5 ideas for creating a sense of ownership in learning

“We’ve all been through this: in the middle of a classroom discussion, we realize that only a part of the kids are really talking to us, and the rest are oblivious to the task.” The quote by Professor Miriam Plotinsky points out to the need to create a sense of responsibility for learning, making young people truly take ownership of the content discussed in the classroom.

Miriam, a public school learning specialist in Montgomery County, Maryland, where she has worked for nearly 20 years as an English teacher, team developer, and head of department, used her own classroom experience to develop strategies aimed at combating students’ lack of interest. Check out why this type of engagement is critical when it comes to quality of education and Miriam’s five ideas to inspire more responsibility for learning.

Ownership for learning: key to active participation

“Tell me I’ll forget, teach me and I can remember, get me involved and I’ll learn.” Benjamin Franklin’s phrase summarizes what the dynamics in the classroom should be like: with active participation and students ownership. Many teachers try to innovate in the classroom by applying concepts such as storytelling, gamification, or flipped classroom and are able to hold students’ attention for a reasonable period. These techniques and methodologies, however, alone are not sufficient to guarantee deeper involvement with learning.

“Providing choice, being flexible and building positive relationships is the basis for ensuring that children know they are the most important stakeholder in school and that they own their learning,” says Professor Miriam. According to her, the sense of responsibility for learning allows building knowledge in a deeper and more effective way, because it becomes a process of experience and not just passive listening and answering.

Ownership for learning shared by everyone in the class also fosters a spirit of collaboration among classmates themselves, who view classes as a collective construction rather than a process of content transmission-absorption.

  1. Ask for opinion

Authentic participation. To feel part of the whole and genuinely engage in classroom activities, developing a greater sense of responsibility for learning, students should realize that their opinion is important and valued in the context of the classroom.

In order to do this, build engagement to the activities from the beginning, asking at all times what students think, which paths they think are most appropriate and what their opinion about not only the content of the classes, but the activities to be performed. Good mediation skills will be required, but the effort is worth it.

  1. Focus on growth

While  allowing failure is essential for students to feel safe to experiment, focusing on success makes them confident in their journey of learning. Their progress, not how much is left to them, should shed light on the learning process in order for them to develop self-knowledge and self-confidence, understanding their limits and potentialities.

A good practice in this regard is also to put yourself in a place of vulnerability, sharing your own mistakes and difficulties with students. In addition to encouraging them, this contributes to demystifying the idea of ​​the teacher as the absolute holder of knowledge.

Another idea is to take to the classroom the story of successful professionals, showing the way they have gone, with all the mistakes and progresses, until they get there. Biographies can be great allies in this activity.

  1. Have a good time

Welcoming spontaneity. This is Professor Miriam Plotinsky’s tip for students to have a greater sense of ownership for learning. This includes embracing mistakes, knowing how to improvise, and dealing with unexpected situations.

A classroom where there is room for good humor and laughter fosters the generation of affective and trusting bonds, and the light environment contributes to making students feel more welcome and interested in learning.

But beware: It is important to remember that laughter should always be directed to the situation, not to the person, avoiding embarrassment and bullying.

  1. Rethink Classroom Participation

Not every student feels comfortable talking out to classmates and teachers. And they must be able to express themselves in other ways.

Creating participation processes that involve post its or applications like Slid.o, for example, can be an alternative for shy people to put their ideas on paper without necessarily having to expose themselves.

The important thing, as we saw in the first topic, is that the classroom is a democratic place for free expressing and accepting all kinds of opinions. All of this makes the student create a greater sense of responsibility for their learning and all the classroom dynamics.

  1. Let students have a voice

So far, we have talked about strategies for developing a sense of ownership for individual learning. But the group engagement also contributes to this. Therefore, involving them in the process of creating classes is very positive.

Create a constant feedback dynamic and get them to really help implement changes in the way content is taught and activities conducted by tailoring the class format to the profile of that class.

Another very effective strategy that helps creating ownership sense for learning and engagement is the evolutionary learning methodology. Focused on finding solutions together, its idea is to start with specific problems that must be solved with the involvement of people directly impacted by it – and who will benefit from this solution. Want to understand more about how the methodology works in practice? Check it out in this post.


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