How to Encourage Students to Take More Ownership Over Their Learning

portrait of young teenager junior high school student studying at home

Accountability is one of the more difficult skills for students to learn. It requires an understanding and consideration of consequences, pride in oneself, care for how one is perceived, and a team-player mentality. Not every student will learn the crucial importance of accountability at home, which means it is all the more essential for you as a teacher to reinforce this behavior in the classroom. If you have students who resist taking ownership over their education, use the advice that follows to instill in them an understanding of the short and long-term benefits of being dependable and self-reliant.

Homework Menus

A foundational principle in accountability is decision-making. Homework menus allow students to choose which activity or assignment they would like to complete for their homework on a given night. When a young person is given an option rather than having something dictated to them, they are more likely to choose a path that will lead to more ideal outcomes. Even those students who at first might be tempted to take the easiest path will learn, over time, that with the freedom to choose comes the ability to stretch themselves and try something challenging without consequence.

Ask Students for Their Input

Students will be more willing to accept how they are assessed and graded if they are part of the assessment-making criteria. For example, if you require students to turn in a historical essay, ask for the class’s input on the components that make up a high-quality essay, and on which they should be graded. By naming such elements (e.g., a strong introduction, a thesis statement) students are encouraged to think conceptually about quality writing and will also be more willing to consider such components when crafting their piece.

Make the Learning Meaningful

How many times have you been challenged with the student comment: “I’m never going to need this.” Most students want to understand the why behind what they are learning. By giving your students a larger context for how their learning and skill development will better themselves and the world, your students are more likely to take ownership of their education.

For example, rather than teaching basic math, hold a fundraiser for a local non-profit. Challenge your students to determine how many raffle tickets they will need to sell to cover their expenses and raise $100 for your local charity. When students feel that they are making an impact, they are more likely to follow through on commitments and deliverables.

Leverage Your District’s Makerspace

Sometimes the students who lack follow-through on classroom assignments are simply in need of a creative outlet. If you are fortunate enough to have a Makerspace in your school, leverage it as often as possible to give students a creative outlet to pursue a passion project, identify a practical application to a classroom concept, or simply to fuel their creativity. Giving students room to explore and express themselves will make them more likely to embrace other learning elements and be engaged.

Final Words of Advice

As is the case with so many education elements, there are endless ways to motivate students and lead change in your school. Collaborate with your fellow teachers on solutions and best practices for engaging students in practices that will empower accountability. With shared learning comes collective progress. Test, assess, and test again. The more you experiment, the better your students’ results and the more your students will learn.

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