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Help Students Take Ownership of Their Learning

We all want what is best for our kids. As adults we do things for them, starting at an early age, and think we are helping them but we aren’t. It is not apparent, at that moment, the damage we may be causing and I think we may be creating monsters that awaken later on in life. I see it with my own kids that are 6 years old and 4 years old and I certainly see it with our middle school students. The things we do – help them clean up their room, work with them on their school work, print out assignments, assist them in research – all good things that seem like good ideas, but we are not allowing them to develop independence, responsibility, critical thinking and decision making. More importantly, we are not allowing them to fully “take ownership of their learning."
At the beginning of the year I addressed middle school faculty, students and parents with the notion that students need to take ownership of their learning. In August we provided agendas for students, something that we have not done for a few years in middle school, so they could begin the ownership process. Now that we are near the end of the school year, students and parents need to assess where they are with their level of ownership.

While I am reiterating the need for students to take ownership and be more independent, I am not advocating for parents to now become vacant parents. What I am suggesting is that parents allow their students to work on their own while parents do what I call a “spot check.” Spot checks are random queries on their student to make sure that the they are doing what is expected – was the homework complete, assignments written in the agenda, time allotted to study for a test, etc. After a few successful “checks” then parents can make the decision to continue to check with the same frequency. If students are not living up to the expectations during the checks then parents must determine a new frequency until they see a successful pattern occurring.

Here’s the disclaimer: I’ve had a parent tell me that they did what I suggested, gave complete freedom for an entire semester and their child had poor grades at the end because they “listened to what I said” and “left their child alone.” I had to remind the parent that they missed one important step – the spot check. I am not encouraging for you to abandon your child. Instead, give them some freedom while letting them know you are supporting them in their educational journey.

Some of you may be saying, “Well, how do I allow my child to take ownership of their learning?” Here are five suggestions:

1) Every Sunday, have them write their homework in their agenda. This will bring an instant awareness as to what is happening during the week and that should lead them to another important step – managing their time. If students participate in after school activities, I would suggest that information be included in the agenda as well.

2) In addition to homework, students should allocate study time in their agendas so they can be sure to find the time as best they can. They should not wait until the day before a test or quiz to study. They should give at least two days for studying with the possibility that more time may be needed.  

3) If you find that your child has a poor sense of timing, has difficulty in time management or if homework seems to take a rather lengthy amount of time, have them create a time log. Here's how it works: Every day, before they begin to complete their assignments, have them write down how long they anticipate an assignment will take to complete. Then, when the assignment is done, have them write down the actual time it took. Over a period of a few weeks, sit with your child to see how the actual time compared with their anticipated time. You would want to see that the estimated times improved through the process with the goal of this exercise being that the actual and anticipated times are equal.

4) Students should make sure that they have all of the tools and resources necessary to be successful. That includes paper, pencil, agenda, etc. If they don’t, have them work on a system of restocking their supply and making sure they take the necessary items with them to and from school.  

5) In what may be the most important step, have students review assessments once they are returned to them. Students focus more on the grade they earned rather than the mistakes they made. It will be a tremendous benefit to your children if they review the questions that were incorrect and found the correct method or answer. They might feel that it’s punishment but they need get past that and once they do, they will understand that this will make them better learners.
As the semester wraps up and we will soon be upon the semester exam week, it will be important for students to put forth the effort to ensure that they are as successful as they can be. It is my hope that they have developed a sense of ownership of what they are doing. They might have to tweak things along the way but there should be a foundation of learning that they can use to propel them to greater things in future grades. 
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8001 SW 184 Street, Miami, FL 33157
Tel: 305.251.2230 | Fax: 305.251.2917
An independent, college preparatory, co-ed, Episcopal day school serving a community of students grades 6-12.