Student Ownership

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.


Bobby Winters

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  • John Franklin  On January 17, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    especially with gen ed courses it is important to remember that nonmajors need more structure; where BW writes transparent structure, I would modify that: provide apparent structure

    John Franklin, English

  • psuartsnsciences  On January 17, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    How would you make the distinction of apparent vs transparent?

  • Amy Hite  On January 19, 2012 at 9:58 am

    I enjoyed this first blog and discussion. I have subscribed to Malcolm Knowles Adult Learning and always thought more along the lines of self directed learners who take initiative. But this made me think re-evaluate and consider the importance of engaging those students who need more direction. That does go back to Knowles’ assumptions about their motivation, readiness and orienation to learn. In classrooms it is easier to engage the passive student, but with online it takes more creativitiy. I dislike just using points to engage students in discussion boards. Have you found other ideas that work?

    • psuartsnsciences  On January 19, 2012 at 10:57 am

      I’ve not had experience with using discussion boards in class. Anyone else out there?

  • John Franklin  On January 27, 2012 at 10:32 am


    The difference between apparent and transparent is clear [pun intended] 🙂

    Transparent means that the student has to find the structure; apparent means that you point it out. A structure can become apparent in four ways (the “four corners” practiced in my gen ed gen lit course: ENGL 113):

    1. With discussion questions cued to the literature being read, relying upon the difference between lower-order thinking (these questions generally are “w” questions: what, when, where, who) and higher-order thinking (these questions are generally “how” and “why” questions);

    2. By promoting ownership of thinking in class discussion; I do this by simply writing the students’ names on the board and summarizing answers as they present their thinking; when a student’s name is up there they are authoritatively associated with their answer; then, I can link answers to introduce concepts central to my discipline so that, for example, an answer about an object–say William Carlos Williams’s red wheelbarrow–can lead to a discussion that goes beyond the lower-order ansswer to reveal an important component of the structure of literary analysis: symbol;

    3. By deconstructing literary analysis to create writing templates so simply structured that nonEnglish majors in a gen ed course can write like English majors, an act that decreases anxiety that might prevent writers from “seeing” the apparent structure in this critical thinking exercise.

    4. By promoting projects that enable students to apply any of a variety of multiple intellingences [here I’m mostly thinking of Gardner] that enable them to learn the structure of literary analysis and present it alternatively; the structure is the same, but the student’s presentation may be different so that, for example, video projects based upon literature and students’ reading allow design, graphics and technology majors to manipulate their strengths. If you form groups, then you can speak to a variety of strengths: for example, business majors tend to be highly organized and manage projects well. I love the way that disparate majors collaborate.

    thanks for creating a structure allowing me to share this thinking.



  • Bobby Winters  On January 27, 2012 at 10:57 am

    Nicely put.

  • John Franklin  On February 3, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    It must be Friday–I’m visiting the blog 🙂

    Today I want to share a story sent in by a student teacher from last semester: Shawn LaSota who cooperated with Kayla Pruitt nee Massa at Girard HS.

    As a student in my English 478: Literature for Middle and Secondary schools course, Shawn is aware of the need to overcome resistance and reluctance among adolescent readers.

    He did so recently when a student–a resistant reader at best–admitted that he enjoyed the movie Fight Club.

    Shawn took advantage of the opening to ask the student if he knew the movie came from a book.

    Long story short: student read the book, asked for more by that author and next moved on to Vonnegut.

    I’m not sure if I can connect the anecdote to student ownership, but I want us to be aware that our students are taking what they learn from us in our classes and that they are using this where they are teachers with their own students.


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