Master Teaching

a blog for teachers who follow the Master Teacher

Learner Ownership


When children first learn how to do something (like walking), parents may almost do it for them until, weaned away, they’re able to do it on their own. But if parents continue to “hold their hand,” we may hear frustrated words like: “Me do it!”

Are your students calling out, “Me do it!”? Or do you wish they would?

Learning a new subject or skill may at first require some hand-holding. But if we continue to spoon-feed our students, we may create an unhealthy co-dependency where they rely too heavily on us to meet their learning needs and/or we enable them to do so.

Who is responsible for meeting the learning needs of our students?

Of course, we bear responsibility, but so also do learners. We share the burden; otherwise, it’s too heavy for us, and student learning is limited. As we talk here, I can’t help but think of conversations I’ve had with Chinese colleagues…

In your intensive reading courses, do you teach students every sentence in every reading in the textbook? (And is that even possible?) Or do you teach them how to read? Which will prepare them better for exams?

When class size exceeds 25 students (and may be as many as 50 or 70 or more), how can one teacher meet the learning needs of every student in every class? If students could learn to meet their own needs, how would that maximize their learning and lighten the teacher’s load?

That last question gets to the heart of what learner ownership is and does for students and teachers. It starts in the classroom where students become active participants in the learning process, taking responsibility for their learning needs, and then it inspires them toward out-of-class learning, all the while transforming them into lifelong learners.

What are some ways to encourage learner ownership?

Autonomous Learning: If they are not already, teach students to be independent learners. 1) Have them set goals and articulate expectations for in- and out-of-class learning and then help them self-monitor as they progress. 2) Design choices into activities, assignments, and exams, and teach them how to choose wisely based on their level, preferences, or styles. 3) Encourage them to learn outside of class. By identifying something they are passionate about and then persevering until they’ve learned it, they learn autonomously while also practicing grit. 4) Model autonomous learning by sharing your own adult learning experiences.

Student Voice: Give students a say in classroom decisions. 1) One of my Chinese colleagues negotiated classroom rules with her university students. We’ve seen here before how behavior expectations can also be negotiated with children. 2) We can involve students in curriculum decisions, which units to cover in the textbook, for example, or asking them to write essential questions. 3) When we elicit student feedback, we not only put their feasible ideas into practice, but also give credit where it is due.

Student Engagement: A starting point for engaging students in the learning process is to connect course content to the real world, tying new information to their experiences and even at times giving them real audiences for what they produce. In addition, rather than telling, we can encourage students (or groups) to figure something out and then sometimes teach each other such that they take responsibility for their own learning as well as that of their classmates.

Personal Responsibility: As we engage students, we can encourage them to take personal responsibility for not only learning course content but also applying it to life. When the textbook unit talks about the environment, for example, we ask what they, not just governments, can do. When it mentions people societies tend to look down on, we challenge them toward self-examination. We’re hoping for a transformation, in classroom learning and in life, “of outward actions and inward beliefs…that could affect both their world citizenship and membership on the classroom team.”[1]

The trajectory of learner ownership starts in the classroom with course content, delves into the moral dimension, and then expands into the world for a lifetime of learning both knowledge and life.

[1]  Melissa K. Smith, “Yahweh’s Taxonomy of the Deeper Dimensions,” in Thinking Theologically about Language Teaching:  Christian Perspectives on an Educational Calling, ed. Will Bankston and Cheri Pierson (UK: Langham Global Library, forthcoming).

Further exploration

What’s your perspective?

We welcome your comments on any of the ideas in this post or in answer to the questions below.

  • How do you encourage learner ownership in your classroom?
  • How can you inspire your students (and even yourself) to take personal responsibility for applying classroom content to life?
  • What approach do you think the Master Teacher takes to learner ownership in His classrooms?

Try it out

What’s one suggestion in this post or one idea from the Master Teacher that you would like to try in your classroom? Once you try it out, let us know what happens.

Post Author

Melissa K. Smith

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on December 21, 2016 by in autonomous learning, LEAPAsia on WeChat, learner ownership, Melissa K. Smith, trends in education.



Photo Credit: Eric Fischer via Compfight cc
%d bloggers like this: