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Independent Learning Philosophy at MPH

Independent Learning Philosophy 

Independent learning is intentionally-developed learning opportunities for students to practice, reinforce, and/or apply acquired skills and knowledge in the classroom. Furthering the school’s mission to “inspire our students to think critically, act responsibly, and discover a passion for lifelong learning,” students at Manlius Pebble Hill School engage in independent learning to help foster learning habits to enhance their educational development. MPH recognizes the critical intersection between student learning and wellbeing, that based on the latest Mind-Brain Education research (MBE), students learn best when they are physically, emotionally, and socially acclimated to their learning environment. Therefore, independent learning at MPH is centered around the intentionality of literacy, skill practice, and assignments that deliberately focus on the development of academic skills, content knowledge, and overall personal well-being, truly addressing the educational development of the “whole child.” Independent learning is also predicated on the partnership between student, teacher, and families, emphasizing the need for communicating clear expectations regarding independent learning, and the acknowledgement that assigned academic responsibilities are honored between both student and teacher, with the support of families at home. MPH believes that within this nurturing and supportive environment students can thrive, developing life-long learning habits that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.

Below are the rationale, principles, and general guidelines for independent learning at MPH, including expectations for each member of the community. These expectations will be communicated and discussed in classrooms at the beginning of each school year, and a copy of this document will be available on the school website.

Independent Learning and MBE Research 

MPH is committed to research-based educational practices, especially those that are grounded in Mind-Brain Education research (MBE). According to various research in this field, independent learning, in the traditional form of homework in these studies, has a positive effect on student achievement. However, the analysis also revealed that too much homework can be counter-productive for students at all levels, leading to a decrease in the well-being and confidence of students.1 Therefore, Independent Learning for MPH students will focus on the quality of practice over quantity of work.

Perhaps the most important element of enhancing effective learning for students is intrinsic motivation and engagement. Strategies such as giving students choice, adding novelty, adding relevance and connection to their lives, incorporating well-chosen aspects of play, and encouraging students make emotional connections with content are all effective ways to increase intrinsic motivation.2 Independent Learning at MPH will therefore be based on increasing intrinsic motivation, encouraging students to further develop their learning habits, and ultimately their academic confidence. Research also shows that intentionally-developed Independent Learning can aid with executive functions tasks by helping students develop skills such as organizing, planning, executing, evaluating progress, and adjusting their needs accordingly. Reflection and metacognition activities as Independent Learning assignments may help shift both practice and mindset.3

According to MBE research, there is also differentiation between elementary and secondary school students in regards to Independent Learning. For elementary students, Independent Learning “should perhaps not be the rule… but assigned with great thought.”4 The emphasis here should be on building healthy study habits, developing self-discipline, reinforcing practices learned in school, and continued exposure to literacy to build confidence in reading for pleasure. 

As there is no specific “recipe” for Independent Learning, teachers will apply these MBE principles to their own assigned Independent Learning experiences. The context of a particular class, the teachers’ personal voice, and their pedagogical and content knowledge are all factors that affect how teachers use MBE research in their goal to create authentic Independent Learning experiences. 

Guiding Principles for Independent Learning at MPH

MPH honors the centrality of providing a well-balanced learning experience for our learners, which includes the following provisions:

  • Providing an engaging and enriching learning environment while at school;
  • Recognizing the interests, strengths and needs of each student;
  • Emphasizing the importance for space at home to connect with family and friends;
  • Encouraging reading for pleasure;
  • Providing opportunities for enrichment and pursuit of individual passions;
  • Promoting the critical need for regular rest, relaxation, sleep, and nutrition. 

MPH respects the critical need for a balance between academic, personal and family demands for students. We also recognize the importance of providing space for students to practice skills, explore interests, engage in enrichment, and enhance their understanding of material. Independent learning also encourages students to develop organizational skills, grow confidence in working independently, become responsible for their own work, and develop resilience and confidence as learners.

As MPH teachers, we believe that the type of independent learning matters and should never be “busywork” or making up for content not covered in class. We also recognize that every student is different, both within a classroom and across divisions; therefore, independent learning will be developmentally appropriate and directly relevant to the classroom learning experience. From kindergarten to 12th grade, independent learning will be encouraged and structured in a way to allow for healthy and graduated academic growth, where each year students enhance their confidence in independent learning and develop effective learning habits that help them develop into lifelong learners. Therefore, these guidelines and expectations are designed to create clarity for each community partner.

Independent Learning Expectations – by division

Lower School 

MPH expects that students in all grade levels will read at home, for assignments and most importantly for fun! The Lower School classroom literacy instruction follows the Science of Reading, “an interdisciplinary body of scientifically-based research about reading and issues related to reading and writing.”5

MBE research shows that exposure to and regular practice of literacy skills benefits the developing brain, enhancing neuroplasticity and cognitive functions.  In order for Lower School students to fulfill their potential as readers, MPH encourages the support of families in setting aside time each day for shared reading with their child/children. 

In the Lower School, independent learning will only occur once the specific skill has been explicitly taught, modeled, and practiced in the classroom to ensure that all students have the opportunity to accomplish the task independently and grow in self-reliance. Throughout Lower School, students will build on their independent learning confidence, allowing for a more seamless transition into the Middle School.


Middle & Upper School

Student Expectations

Students shall:

  • Complete all IL work assigned by teachers via Google Classroom independently, unless directed by a teacher to collaborate with peers;
  • Ensure assigned independent work will be completed either before or by the beginning of class;
  • Utilize the availability of tutorial, study halls/free blocks, “homework club” and afterschool support their efforts to complete  homework assignments before doing work at home;
  • Communicate with the teachers if they are unable to complete the tasks by the due date;
  • Recognize that incomplete or unsubmitted work without communication or valid excuse may, at the discretion of the teacher, result in the student not earning full credit for the work;
  • In the case of an excused absence for a single day, students must submit missed work within 48 hours of the date of return (unless a special arrangement has been made directly with the teacher). Upper School students are responsible for keeping track of their own late work. 


Teacher Expectations

Teachers shall:

  • Provide students with a course syllabus at the beginning of the year, which not only clearly communicates the nature of the course, but outlines IL expectations for the year, including policies for late work;
  • Ensure classroom independent learning practices align with MPH’s IL Policy, respecting a healthy balance between school, personal and family time. For AP, AS or other accelerated classes (MUN, Pre-Calc, EMT), assignments and coursework will be more akin to college classes, and may at times have higher demands than a regular MPH class;
  • Will post IL work on Google Classroom (as an “Assignment” rather than in the “Stream”) in a timely manner, as well as provided an explanation (verbal or written) of the work in the classroom;
  • Be aware of the school calendar, and respect times of the year where students are heavily involved in extracurricular activities (school play/musical, sectional athletic competitions, art show, etc.).
  • Modify independent learning work for students that need academic support in accordance with individual learning needs.
  • Share their expectations for IL with students and parents/guardians at the beginning of the school year;
  • Provide timely and effective feedback for assigned work;
  • Ensure that IL work is intentionally designed so it directly relates to classroom instruction and supports learning goals for the course, strengthening critical thinking and problem-solving, as well as self-reflective and metacognitive skills. IL work should not be used to cram content or catch up work missed in class;
  • Not assign homework over school holidays (unless AP/AS courses) that results in an assignment for the class immediately following the holiday. Reading may be encouraged in US classes.


Parental Partnership

  • Families are strongly encouraged to be partners in the independent learning process with their child and the child’s teachers;
  • Encourage and support independent learning habits at home;
  • Help students structure time and space for reading, nurturing a life-long love of reading;
  • Consult the classroom teacher regarding independent learning, as needed, particularly when the student is having difficulty completing assigned tasks in a timely manner;
  • Families are encouraged to contact either the grade-level teacher (lower school) or the subject teacher (middle or upper school) with any questions or concerns regarding independent learning. In the middle and upper school, parents should also include the child’s advisor in any communication with the subject teacher to ensure all members of the child’s support system are included. 


1Cooper, Harris. “Does Homework Improve Academic Achievement? A Synthesis of Research, 1987-2003.” Review of Educational Research, vol. 76, no. 1, 2006, pp. 1-62. JSTOR, Accessed 27 7 2022.s. Accessed 27 7 2022.

2,3,4Kelleher, Ian, and Glenn Whitman. Neuroteach: Brain Science and the Future of Education. Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.

Bempechat, Janine. “The Case for (Quality) Homework: Why it improves learning, and how parents can help.” 

Education Next, 19(1), 36-43.

Baran, Alison. “Trend Lines: How Important is Homework?” NAIS Magazine, Winter 2019.

Ozyildirim, G. (2022). “Time Spent on Homework and Academic Achievement: A Meta-analysis study related 

to results of TIMSS.” Psicologia Educativa, 28(1), 13-21

Independent School Homework Policies referenced:

Lakecrest School

Renbrook School–philosophies

VanDamme Academy