As schools are getting ready to open, teachers, administrators, and district staff need a clear definition of both independent and guided practices. District and school leaders are overwhelmed with the changes going on in the education of our students. Most teachers have had a substantial amount of liberty over content and how they will deliver instruction. As we plan for the education of our students going forward, there is a need to prepare for both independent and guided practices.

What is Independent Practice?

Independent practice is often perceived as a difficult process, but if implemented correctly, it can result in great gains in student achievement. During independent practice, the teacher encourages students to apply skills previously demonstrated. Students then perform the task ”independently”, showing what they have learned and demonstrating their competency. The teacher’s role in independent practice is to support students as a facilitator.

The design of educational systems intends to increase student independence by optimizing the following characteristics:

  • Students’ learning styles
  • School curriculum
  • Classroom delivery
  • Learning and instruction

What are the Benefits of Independent Practice?

The two-pronged goal of instruction should be that students internalize the lesson content in the way by which they can retrieve and properly apply it at will, and in so doing, continue to build upon that information as they learn independently. The procedural elements of independent practice include the following:

  • Immediate and specific teacher feedback
  • Assessing individual student’s performance
  • Classroom structure
  • Academic gains

Independent practice can be used to cultivate one-on-one relationships with students in the classroom during the process by which the teacher conducts individualized assessments and again when following-up on homework. The process of independent practice facilitation is also effective for small-group instruction.

Which Student is Independent Practice Appropriate For?

Independent practice requires an understanding of your student’s learning strengths and experiences.

To insure success of the independent practice strategy, evidence shows that students must possess the following skills and abilities:

  • Critical thinking
  • Independence/self-confidence
  • Self-monitoring/self-management capability

What is Guided Practice?

Guided practice refers to explicit, structured instruction by the teacher. Historically, the guided practice model produces the evidence of student learning when, following the teacher’s presentation, then collaboration with the student, students produce their independently prepared work product demonstrating their content knowledge. Next, the teacher gives students actionable feedback pertaining to their content mastery. While some students prepare their work product, the teacher can privately attend to students who need further help. The guided practice model is sequenced as “I do”, “We do” and lastly, “You do”, with the teacher operating primarily as facilitator who empowers students to master of each skill or subject of instruction.

Sharratt (2013, p. 145) defines guided practice as a “Transition practice that allows leaders to pull back and the learners to step forward” through transition from teacher-centered to student-centered learning.

Guided practice is a teaching strategy that involves the following three phases:

  • Phase 1: The teacher is modeling to the students by demonstrating “how” the task is done. The teacher demonstrates the “thought process” used in completing the task. During this phase, the student role is that of an observer. The teacher presents examples that should draw students’ attention to the task/skill being demonstrated.
  • Phase 2: The student and teacher perform the task together. During this phase, the student practices the task/skill with the teacher interjecting or supporting throughout the process.
  • Phase 3: The students demonstrate the task on their own. During this phase, students take on the responsibility of optimizing the learning environment, applying preferred learning styles (narrative, artistic, graphic, etc.), and complete the task without teacher input. The teacher is now the observer giving specific feedback if the student requests clarification. Students’ presentations can be completed in class or as a homework assignment.

What are the Benefits of Guided Practice?

Two primary benefits of effective guided practices are 1) the lesson is focused and 2) the teacher gives clear instructions to students defining “when” and “how” to use a particular strategy. The teacher gives the students guided practice using the strategy and provides feedback on their use of the strategy.

In an effective guided practice lesson, for example, a teacher would write a sentence on the board, then read it aloud several times, counting the words rhythmically, to reinforce the sound of the completed sentence. Next, the teacher has the students take turns pronouncing the words of the sentence and discussing them. Next, the students would take turns writing the words on the board. As the student writes a word, the class participates by reading it aloud. Successive students can write their own sentences on the board while the seated students read the words aloud in unison. The net result of the guided practice strategy is that the teacher engages the students in their own learning.

Which Student is Guided Practice Appropriate For?

Guided practice is a wonderful technique for teaching students who need collaboration with the teacher and explicit directions through each step in a task. Another group of students that benefits from use of the guided practice technique is students with disabilities. Because IEPs generally specify that students have extra time for interaction with the teacher, guided practice provides that essential service in a way that instructs students with special needs at the pace and in a format that meets the need for special accommodations.

How to Determine Which to Use

Both guided and independent practice have the potential to enhance learning opportunities for our students. When determining which practice to use in the classroom consider the following variables:

  • The developmental levels of your students must be identified
  • Provide content which matches the developmental levels and academic needs of the students
  • Utilize materials which require increasingly more student interaction
  • Provide ample time for students to practice
  • Observe students as they work to determine if they need clarification or other help



Sharatt, L. (2013). Scaffolded Literacy Assessment and a Model for Teachers’ Professional Development. In Elliott-Jones, S& Jarvis, D(Eds) Perspectives on Transitions in Schooling and Instructional Practice (pp. 138-155) Toronto: University of Toronto Press