How Can We Help Students Take Ownership of Learning?

Lacour_MistyMany students struggle with the concept of individual responsibility. What techniques have you found to be particularly helpful in encouraging your students to take ownership of their own learning?

—Misty M. LaCour, Assistant Professor of Education, Southern Arkansas University, Magnolia

Help Students Practice Responsibility and Leadership

Although many of our students come to us ready, willing, and able to take ownership of their own learning, we must take responsibility for teaching students what that actually means and how to practice it on a day-to-day basis. Stephen Covey’s book The Leader in Me (Free Press, 2008) is a prime example of an educational resource that can pay great dividends when used as a teaching tool for students. As a principal and district-level leader, I am a strong advocate of student-led conferences, student-led mastery tracking tools, and student-led organizations as ways to get students to take ownership of their learning experiences. It’s up to schools create educational environments where students feel empowered to be involved.

—S. Dallas Dance, Chief Middle Schools Officer, Houston Independent School District, Tex.

Provide Opportunities for Self-Management

When I hear teachers talk about students taking individual responsibility, I always wonder what opportunities there are in the school and the classroom for students to exercise responsibility. In my cooperative literacy model (described in Building Literacy in Social Studies, ASCD, 2007), the class is organized into interdependent, heterogeneous learning teams in which students hold one another accountable for everything from arriving to class on time to participating productively during the class period. Students learn to self-manage and establish a greater role in how the class functions. The teacher provides feedback that gives students data on how they are performing.

After-school clubs, teams, and intraschool organizations can also help students learn self-management. Like any other activity that requires a degree of fluency, responsibility requires practice. To get them on their way, we have to give students the opportunity to learn and practice responsible roles.Klemp_r65x65

—Ron Klemp, Professor, Santa Monica College and California State University, Northridge

Involve English Language Learners in Setting Learning Goals

For English language learners, taking responsibility for demonstrating competence includes English language proficiency. I suggest talking with students individually about their level of English proficiency and setting goals to reflect where they need to focus in the areas of speaking, writing, reading, or listening in English. Often, English learners acquire conversational English faster than academic language. This can mask their level of language proficiency so that they appear higher than they actually are. By including students in setting their own academic goals, we help them become active, instead of passive, participants in the learning and assessment process.

—Ayanna Cooper, ESL Site Director, Boston Teacher Residency

Got a question? Each month in Educational Leadership‘s “Among Colleagues” column, practicing educators draw from their own experience to share advice about challenges their colleagues face. Send your question, along with a 100-word description to elsubmissions@ascd.org, with the subject line “Teaching Dilemma.”

Laura Varlas is an ASCD project manager in publishing, and a graduate student in the secondary education: English/language arts program at George Washington University.