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Ownership in Learning

I will always remember my 4th-grade English teacher, Mrs. Downey. Her pedagogical philosophy made such an impact on me that it inspired me to go into teaching. Do you know why? She gave me ownership over my learning.

On the first day of school, each student was instructed on the school supplies list to bring in a composition notebook. I never knew how important this composition notebook would become in my life.

Now, I'm not sure if you remember or not, we were not allowed to use pens in elementary school. That was like the cardinal sin, along with chewing gum. Mrs. Downey told us on that first day of school that we must not use anything else other than a pen when writing in those composition notebooks. Well, my little 4th-grade self was thinking, What? A pen? How cool! Freedom! Her reasoning behind the pen, however, was my favorite part.

She said, "You do not use a pen in these notebooks because this book holds your creative process. In life, you can't erase your mistakes; you learn from them. When we look back at our clouds of scribbles and lines through our writing, we see what we didn't like about that work."

The freedom did not stop there. The real freedom came when Mrs. Downey said that we could write WHATEVER we wanted in those notebooks whenever there was free time.

This freedom alone was enough to make me want to write more. Every spare second of class, I was writing in that worn-out notebook.

Now, I know most of you are not English teachers, but English is not the point here. The point is that this student was able to gain a love for a subject through the feeling of ownership in her learning. She was able to meet the pedagogical standards while doing something she loved rather than having a teacher force her into a tight corner of learning.

What are ways that you can give ownership in learning?

Maybe it's letting students choose their research topic. You could also give the students a choice in their advertising techniques for assignments. Or they could select their own form of presenting.

Students learn more when they feel it isn't forced. Secondary education consists of teenagers who, let's face it, typically are going through their hunger for independence. Give them exactly that!

Now I know that there is a balance and a controlled independence that needs to take place here. I encourage you to find that balance for each class. Each class may be different.

The biggest thing is... give. the. students. OPTIONS! Not open-ended options, but controlled options. This will help both you and them.

Here is an example of a group assignment that allows students to dive into their learning and present it in their own way. Check it out!

Instead of copying definitions or memorizing terms, allow students to Team Teach using the following format:

  • Divide the class into groups.

  • Assign each group a term.

  • Require each group to research a thorough definition and one example of the term.

  • Allow each group 20 minutes to develop a presentation.

  • Each group will present their term (definition and example) to the class using one form of technology (PowerPoint, Prezi, PowToon, NearPod, Podcast, Virtual Game, etc.).

  • After each presentation, review the concepts presented by the students and solicit questions from the audience.

  • Utilize the Team Teach Rubric and Team Teach Grading Sheet to assess each presentation.

For additional resources that allow for learning styles such as this, click the link below.

Resource 1 - Team Teach Grade Sheet - Concert
Download PDF • 135KB

Options... How do they help?

I'm glad you asked! Giving options makes the grading more fun for you. You don't have to continuously see the same thing over... and over... and over again. Sometimes change is fun!

Students like the change as well. They like to do things that they feel are most fun to them, and maybe one option stands out to them more than another.

I promise you that an attitude shift will take place when they feel that there is a bit more independence to be had in that class of yours. They will be more willing and cooperative, maybe even more passionate about their learning.

Try it out... comment and let me know if anything changes for you!


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