“Owning” Learning: A Step Above “Doing” and “Understanding”

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If you are reading this post, it’s probably because you know that student motivation is key to greater academic success. And if you are like a lot of other educators, you’ve probably had days where it feels like no matter what you do, you can’t get your students motivated. Well, we believe that motivation can be taught and in our new book, Developing Student Ownership, we share our expertise and a roadmap for increasing student motivation, and thus student achievement, by increasing student ownership.

The most effective way to elevate student achievement is by empowering students to take ownership of their learning. Using a variety of research about what best supports students to increase ownership of their learning, we have developed a set of 12 strategic learning practices that can be used on a daily basis to boost motivation in the areas of curriculum, instruction, assessment and climate.

Student Ownership

First, what do we mean by ‘student ownership’? And, how do we accomplish this?

Student ownership means us as educators delegating to our students the authority, responsibility, and the capacity to own their learning.

Give students the authority

We hand over the power to make decisions. This doesn’t mean that students decide what they want to learn solely based on their interests. This means that as students are learning something new, they have the authority to determine what they need to master that skill—frequency of practice and types of practice, opportunities to authentically apply learning, opportunities to transfer learning into new situations. It is our role as teachers to ensure that students have the authority to make decisions about how they will grow and learn.

Give students the capacity

We provide students with the ability or power to experience or understand something. This doesn’t mean that students only need skills and knowledge in order to learn to mastery. It means students are provided with the skills necessary to succeed by knowing what these skills are, why they need them, and how they will use them in their current and future learning. It is our role as teachers to ensure that students have the capacity to analyze and reflect on their own growth.

Give students the responsibility

We empower students to be accountable for their learning. This doesn’t mean that they alone drive their instruction. This means that students are part of the plan. They know what they are going to learn, how they will be taught it and how they will demonstrate their understanding. It is our role as teachers to ensure that students have the responsibility to be part of their own learning plan and understand their role in the plan.

Are your students doing, understanding, or owning?

Motivation, to many, is a finite trait. Some kids have it and some don’t. But this thinking maintains the status quo. This type of thinking ignores that motivation can be cultivated, so students aren’t taught to be motivated. They are left to their own devices rather than shown a better way.

In other words, rather than taking ownership of their learning, many students coast through their education doing school. Some begin understanding school, but most are unclear about owning their learning.

Is fostering student ownership easy for a teacher to do? Yes.

But, it does mean that the teacher needs to be open to the challenges of learning from mistakes, modeling the skills needed to succeed in college and career, explicitly teaching how to master the skills of ownership and, most importantly, be willing to give up some of their authority, capacity, and responsibility to the students.