Moving Beyond Student Engagement to Student Ownership

It is widely known that students who are actively engaged tend to have greater positive academic results than do disengaged students. But isn’t student ownership of learning what we ought to be aiming for? 

To help us answer this question, let's start by seeing if you can identify behaviors associated with student ownership. Take a minute to complete the short assessment below.

Student Ownership or Something Else? Can you identify which behaviors are associated with student ownership?

Adapted from: Reaching Every Student: Student with Disabilities module

How did you do?

Did you mistake student participation, involvement, and engagement for student ownership?  Although these terms are often used synonymously and are generally accepted as best practice, they are not the same. Certainly, students should participate, be involved in, and likewise be genuinely engaged in activities in their classrooms, but these behaviors do not necessarily support student achievement. For example, busy off-task students can appear to be actively engaged. Likewise, student participation can be increased by student-to-teacher or student-to-student interactions without supporting student learning if it is untethered to learning targets. 

Don’t get me wrong-- actively engaged students are a good indication of some very important positive aspects of classroom culture and perhaps of the relevance that the learning holds for its students. In those same classrooms, however, most of the learning is generally teacher-led where the teaching, assessing and evaluating is done formally—not with but instead to students.  The purpose of focusing on student ownership is to shift the instructional dynamic in classrooms. When student ownership is the goal, classroom teachers and students are clear about where they are going, where they are, and how to close gaps to accomplish the intended learning targets.  Students are supported and empowered to recruit and use feedback intended to help them move their own learning forward. 

How do you ensure student ownership of learning?

It is important to understand that student ownership must be cultivated over time. Ownership is not a magical gift or a developmental milestone. Students rarely know how to ‘own’ their learning—they must be shown how.  It is also vital that you believe that students at all ages, grades, and subjects and across different achievement levels can be prepared to own their learning. How? Here are two actions you can take to cultivate student ownership that will transform the nature of teaching and learning in your classroom:

1.       Begin to shift from a teacher-focused to a student-focused classroom environment.

The intentional use of formative instructional practices (FIP) will help you and your students to focus on the right skills and content, collect accurate evidence of student learning, and provide effective feedback.  Start asking and answering these questions:

  • How will we prepare our students to know where they’re headed over the course of a year, an instructional unit, or a lesson?
  • How will our students set personal goals and track their own progress towards these goals? 
  • How will our students learn to receive, recruit, and use feedback? How will our students learn to support each other’s growth? 
  • How will our students communicate their goals, progress, strengths, interests and needs?

2.       Don’t mistake student ownership for something else.

To get a better idea of what student ownership looks like and how to create a culture of student ownership, take advantage of the various FIP Your School resources.  They can help you expand your understanding and provide many examples of student ownership in action. Almost every FIP module involves building student ownership! Start with the modules that best address your current needs or interests, and that are the best fit the grade or subject you teach. You can also view videos from the FIP video library to hear from teachers and students who recognize the value of students owning their learning.

Remember, there is no FIP without student ownership. It is at the heart of what FIP is all about.