Dr Robert Brooks in his blog "Nurturing Ownership and Responsibility: A Vital Ingredient Of A Positive School Climate", discusses reasons for including learner ownership as an integral component of classroom and school management. Can it work? How do you implement this strategy? What do I and the class / group gain from this approach? Questions! Questions! And more questions! Sit back, relax and I'll explain how I implemented my ownership model. Watch the video below to hear what a past student has to say about this strategy.
To initiate the ownership process, I always discussed and examined a set of ground rules for implementing the various steps. My model is based on brainstorming and as such, learners need to understand the processes for brainstorming, before getting started. I found this strategy the most effective way to get input from all members of the group i.e. as to which topics they wanted to cover. Once the group / class and I discussed the steps I showed a video, such as the ones below, to demonstrate and reinforce the brainstorming process. Implementing this process gave the learners a voice about what they wanted to learn and engaged them in a collorabative process where they felt valued.
After watching video/s, I would discuss the brainstorming process again with the group to ensure they fully understood the procedure. Once the learners demonstrated an understanding of this process, we completed the following steps.
1. I used the computer and data projector, when available, to record the list of suggestions for topics to cover. I used these topics to conceptualise the curricula concepts and skills.
2. I recorded all suggestions. This practice in itself was enough to demonstrate to group members their input was valued.
3. Using the computer enabled me to print the final list and have it copied immediately. Copying and distributing it within five minutes of completing the brainstorming activity, the list and comments were fresh in the learners' memory.
4. Students would then rank the topics. The ranking was based on whether they liked or wanted to investigate a suggested area.
5. The students then gave me their feedback and I would record the votes from each participant on my copy on the computer, displayed via the data projector. (This data would later be used for literacy and numeracy activities e.g. graphing, fractions / percentages, report writing.)
6. Negotiation was a major aspect of the process of deciding and agreeing upon the top three topics. I would then develop or locate suitable learning materials that covered these topics and curricula concepts. With my adult classes, I would develop the learning materials, because there wasn't anything suitable on the market i.e. learning materials which covered literacy and numeracy concepts within an adult context and covered the topic under consideration.
Developing my ownership model was simple, however, when I initially implemented it, there were a few chasms I had to leap over.
1. Students not wanting to complete the topic. This didn't happen often because of the brainstorming process, but to overcome this pitfall, I negotiated one to one, to ensure the learner had a thorough understanding of the process. I also walked them through each project task to outline the curricula areas they personally needed to cover and achieve to remain in the program. The learner would highlight those areas of the project that they were interested in completing and begin with the activity / activities associated with that task. At this point in time we also discussed the upcoming topics and their interest in completing them. I would also have a group discussion involving their friends and their interest in the topic being covered. Often it was the input from other students who highlighted aspects of the project that they wanted to complete and why, that convinced the reluctant participant to complete the tasks related to the topic. I also related this situation to the workplace, where you may not want to complete all the tasks you are assigned but are required to, and strategies they may adopt to complete tasks.
2. Not following the process. I never had difficulty with this aspect, however, a colleague who was using my model experienced some problems in this area. We discussed the procedure and outlined the support mechanisms needed to attain successful outcomes. Covering the processes with the group prior to commencing the activity is highly recommended.
3. Support. I cannot stress how important it is to have like-minded support staff when undertaking this process. Tutors, aides and colleagues who see the benefit of this teaching strategy are able to reinforce the ownership processes and support learners during this phase. I recommend discussing the process with all staff and in particular those who are supporting learners in your class. Following this practice ensures there are no misinterpretations of what is happening in the class and they understand both teacher and learner expectations. Support also covered the underpinning skills the learners needed to complete tasks. I would deliver these both prior to commencing the project and in conjunction with project activities. Working in small groups was advantageous to learners successfully completing project tasks and maintaining ownership.
4. Timeframes. I always held brainstorming sessions, on average every 6 - 7 weeks. Keeping to this timeframe would include any new students who had entered the class to participate in the process, plus it also gave me time to prepare the next three projects.
This ownership model has enabled me to keep students, of all ages, engaged in their learning. It takes the onus off the teacher to achieve the outcomes and helps students to develop a sense of responsibility towards their learning. This is demonstrated when learners willingly complete tasks and begin self-assessment. My experience with implementing this model has only been positive and I hope you decide to trial the model for yourself.