though masked by feigned indifference). While not all children will experience all of these examples (or at an exact age), they represent trends in behaviors for children that may be working through similar psychosocial crises. What these examples do highlight is, during the ages of around seven to eleven, a child needs to show that they *can* be successful as much as they need to be *shown how* to be successful - this is not an inherent trait of human development. It is this latter development of being shown how to be successful that I would like to address in later sections.

The 2011 book series, "What Every [K-5] Teacher Needs to Know About Setting Up and Running a Classroom", by Mike Anderson (Northeast Foundation for Children, Inc.) looks at typical student expectations for specific grade levels. Some of the key takeaways from this book series highlights how a child as early as six years old (e.g. first grade) may begin to test the limits of authority, conceptualize cause and effect, become interested in learning and doing "work", and enjoy explaining their thoughts how things happen/work. As they move through to around eight years old (third grade), students begin to take more risks (recovering quickly from mistakes or problems), be more concerned with fairness and justice, becoming intensely industrious with increased interest in logic, and eager for approval of peers and adults. By the time the child is ten going on eleven (fifth grade), they develop a more mature sense of right and wrong, sensitive to issues of fairness, and able to enjoy cooperative and competitive games as they have learned to enjoy rules and logic, able to concentrate for a longer period of time, and are becoming increasingly able to think abstractly.

It is important to also consider the roots of modern research, theorists such as Jean Piaget and Erik Erickson. Piaget developed cognitive stages that address abilities of humans from birth to adulthood: sensorimotor (ages 0-2), preoperational (2-6), concrete operational (6-11), and formal operational (12-adult). Each of these cognitive stages develops a complexity of thought that compounds as each stage increases a person's ability to accomplish higher levels of critical thinking to solve problems. Erickson also developed stages of human development but from a psychosocial perspective: trust vs mistrust (0-2), autonomy vs shame/doubt (1-3), initiative vs guilt (3-5), industry vs inferiority (5-13), identity vs role confusion (13-21), intimacy vs isolation (21-39), and so on. Each of these psychosocial stages develop throughout a person's life as each stage adds complexity to their awareness and management of personal, social, and societal expectations. When you align the cognitive and psychosocial stages and apply each unique development to a grade level, you can see grade levels experience particular developmental transitions. The K-2 grade levels are experiencing a cognitive shift into concrete operational thought and entering a psychosocial stage of industry vs inferiority. The 3-5 grade levels are experiencing a mastery of concrete operational thought and, by fifth grade, introducing hypothetical reasoning of a formal operational stage, while also working through the heart of the psychosocial stage of industry vs inferiority. As students move through grades 6-8, they are mostly all cognitively ready to connect concrete and formal operational tasks while also entering a psychosocial stage of identify vs role confusion. Students that seem to be exhibiting particular behaviors outside of theses developmental stages will not ahead or behind their entire lives but may need patience from those in charge of their development as instruction cues their development but, at the same time, let development guide instruction. This awareness of developmental transition can help teachers better analyze pre-packaged curricula from publishing companies and discuss in teams how to address particular student needs.


In my experience as an upper-elementary classroom teacher, I have seen many students enter my classroom over the years with particular habits in place that have been trained into them through past experiences. The child internalizes, through observations of causality, a perspective toward their role as a student in relation to their teachers and parents, and how much they, as students, are responsible for their own learning. I will be referring to the words: beliefs and values. In the following example, I will be applying an assumption that a core long-standing belief in the value of anything depends on the personal and social interactions over an extended period of time.