How to Develop Students to Own How They are Learning

How They Are Learning Image
Develop How They Are Learning



Develop students to own how they are learning requires teachers to look at instruction from the students’ point of view. This is important to remember as you plan your unit of instructions.

What students need to do to learn the skills. True student ownership begins when the teacher looks at instruction from the students’ point of view.

Those strategies students will use to master the content skills determined in the curriculum, defined by Authors of Developing Student Ownership, as instruction. This means once the student understands what they are learning, how will they show mastery? and why they are learning it. This way students can determine the best way to learn, and it is done with the support of the teacher.

Fostering student ownership of learning tool from NIET Teaching and Learning Standards includes descriptions of how students demonstrate ownership, how teachers can support student ownership, key markers that signal increased ownership, and guiding questions to help teachers think about fostering student ownership.

Putting Student Ownership into Practice

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Develop Student Ownership in Practice

What does student ownership look like and sound like when a student owns their part in instruction? What is the difference between a student who is simply doing or understanding instruction and one who owns how they are learning?

Authors of the book Robert Crowe and Jane Kennedy (2018) show us the difference in the following:

“A student is doing when they can state how they need to complete the task in front of them.” (pg. 49)

“A student is understanding when they can explain what strategy they are engaged in.” (pg. 49)

“A student is owning how they are learning when they can articulate the strategy they are currently using to learn, how this strategy supports their learning, and how they will use this strategy in the future—during this class, in other classes, and when they are working on their own.” (pg. 49)

Crowe and Kennedy present an example of what ownership looks and sounds like on a continuum of doing-understanding-owning in the following diagram:

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How They Are Learning

A teacher can move a student toward ownership of their learning by strategically deciding when to offer the following three learning practices:

Strategic Learning PracticesEach student must answer the following questionsReflection: How well do you develop students to own how they are learning?
Instruction 1: Each and every student is supported by opportunities for meaningful engagement using structured student-to-student communication.

How does engaging in conversations with my peers push my learning?

How do I participate in these conversations?

What is my role as both a speaker and listener?
Student communications build toward mastery of the relevant standards and measurable and achievable learning outcomes.

Multiple and varied opportunities for student communication are provided.

Student communications are structured to provide rigorous and high-quality conversations.

Structured communications include reciprocal speaking and listening opportunities for each student.
Instruction 2: Each and every student is supported by opportunities for meaningful engagement using effective instructional strategies.
How does engaging in conversations with my peers push my learning?

How do I participate in these conversations?

What is my role as both a speaker and listener?
Instructional strategies build toward mastery of the relevant standards and measurable and achievable learning outcomes.

Instructional strategies require high levels of active participation.

Instructional strategies account for the different needs of your students.

Students must reflect on the purpose and value of the instructional strategy.
Instruction 3: Each and every student is supported by opportunities for meaningful engagement, in which instructional time is efficiently used.How much time do I have to learn this?

How can I use my time most efficiently?

How can these routines help me in the future?
All time is used to meaningfully engage students toward mastery of the relevant standards and measurable and achievable learning outcomes.

The pace keeps all students actively participating.

Routines are used to maximize instructional time and exclude nonproductive time.
Strategic Learning Practices Instruction

Strategic Learning Practices

In Strategic Learning Practices, authors lay out the following:

  • Clearly define each learning practice
  • Describe what implementation looks and sounds like in the classroom
  • Share teacher planning questions and offer examples of how students have been supported with these learning practices in various content areas and grade level
  • Explain how these practices directly lead to increased student ownership

Instruction 2 as an Example

Define Learning Practice 2

Opportunities: Chances for students to actively engage. The greater the quantity and quality of these opportunities, the higher the probability of student learning.

Meaningful engagement: It occurs when students participate in interactions that directly lead to increased understanding or mastery of the learning outcome.

Effective: It implies that students demonstrate the intended learning at the end of the time allotted.

Instructional Strategies: All students demonstrate the intended learning at the end of the time allotted.

The Practice in Action

This is what it looks like in Mr. Spicer”s 8th grade language arts class:

First page of the class agenda found in students’ Chromebook reads – Unit Standard: Analyze how a text – Narrative of the Life of Fredierick Douglass, an American Slave, by Frederick Douglass – Makes connections between individuals, ideas, or events (e.g. through comparisons, analogies, or categories).

Unit Outcome: Write an explanatory and informative essay that compares the life of a slave to his master.

Lesson Outcome: Analyze how chapters 5-7 make connections between Frederick Douglass and Mr. Auld, to cite specific textual evidence with Cornell notes. Read the text in your reciprocal teaching talking groups.

The students are sitting in groups as you walk around and ask “What are you learning?”

Deb: “We are learning how to analyze a text on Frederick Douglass and how it compares and contrasts.”

Zach: “The standard uses the phrase to make connections among and distinctions between individuals.”

Deb: “Oh yeah. Mr. Spicer tells us to use as much academic language as we can. But we need to read the text and then find accurate evidence we can use in our essays.”

You: “How will you read the text? Is that why you are sitting in groups?”

Zach: “Yes, we’re in our reciprocal teaching talk groups, and we will read the text together, discuss it, make sure we have all understood it, and then take notes.”

Deb: “We each have a role. Today I will be the questioner, Zach will be the clarifier, Jamal will be the summarizer, and Jay will be the predictor. As the questioner, I will read the paragraph out loud to the group. I will then ask them a couple of questions-one that is explicit and can be answered by words from the text, and another that is more inferential and can be answered by putting ideas together that might not be explicitly stated.”

Zach: “Then I will clarify any vocabulary or phrases that the group is struggling with. We will also find the vocabulary Mr. Spicer told us we need to know about slavery and abolition. After I clarify, Jamal will summarize what we read, and we will add to it if we need to. —“

The group will take notes using Cornell notes before reading the next section.

You: “How does this help you learn?”

Jamal: “Reciprocal teaching helps me learn, because it makes me read and reread the text by having to answer the questions, clarify vocabulary and ideas, summarize, and predict I am understanding at a deeper level. If I read this by myself, I might think I know it all without realizing what I missed.”

Students learn reciprocal teaching from Mr. Spicer. He taught each skill individually at the beginning of the year. Students spent a lot of time developing questions, clarifying vocabulary, summarizing, and using text clues to predict. At the end of the year, Mr. Spicer wants students to do as much as possible on their own, and  ask him questions only after students have asked one another first.

How did the students be able to answer the questions so articulately and with such confidence?

Mr. Spicer had this to say, “First off, I had to make sure they understand what we were learning —in both the unit and the lesson. Then I had to determine the best way to have them learn this — there are so many strategies to choose them. Reciprocal teaching is an instructional strategy that we have been using all year, so the students are very familiar with it. We have used it in a lot of different contexts and with a lot of support from me, but this is the first time I have asked them to work in talk groups where they are in control of everything — the roles, the chunking of the text, time management. To do this, I need to be very planned. I also need to be very deliberate about what we are learning and where we are headed—what we will complete at the end of the lesson and unit.”

You can see Mr. Spicer uses a reciprocal teaching strategy to support students analyzing text. He is very deliberate in his planning, what they are learning, and where they are going in the unit and lessons.

Implementing the Practice

Mr. Spicer uses questions to help plan how he would offer support to his students. He asks himself the following questions that help guide him to implement Strategic Learning Practice Instruction 2:

  • What skill will my students learn, and how will they demonstrate they have learned it?

Mr. Spicer observes, “We are at the end of the year, and my students still need a lot of practice reading informational texts. In social studies, my students are learning about the Civil War, so the narrative by Frederick Douglass fits in nicely. I selected the standard 8.RI.3: ‘Analyze how a text makes connections among and distinctions between individuals, ideas, or events (e.g. through comparisons, analogies, or categories).’ This standard helped me determine the focus for the end-of-unit essay. After that, the curriculum side of planning this unit came fairly quickly.”

Next, Mr. Spicer had to determine the answers to the following questions:

  • How will I select an instructional strategy that will build toward mastery of the learning outcome?
  • How will I select an instructional strategy that is appropriate for my students?
  • How does the instructional strategy require high levels of active participation?

This is how Mr. Spicer answers the above questions:

“I realized that the unit and the final essay hinged on the students’ ability to comprehend a fairly complex text. Frederick Douglass wrote this narrative in 1845 using his particular vernacular. I knew there would be vocabulary and ideas that were new to my students. I also knew that they needed to grapple with the text and its concepts if they were to pull relevant evidence from it to use in their essays. And, as it was the end of the year, they need to practice working independently to get ready for high school.”

“That’s why my first decision was how they were to access the text. Of all the strategies I could choose from—close reading, teacher-led lectures, reading for homework driven by end-of-chapter quizzes, direct instruction, and so on—it became clear that reciprocal teaching would lead to mastery of both the unit and lesson objective. The thinking required to question, clarify, summarize, and predict about specific passages in a text really pushes students’ deeper understanding of the content. So, I knew that this was a strong strategy.”

“Next, I had to determine if it was appropriate for my students. The maturity of an eighth grader is different for each student. But I knew my students needed to begin working more independently, especially from me. Again, reciprocal teaching seemed to fit the bill. My students had been practicing each of the strategies for the entire year—I had them learning in groups since November—and they had been working on the social skills necessary to be effective as a learning team. For the majority of my class, they were up to the task. And the smaller groups I had them in, let me monitor and manage these teams that needed extra support.”

“I also knew that the instructional strategy I selected needed to require a high level of active participation for each student. The individual roles in reciprocal teaching ensured this, and the students would hold one another accountable to participate.”

Mr. Spicer wants his students to use these skills in various situations-especially in high school. He wants students to own these strategies, so they can increase their probability of learning. He then had to determine the following:

  • How will I share this information with my students?
  • How will I check that my students understand the goals of the instruction?

This is how he explains his answers to the above questions:

“We have focused on reading strategies from the beginning of the year. We discussed the value of having a variety of reading strategies at their disposal when reading anything-novels, poems, newspapers, biographies, the textbook, and so on. We discussed the need to learn and practice many different strategies to find out which ones work best for them. We discuss how the skills of reciprocal teaching-questioning, clarifying, summarizing, and predicting-form a nice schema to help categorize these strategies. And we discussed how the format of reciprocal teaching-working in small groups to make meaning-forms a nice process to help them understand how to learn from one another.”

“Reciprocal teaching forces the cognitive load onto my students, which allows me to spend my time supporting the instruction. The small groups help me check for understanding, clarify any concerns, support the process of reading, support the process of gathering evidence, and differentiate for individual teams, as needed.”

Mr. Spicer wants his students to understand the value of owning their learning. He prepares them for high-school and college. Therefore, he needs to think about the following question:

  • How will my students understand that reflecting on the instructional aspects of the learning supports their ownership of learning?

He says, “We have had many discussions about the value of making meaning from text and understanding how a reader goes about making meaning. For each new reading strategy, we discuss what it is, how to use it, how it can help a reader understand at a deeper level, and how to employ it in a variety of situations. My students are expected to use these strategies in other classes and report out how they have helped them.”

My Takeaway

Mr. Spicer realized that without this support of multiple opportunities to actively engage in the learning, interacting with instruction that is purposeful and leads to mastery and deeper understanding of the learning, and reflecting on the use of these strategies in the future, his students will struggle with owning their learning.

Authors Robert Crowe and Jane Kennedy use guided questions for implementing Strategic Learning Practice Instruction 2. It is helpful for teachers to plan their unit lessons meaningfully and engagingly using effective instructional strategies. This way students know what they are learning and why they are learning.

What does student ownership of instruction look like, and sound like in your classroom? Are your students doing, understanding, or owning?

Something for you to think about.