Teachers are under great pressure for their students to learn. On one hand, this is what education is all about: students learning. But, on the other hand, those of us who teach find the pressure misplaced. It’s like the old joke. A parent is talking to the teacher and says, “If my son misbehaves just spank the kid next to him and that’ll do the trick.” This action is somewhat misplaced. The student has to be the owner of his education.
As teachers we were first students ourselves. We know how we learned: by working. There were late hours reading novels, struggling with papers, or pouring over equations. But before we did all of this we had to take ownership of our education. We had to decide learning was our own responsibility.
This having been said, let me start over. As we were all first students ourselves, we all know there were teachers who reached us; teachers with whom we identified; and, dare I say it, teachers who inspired us. These were the teachers who helped us to own the learning process.
Many of our students have taken ownership before they arrive on campus. They are easy, and we would almost teach them for free. The rest are where we earn our pay.
Very rarely do we get the satisfaction of being the one person who will transition any particular student from the illusion of being a passive receptacle for knowledge into being an engaged learner. Each of us plays a part. I think that we play that part more effectively if we approach it intentionally. This is to say that we must realize that there are students who are not engaged in their own learning process and to apply methods that encourage engagement.
I must say there was a time when I would have heard this and thought about those who learned to swim by just being thrown into a pool. That is one way to approach the problem. The trouble is that you might lose someone who with a little coaching might’ve made it.
How do we do this? My approach is to provide a transparent structure. I try to organize my lower division classes to be predictable so that my students can plan and be rewarded by planning. My idea here is that good behavior should be rewarded.
I would like to know whether others have thought along these lines and, if so, what they have done to promote student ownership.