Owning Our Learning

In a Slice of Life post by Carol Varsalona this week, I was inspired to ask again my essential question about education:

How can I empower students to own their own learning?

Carol called questions like this burning questions. This is a burning question in my professional life. I’ve been saying it and trying it since 2011, when I first learned about Alan November’s book called, Who Owns the Learning? I struggle in my current situation because teaching and learning are much more traditional and academic than what I’ve been used to. I sometimes feel I am going uphill in a rowboat.

I don’t ever want to give up, but sometimes I struggle passing the learning torch on to my students.

I am trying to help students own learning, but to tell the truth I’m a little discouraged now. Here, perhaps as a reminder to myself, are some things I’m attempting:

  1. Self-assessment checklists of learning
  2. Tests can be retaken after students master the material
  3. Student learning presentations to parents by students instead of parent teacher conferences
  4. Students have a safe place to own their strengths and weaknesses, where they don’t have to pretend to be something they aren’t
  5. Authentic audiences for student work–pen pals, a global audience through global projects, Twitter, and our class and individual blogs
  6. Less emphasis on grades
  7. Figuring out problems instead of easy answers
  8. Student classroom jobs
  9. Students believe: “All are students, all are learners”

I would appreciate any advice. What am I missing that I need to try or renew?

Here are a couple of images that inspired me today:

Never stop asking questions.

A post shared by Edutopia (@edutopia) on

Image by Bill Ferriter with CC BY 2..0 license.

7 thoughts on “Owning Our Learning

  1. I saw Mr. November present a few years ago, and I have to say– He’s brilliant.

    This idea is something I’ve been thinking about a lot in the past week in my reflective journal. It’s tough to balance the necessary direction and structure with true student ownership.

    Thanks for the title. It’s now on my wishlist.

  2. Student ownership is something we have been learning about and encouraging. I loved how you included the images in with your post…they were very meaningful!

  3. You sure have hit a “nerve” in the educational world with this question. I tell my grad students that sometimes, the need is not to intervene by reteaching a skill but rather to intervene by providing motivation and inspiration. I love your idea of real audiences. I also think real, specific and pointed praise for what students do well works towards owning your learning. I never say “Good job.” I say something like, “I like the way you reread when that word didn’t make sense over here. Next time, you’ll figure it out because now you know that sometimes c and sound like s.”

  4. I think it is quite inspiring that you are putting such a focus on this idea. Nothing could be more important. If the learning isn’t for them, who is it for? Too often students get this idea it is for us and I think we unintentionally give that vibe. What a wonderful reflection you have here and you are definitely on the right track. Keep at it. Great list to get started.

  5. It sounds like you really “get” what learning and education is all about!

  6. I loved that book too. I know you are involved in Genius Hour too. I would say it takes awhile to build this culture of thinking. You are taking important steps. It seems like the most important part is student choice- then they own the learning truly.

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