Coaching Independent Work Time

Use the following resources as you work with teachers to enhance and grow their Independent Work Time.

Coaching Conversation Starters

Independent Work Time is an essential component of the balanced literacy block during which important work is done for the purpose of strengthening all areas of children’s language and literacy development (listening, speaking, reading, and writing). Independent Work Time also supports children’s abilities to self-direct their learning. This time requires thoughtful planning. Reflective practitioners must consider the needs of their particular group of children, their curriculum goals, as well as child engagement.Use these questions to guide your conversations with a teacher around Independent Work Time.

Lesson Planning

  1. What independent work task do you want to introduce? Is it primarily a reading, writing, speaking or listening task? Why did you choose this task?
  2. What will you tell children about the purpose of this task? How will it help them as readers, writers, speakers, listeners or thinkers?
  3. How will you explain the above in child friendly language so that children understand and feel motivated to learn the task?
  4. How will you connect this task to other tasks and experiences with which children are familiar, to build upon prior learning and literary experiences (eg. read alouds, phonics or phonemic awareness lessons, reading or writing workshop mini-lessons)?
  5. Are there any relevant anchor charts hanging in the room that were created during prior lessons on this topic or skill which could help children be successful in learning or performing this task? Will you want to create a new anchor chart to support children’s understanding, development or mastery of this task?
  6. What language or other supports (sentence stems, pictures on anchor charts or task cards, etc) will be included to support the understanding, participation and independent success of all children?
  7. How will you demonstrate the task so that children know what it should look like and sound like? Will you act it out through modeling or a role play?
  8. How will children be able to practice or explore this task at the time of introducing it (guided practice)? What further opportunities will children have to practice the task before they are expected to perform the task independently?
  9. How will the task be differentiated to ensure all children are engaged and can succeed? Will there be a variety of tools and materials available? Books at different reading levels and on different topics? Response sheets of varying lengths? Options to draw, speak or demonstrate what was learned? Will children be allowed to work independently, with a partner or with the group as needed for each individual to succeed?
  10. How will the task be assessed by both children and teacher? Will there be a rubric which accompanies the task? How and when will the use of this rubric be taught to and practiced by children? How will you track student work? When will the work be reviewed and the progress discussed with children?

Reflection & Action Planning

  1. How successful were children in learning this new task? How do you know?
  2. What further opportunities will there be for children to practice this task? How and when will you review anchor charts that support this task?
  3. How will mastery of this task help children as independent readers, writers, speakers, listeners or thinkers?
  4. Were the children engaged and excited to learn this new task? What evidence was there that children understood the importance of this task to their overall learning?
  5. Did the children have an opportunity to ask their own questions and express their ideas?
  6. What did you learn about your children during the introduction of this task? Was there any skill, strategy or language support that needed to be addressed which had not been considered in the planning? How was the pacing? How long did the entire lesson take?

Viewing Lenses

Classroom Culture & Environment

The foundation to successful Independent Work Time in the classroom is having a thoughtfully planned classroom culture and environment. The teacher and children will need to develop this culture and environment together. The teacher is the facilitator and guide to this process. The culture and environment will need to be collaboratively established and developed through constant reflection and conversation between children and teacher. When you are observing the classroom culture in connection with Independent Work Time, it helps to have a specific viewing lens to focus your conversation with a teacher. Here are some ideas for viewing lenses for the classroom culture and environment of Independent Work Time.

Focus Question

What to note:

How does the teacher work with children to create a culture of responsibility during independent work time?

  • responsibilities related to Independent Work Time (eg. “We solve problems on our own” and “We clean up after ourselves”, etc) are brainstormed with children
  • developmentally appropriate responsibilities are stated positively (eg. “we collaborate” instead of “we don’t fight”)
  • responsibilities related to Independent Work Time are modeled after being discussed and agreed upon
  • responsibilities related to Independent Work Time are routinely reviewed, and added to as necessary
  • responsibilities related to Independent Work Time are frequently practiced and reflected upon in whole group and small group conversations
  • growth and success in being responsible during Independent Work Time is celebrated
  • a joyful climate is consciously created and nurtured

How does the teacher establish procedures using anchor charts and whole group lessons?

  • procedures related to materials, spaces and collaboration are explicitly taught and modeled
  • procedures promote choice, responsibility and active engagement
  • anchor charts are co-created with children during whole class mini-lessons over time to help children remember and guide their performance of the procedures that were taught
  • anchor charts related to Independent Work Time are frequently reviewed to ensure that children can read and understand the language for their reference during Independent Work Time
  • referring to the anchor charts is modeled and discussed as a responsibility and a way to help with problem solving
  • language supports, such as pictures or photos of children performing the procedures, are included to ensure that all children have access to the charts
  • materials are kept organized and labeled to support student capacity to use and replace materials where they belong

How is stamina for independent work time developed?

  • stamina for working independently is explicitly discussed, modeled and practiced
  • initial independent work time sessions are short, ending on a successful note before some sort of break down occurs
  • teacher observes children, noting successes and challenges for discussion during a whole class reflection
  • successes in developing stamina, correctly following procedures, solving problems and being responsible are celebrated during reflection sessions

How is independent work time assessed?

  • teacher frequently pauses to observe children during Independent Work Time, taking notes about successes and challenges
  • successes during Independent Work Time are frequently discussed and celebrated in whole class share time
  • challenges during Independent Work Time are discussed and addressed in whole class share time
  • children are taught to self-assess During INDEPENDENT WORK TIME using a rubric that is co-created
  • use of the Independent Work Time rubric is modeled by the teacher and practiced by the children until it becomes a routine or habit

How does the teacher create a joyful climate around independent work time?

  • positive and encouraging language is explicitly taught, modeled by the teacher and practiced by children in whole group reflection sessions related to independent work time
  • the purpose of learning to be responsible and independent is discussed in developmentally appropriate terms
  • children’s interests and choices are valued and embedded in Independent Work Time
  • growth is celebrated
  • process is valued over product
  • the pleasure of being in a busy classroom where children are growing and learning on their own is developed as an ideal


Pre-planning the literacy and language activities children will work on during Independent Work Time is crucial. This is not a time to introduce anything new. It’s an ideal time for children to get the practice they need with what has already been taught - and particularly a good time to review things for which they have a demonstrated need for additional practice. Here are some ideas for viewing lenses for Independent Work Time tasks:

Focus Question

What to note:

How does the teacher choose tasks?

  • Does the teacher use a template to help plan and reflect upon the purpose and variety of tasks?
  • Do tasks extend from other whole group literacy experiences, such as a read aloud, Reading and Writing Workshop, or phonics lessons?
  • Do the tasks offer opportunities to practice or reinforce what has already been taught?
  • Does the teacher plan for a balance of tasks that develop speaking, listening, reading and writing skills?
  • Do tasks take into account children’s interests, perhaps focused around a favorite subject, author, event (eg. field trip, class pet, holiday, etc.)?

How does the teacher introduce the tasks?

  • Does the teacher use a template to help reflect on the task and consider how to introduce the task, its purpose and significance?
  • Does the teacher use child friendly language to explain the task and its purpose?
  • Does the teacher include language supports in the introduction of the task to enhance ELL’s understanding of the task and its purpose?
  • Are tasks modeled during a whole class lesson?
  • Are tasks practiced as a whole group independent activity prior to becoming a center or station?
  • Is there a gradual release of responsibility (I do, we do, you do)?
  • Are there multiple opportunities to practice with teacher support?

How does the teacher differentiate tasks?

  • What language supports are embedded in the tasks to ensure that all children understand and succeed at the tasks through on-going practice?
  • How do the tasks allow for opportunities to work alone, in partners and small groups?
  • How are children taught to access support from each other in order to be independent and successful?
  • How do the tasks take into account children’s interests and needs? 
  • Are there a variety of materials to choose from (eg. books on different levels and topics, or paper types, response sheets or language stems) that support the success of different learners?
  • Are different modalities of response (written, spoken, demonstration, etc.) suggested or accepted?

How does the teacher assess tasks and teach students to self-assess?

  • Does the teacher have a system for tracking, collecting and assessing children’s work?
  • Does the task include an opportunity for self-assessment? Is there a rubric? When and how are children taught to use this rubric?
  • When does the teacher find time to assess and reflect on children’s work? Are adjustments made to tasks based upon children’s successes and challenges?
  • When and how do children and teacher reflect together on successes and challenges of the work— individually (conferences), as a small group and as a whole class?

Descriptors for Early Literacy Teacher Achievement (DELTA)

This resource describes key elements of effective practice in an early literacy classroom. It is a valuable coaching tool because it standardizes expectations around different practices. Use the TELP to set goals with teachers and guide implementation.

Comments (1)

  1. Gina Kevern 
    Gina Kevern 

    The information on IWT is invaluable as we try to improve the use of small group instruction in our elementary classrooms. The focus is clear and the coaching questions for conversations are excellent.