Responsibility of the Learner

We need to make them take ownership of their learning

This week our conversation has centered on the phrase, “Whatever it takes–that’s the job of the teacher.” Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday we read “with the grain,” accepting the text for what it said, challenging ourselves with how we can add one more thing in our pursuit to do “whatever it takes.”

Today, we read “against the grain” and challenge the idea. And I will bring into the conversation a book I have picked up for summer readingVisible Learning for Literacy.

When I first read that phrase, “Whatever it takes,” I’ll admit, I was angry. Here’s why. When I step back and look at all my commitments–full-time teaching, marriage, three kids, involvement at church, active in the community where I live–I do a lot of juggling, blending, and balancing to do get it all done. And when someone comes along and says “whatever it takes” to me, in the midst of all I do, it comes across as holier-than-thou moralizing while wagging your finger at me.

If you read the earlier posts, clearly, I got over that initial anger. But, even then, I noticed something else was bothering me. And here it is:

What about the student? Are the students doing “whatever it takes?”

I have been part of meetings where student results come back below what we were expecting, and questions were asked about what interventions we can add to help the students succeed. What else could be done? That’s a good question to ask, but how many interventions are too many? Where is the line where we can look at what the teacher did, what the student did, and say, “Yep, that teacher did everything she could and the student did not respond.” 

Visible Learning for Literacy can lend some insight here. The book can essentially be broken into three parts: surface learning, deep learning, and transfer of learning from one context to another. Two-thirds of what is offered in the book, where clear impact is made on the students’ development, involve the students taking ownership of their own learning. Yes, teachers give the students content they have never learned before. And, yes, teachers are always guiding the students to aim their energy in a direction where they can learn for themselves. But at some point, the baton passes from teacher to student.

In the book, the authors promote teaching students metacognitive strategies. If this term is new to you, a helpful definition is given in chapter 3, “Metacognition is the ability to think about and reflect on one’s learning.” The authors give the three parts of metacognitive awareness:

  1. Knowledge about our learning selves
  2. An understanding of what the task demands and necessary strategies to complete them
  3. The means to monitor learning and self-regulate

Just look at those conditions! If students are going to do that kind of thinking, they will need to take on quite a bit of responsibility. And they should take on more responsibility. We need to make them take ownership of their learning more and more.

If you pick up the book, it will be clear that metacognition has a big impact on a student’s learning. When you get to the point where you add metacognition to your instruction, you will see the benefits in student learning, as I have. As teachers, we should be pushing our students to get there. But they will need to meet us halfway, even if that means they are challenged to do “whatever it takes.”

[Photo Credit: Brooke Lark]

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