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What is good teaching? Ask a teacher and you will get an answer. Ask ten teachers and you will get ten answers. Every teacher has their own idea. But you will find commonalities in their answers.

Good teaching is group work, says a middle school Science teacher.

Good teaching is direct instruction, says a first grade teacher about phonics.

Good teaching is an entertaining and engaging lecture says the high school History teacher.

Good teaching is____. Just fill in the blank with some form of methodology or activity. This is because most teachers think about good teaching through the lens of an instructional strategy.

But this approach to teaching focuses primarily on the teacher—what instructional strategy do we need to use to teach the skills. For students to take more ownership of their learning, we need to flip this focus onto the students and what instructional strategy they need to use to learn the skills.

True student ownership begins when the teacher looks at instruction from the student’s point of view.

Instruction is best defined as those strategies students will use to master the content and skills determined by the curriculum. That is, once the student understands what they are learning, how they will show mastery, and why they are learning it, they must then determine the best way to learn it.

How do students do this? They do it with the support of the teacher and the decisions the teacher makes.  The decisions that best support student-focused learning are also the decisions that best support student ownership.

Developing Student Ownership in Instruction

Learning Framework: Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment, Climate

© Elevated Achievement Group, Inc.

What does this mean? This means in the area of instruction, every student needs to know and be able to articulate:

  • What they are learning and how they will demonstrate they have learned it,
  • How they are learning it,
  • How engaging in conversations with their peers pushes their own learning,
  • How they participate in these conversations,
  • How their role as both a speaker and a listener supports their learning,
  • How the instructional strategy that they are using effectively supports them to master the learning,
  • How they can utilize this strategy in future learning,
  • The value of reflecting on how they learn,
  • Why the allotted time is provided,
  • How best to utilize that time to support their learning,
  • How routines can help them in the future, and
  • Why articulating these aspects of instruction helps them own their learning.

The Power of Metacognition

Girl wearing glasses with gears turning over her head

© Shutterstock/Sunny studio

If students are able to articulate all of these things, that means they are successfully engaging in the process of metacognition. Often defined as “thinking about thinking,” metacognition is a learner’s ability to examine and understand their own thinking and learning processes.

Teachers who support metacognition have the ability to tell students:

  • How engaging in conversations pushes their own learning,
  • How the instructional strategy they are using effectively supports each and every student to master the skill,
  • How they can utilize this strategy in future learning, and
  • The value of reflecting on how they are learning.

Students who develop metacognition have the ability to articulate:

  • How engaging in conversations pushes their own learning,
  • How the instructional strategy they are using effectively supports them to master the skill,
  • How they can utilize this strategy in future learning, and
  • The value of reflecting on how they are learning.

When it comes to instruction, the strongest strategies we can engage in with our students are those that teach them about their own learning and that can be applied to push their learning in other situations. These strategies also lead to greater student ownership.

What Does Student Ownership Look Like and Sound Like?

Student ownership doesn’t just happen overnight. Once students have been told how they are learning, have discussed it, shared it, and then begin to articulate it—this information will drive their taking control of their learning.

So, when asked, “How are you learning?” what does an answer that demonstrates ownership sound like, at the highest level?

From a first grader during Math:

“We learned that the numbers on both sides of the equal sign must be the same. You can’t use an equal sign if this is not true. Today we have to tell each other if the problem is true or false. Then we make a model with blocks to show if it is true. If it is true, our model shows this. If it is false, we have to fix it.”

From a fourth grader during English Language Arts:

“We are learning about point of view and the difference between first-person and third-person. We are using Cornell notes to gather how different authors use different ways to show who is narrating. Cornell notes help me keep track of the evidence from the text without having to write down every single word. I take notes this way in my other classes. It helps me organize my thoughts.”

From an eighth grader during Physical Science:

“We use models to help us understand and describe things, especially things that we can’t see, like simple molecules and extended structure. We are going to make models of them so we can understand and explain them better. Not only will I learn more from making my models, but when I see everyone else’s models, I will understand even better. My teacher suggests I use this strategy in other classes, like math.”

From a tenth grader during American History:

“We are learning about points of view. Today we are reading about World War I and why each country entered it. We are gathering information on a point of view chart. In our groups, each of us represents the point of view of a different country. Before we can discuss their reason, we must understand it from their point of view. We come to consensus before we take notes on our chart. This means we must negotiate our answers.”

The Strategic Learning Practices for Instruction

What can teachers do so students can take ownership of their instruction? We must model the thinking behind the ownership and explicitly teach those skills. This takes strategic planning to provide students with the support they need to answer those fundamental questions that pertain to instruction, such as: “How will I learn this?” “How will this strategy help me learn this?” and “How can I use this strategy in the future and in different situations?”

While there are hundreds of actions a teacher must take in a day, we have found that three practices in particular can greatly help students take ownership in the area of instruction. We call them strategic learning practices. When these practices are implemented, they have the effect of increasing student ownership and elevating student achievement.

These strategic learning practices in the area of instruction are the following:

Elementary students working together at a large table

© Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images

  1. Each and every student is supported by opportunities for meaningful engagement using structured student-to-student communication.
  2. Each and every student is supported by opportunities for meaningful engagement using effective instructional strategies.
  3. Each and every student is supported by opportunities for meaningful engagement in which instructional time is used efficiently.

Those three practices cover a lot of the instructional decisions we make as teachers. When we implement these practices on a daily basis in our classrooms, we help our students acquire the metacognitive skills they need to grow as learners. By being strategic in our instructional choices, our students get the support they need to start owning their learning and elevating their academic achievement.

The Learning Brief

In this article you learned…
  • We as teachers need to focus less on what we need to do to teach the curriculum and more on how students need to learn the required content and skills.
  • Like student ownership in general, student ownership of instruction occurs along a predictable continuum and eventually leads to deep individual metacognition.
  • Three strategic learning practices can greatly help students achieve ownership of their instruction and thereby elevate their academic achievement.
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Can you imagine building an environment full of motivated, engaged, and eager students who own their learning?
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