Student Ownership: Number 2 Pencils and a Clean Sheet of Paper?

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Gone are the days where students come with a few number 2 pencils perfectly sharpened with a blank sheet of notebook paper on their desk prepared to learn and/or test. Students are coming into our classrooms armed not with a writing utensil, but with some type of electronic device instead.

Pencils in my room are generally associated with some type of standardized assessment. It might be for a state standardized test, or it might be a common assessment given by a data team to determine levels of mastery on particular learning targets. 

Is this what generates student ownership?
Teachers will collect data generated from these number 2 pencils and students will receive groupings, intervention, enrichment, or some type of feedback. Whatever the case may be, what type of student ownership are we generating with these number 2 pencils perfectly sharpened alongside a perfectly neat sheet of notebook paper? 

Some teachers may offer notebook check grades. What does that gauge exactly? Some teachers may offer points for neatness. And some teachers may give a student a grade simply for completing the assignment or activity. 

Do these types of ‘assignments’ offer a sense of student ownership?

As harsh as it may sound, I think we could all ask ourselves about the value of some of these types of ‘point earnings’ in our classrooms. What does student ownership actually mean, and what does it look like?

Or maybe this generates student ownership?
One of my students, Jake, sheepishly stepped away from a lesson dealing with Frankenstein to make connections, and to stretch the text to research an expansion topic. Sounds great doesn’t it? Well, when I approached him his reaction was, “Sorry, I am off topic!” but in reality he was clearly demonstrating ownership of his learning. He liked the idea of starting at a target and then being given the freedom to take a route of his own to expand on the target. He knew where he was supposed to get to in his learning. He had mastered the skill I was teaching, and then took the initiative to investigate it even further.

Yes, even our students are able to articulate their learning targets and, more importantly, they are able to generate responsibility for their own learning as a result. As crazy as it sounds, my students internalized and embraced these targets.

Allowing a student to take ownership of their learning and to focus them on their thinking as they approach their learning targets will only enhance a school climate and culture. I was excited and amazed to witness students internalizing their personal growth. They continually reached beyond the learning targets as I presented them; so much so that I had to up the ante and climb even further up the depth of knowledge, or Bloom’s ladder. They were looking for more after they had identified their mastery of the learning target.