Empower Student Ownership of Learning in the Classroom

Student Ownership of Learning Defined

Empowering Students To Take Ownership Of Their Learning Video

To take charge of their own learning, learners need to know how they learn. What can you do as a teacher to make this happen? In student-centered learning, taking charge of your own learning is a top priority. According to Ownership of Learning: Fostering Learners With Autonomy, Drive, and Endurance a student who is motivated, involved, and self-directed has a sense of autonomy, choice, and responsibility in the way they behave. This is known as ownership of learning.

A basic need of all students is to have a sense of autonomy in their work. Numerous studies conducted over the years have demonstrated that kids who have a sense of autonomy are more driven to learn and do better academically. It goes without saying that students want to make meaningful decisions, follow paths that have personal significance, and feel in charge of both their achievements and failures.

Student Centered Learning Image

Choice is a big part of developing ownership and independence, but it’s not enough on its own. While students aren’t concerned with what they learn or how they learn it, they care whether it fits their own goals, hobbies, or ideals. People who want to take responsibility for their learning also need guidance, support, and feedback along the way. This lets them know if they are on the right track, and gives them confidence for the next learning task.

Goal of Ownership of Learning

According to Noah Dougherty, author of Personalizing Learning: The Goal is Student Ownership, everything teachers do, from the way they run their classes to the lessons they give their students, should be geared toward making them feel like they own their learning. Each student’s sense of control over their learning is unique, but it is always based on four main ideas:

*Helps them become more aware of their own skills, interests, and best ways to learn.
*Gives them the tools to speak up for themselves and their group
*Learns how to manage oneself in a way that helps with both emotional and academic growth
*Makes them want to continue learning throughout their lives

Empower Student Ownership of Learning

Empower Student Learning Image
Empower Student Learning

The article “Empower Students Through Creativity and Choice” talks about three important areas for student success: academic knowledge, social and emotional skills, and transferable skills that can be used in different situations. These three areas support and give students power, like the legs of a stool. The stool won’t stand without all three. The good news is that if students do well in all these areas, they will be ready to do well in college, their job, and their personal life.

Academic knowledge is important for building a strong foundation, and that’s why K–12 schools exist in the first place. Teachers often agree, though, that it might not be enough on its own.

Transferable Skills: Employers look for candidates with skills that can be used in different situations, such as communication, teamwork, innovation, and critical thinking. Because jobs are always changing, companies want to hire people with good basic skills that can be used in any new job. It is important to include these core adaptable skills in all subjects if you want to be successful in the future.

Today, students need strong social and emotional skills to do well in school. These skills help students deal with problems, keep their cool, handle their feelings, and see how their actions affect other people. Students might not be able to use their academic and transferable skills if they don’t have grit, self-control, empathy, good behavior, and the drive to do well on their own. Building social and emotional skills should be part of all learning if you want to be successful.

You can read more about social and emotional skills from my web page Building Block of Social and Emotional Learning.

The Difference Between Student Engagement and Student Ownership

From National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) student engagement is a lower-level goal and is not the highest learning destination. The goal is to reach student ownership.

Student engagement reflects what students are “doing” and “understanding” about their learning. To take that learning a step further is when students own their learning. NIET shows a table outlining what students are doing at each part of the progression from doing to learning:

Student Learning PhaseWhat this Look and Sound Like?
Students doing: Students are working on the activity.A student is doing when they can state how they would complete the task in front and then act. They are engaged but not necessarily learning.
Students understanding: students are engaging in thinking and learningA student is understanding when they can explain what they are engaged in and why, so we see and hear a shift to being engaged in their learning.
Students Owning: Students are accurately sharing their learning and the strategies they can use and apply while taking responsibility for outcomes.A student is owning what and how they are learning when they can articulate the strategy they are using to learn, how this strategy supports their learning, and how they will use this strategy.
Student Learning Progression Table

Progressing from Student Engagement to Student Ownership

Student Engagement vs Student Ownership Image

According to NIET student engagement is exemplified through doing and understanding. Student ownership is when teachers and students co-facilitate the learning. When students own their learning, they are doing more than just engaging: They are taking a role in leading their learning. When this happens, the teacher serves more as a guide for students to take them further.

Keep Learning

You can hear John Spencer, author, professor, and former middle school teacher, podcast The Power of Empowering Students Part 1

You can read Making the Shift from Student Engagement to Student Empowerment John Spencer (meaning of empower)

How Teachers Foster Student Ownership

NIET emphasizes student ownership begins when the teacher examines the standards and content, including their curriculum, from the students’ point of view. As students move from doing to owning their learning, the teacher also shifts from directing learning most of the time to co-leading learning alongside students. So, instruction moves from teacher-led to joint ownership, as students take on more responsibility for the learning process. For more information, go to my webpage Building Student Ownership of learning

Shifting to Student Ownership Image

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How to help students take ownership of their learning

You can learn more details from my blog Series from the book Developing Student Ownership:

How to Develop Students to Own How they are learning

How to Help Students to Own How well they are learning

How to Develop Students to Own What They are Learning

Importance of Empowering Students

Giving kids responsibility is an important part of making them feel like they own their learning. Students are more driven and interested in learning when they feel they have control over the process. They take an active role in their schooling and are responsible for their own growth and development. By giving kids power, we give them the skills and confidence to learn on their own and do well in a world that is always changing, according to the article Empowering Students: The Key to Student Ownership of Learning.

The article emphasizes that students who feel like they have control are more likely to set goals, look for challenges, and keep going even when things get hard. Their attitude is one of growth, which means they believe intelligence and skills can be improved through hard work and practice. With this way of thinking, they can learn with interest and determination, knowing that mistakes and setbacks are chances to improve. By teaching kids a growth mindset, we can help them become lifelong learners who aren’t afraid to take risks and keep getting better.

Four Key Aspects of Empowering Student Ownership of Learning

The article Empowering Students: The Key to Student Ownership of Learning discusses four key aspects of empowering student ownership of learning, which I thought is important.

Fostering a growth mindset

To give students the power to take charge of their own learning, it’s important to help them develop a growth attitude. We encourage students to take on challenges and see them as chances to grow, by spreading the idea that skills can be improved through dedication and hard work. Students with a growth attitude are more likely to keep going when things get tough, see setbacks as short-term problems, and ask for feedback to improve their work.

To encourage a growth mindset, teachers can give feedback focused on effort and change, rather than the end result. Students can also learn about neuroplasticity, which is the science behind how the brain can change and grow with use. By helping students create a growth mindset, we give them the tools to believe in their own abilities and help them love learning for reasons other than grades.

Creating Opportunity for Choice and Autonomy

Giving kids choices and freedom is another important part of giving them the power to take charge of their own learning. Students care more about their education when they have a say in what they learn and how they learn it. We teach kids to be responsible and in charge by giving them choices and letting them make decisions.

One way to give students choices and freedom is to use project-based learning. Students can choose to work at their own pace and explore topics that interest them with this method. They can also choose how to share what they have learned. We give students the power to take charge of their learning and build skills that are useful and important to them by letting them choose their own projects.

Besides project-based learning, teachers can also give students choices in their homework, tests, and other tasks in the classroom. Giving students choices lets them pick jobs that fit their skills and interests, which boosts their motivation and sense of ownership. Students who have a say in what they are learning are more likely to be involved and take charge of their own progress.

If you want to explore further about giving students choice and using choice to support motivation, I recommend my blog post How to Use Choice to Support Motivation in the Classroom where I showed discussion of important questions and answers you need to know from the webinar Giving Students Choice at Strategic Moments in a Learning Cycle.

Keep Learning

Ten Ways to Leverage Student Choice in Your Classroom by John Spencer

Driving Question to Use in Your PBL Classroom

How to Apply Choice and Voice in the Diverse Classroom

Promoting Collaborative Learning

Another good way to give students more power and make them feel like they own their learning is to encourage them to work together to learn. Students learn important skills like communication, teamwork, and problem-solving when they work together in groups. They can learn from and from their peers.

Students also get new ideas and views through collaborative learning, which helps them think more deeply and see things from different points of view. By encouraging students to work together, teachers make the classroom a safe and welcoming place where everyone feels welcome and like they can make a difference.

Teachers can encourage students to work together to learn by giving them tasks and activities that they need to complete together. One way to do this is through group discussions, peer feedback, and projects where students work together to learn. Teachers give students the power to take charge of their own learning and build skills that are necessary for success in the 21st century by making it easier for them to work together.

Implementing Reflective Practices

Using reflecting practices is a great way to give students more control over their learning and make them feel like they own it. Students can find links between what they have learned and their own goals, values, and experiences when they think of it. Students learn metacognitive skills through reflective practices. These skills help them keep an eye on their own learning, set goals, and make changes as required.

Teachers can use reflection practices to give students regular chances to think about what they’ve learned. The different ways to do this are by writing in a notebook, having group discussions, self-evaluations, or portfolio evaluations. Teachers give students the power to take responsibility for their success and make smart choices about their future learning goals by asking them to think about what they have learned.

Reflective activities also help students learn more about themselves as learners, which helps them figure out their skills and weaknesses. Students become involved participants in their own learning and take responsibility for their academic and personal growth when they reflect. Students can learn to be more self-directed and set goals, get feedback, and keep getting better by reflecting.

How to Help Students Take Ownership of Learning

Four ways to help kids take ownership of their learning article suggests 4 ways to help students take ownership of their learning:

1. Provide meaningful choices

It’s unlikely that most students would ever choose to learn trigonometry or take a test on animal classifications. All teachers have the standards and skills they need to teach, but that doesn’t mean you can’t provide meaningful choices to your students along the way! Here are some ideas for choices students can make during your units:

  • Create open-ended assignments and projects. Offer suggestions of a fictional character students will write about, or objects on which they can practice calculating volume, or insects they’ll make a diorama for – but ultimately allow them to decide what they want to concentrate on. They’ll develop the same skills regardless of their specific topic, and they’ll be more motivated by focusing on something they already care about.
  • Solicit ideas for homework assignments and in-class activities. Students know what they like to do – so listen to them! There are plenty of ways to spice up vocabulary practice or a history presentation, and according to the American Psychological Association, “When students feel a sense of ownership, they want to engage in academic tasks and persist in learning.” Nearpod’s Collaborate Board makes it simple to collect and discuss ideas during class.
  • Allow students to set their own pace with Student-Paced mode. Nearpod lessons allow teachers to easily keep all their students’ devices in sync, but sometimes it’s even more effective to let kids determine their own individual pace. If they want to spend an extra couple of minutes exploring a map or a diagram of the human body, all the better!

2. Establish clear learning objectives

When students begin a new unit, it’s critical they know what to expect. In some cases, it may even be possible to allow students to design their own individualized learning objectives. The better students know what is expected of them and can track their own growth on tangible skills throughout a unit, the more motivated they will be to achieve success. When lesson planning, ensure you establish clear learning objectives for students.

As an example, imagine a middle school unit writing short poetry. All students will naturally build basic reading and writing skills, but there are targeted areas students can choose to focus on in their own poems: rhyme, figurative language, visual imagery, reading their work aloud, etc. Have students determine one or two specific skills they’d like to target, and create a journal or visual tracking system they can own throughout the unit to keep track of their personal progress.

3. Give and leverage instant feedback

One of Nearpod’s coolest features is its integrated formative assessments. It’s remarkably easy to include quizzes, polls, and more formative assessment activities as quick knowledge checks directly within your lessons. Students appreciate being able to demonstrate new knowledge immediately, and they can quickly correct mistakes within their learning before those mistakes become internalized.

As a teacher, you can leverage the data collected from these assessments as well. Imagine introducing a class to long division, and just minutes later you have real-time data showing you which students have it mastered and which students will need further practice. Not only that, you can see precisely where students are struggling and adjust the rest of your lesson accordingly. By differentiating your approach with specific students using the data they just provided, you’ll ensure all students are building and practicing the right skills at the right time.

Explore formative assessment tips

4. Connect new skills and ideas to the real world

There are some students who appreciate learning for the sake of learning, but for many, it’s all about “How will I use this later in life?”. Many adults likely remember asking that very question when first learning algebraic equations or the rise and fall of the Shang dynasty. It’s critical to draw connections between skills students are learning and how those skills are used in the real world.

Pay attention to what your students are excited about, and shape your lessons accordingly. I still remember a set of sixth graders who refused to care about speed and motion graphs until a lesson that analyzed a LeBron James dunk from the 2015 NBA Finals. Each day for a week after that lesson, those kids came in eager to practice graphing on new plays and in new sports.

Nearpod’s Virtual Reality (VR) Field Trips makes it easy to transport your students beyond your classroom walls. Show them first-hand what Mayan ruins look like, how whales travel together in pods undersea, or how the Vietnam Veterans Memorial honors those who served in the war. Students can explore these scenes at their own pace and focus on the details they like most.

Examples of Student Ownership in the Classroom

Students demonstrate ownership by taking initiative in independent or group work to develop a plan to solve a task or problem in more than one way. Fostering Student Ownership Through Thinking and Problem Solving discusses ideas and examples to help teachers foster student ownership.


I can connect more and more things as I learn more about how students can take charge of their own learning. Teacher Clarity is still being worked on. I will do my best to ensure that my blogs give you useful information.

You are welcome to look around my website and pick ideas that speak to you.