There are many aims of Meaningful Student Involvement. The ninth aim is to recognize students’ right to ownership over their education, their learning and ultimately, themselves. This isn’t theoretical or woo-woo; instead, its a practical, purposeful way of being that affects every part of students’ experience in schools and throughout education.
Aim 9: Recognize Student Ownership
For years many adults scoffed at playground games, make believe and games of tag, believing child’s play was infantile filler without the merit of formal teaching. Research is increasingly showing the value of taking play seriously. Today, it is still challenging to most educators and school leaders to believe that students have an intrinsic desire to learn, at least the ways that adults want them to. Yet, both psychological and educational literature have repeatedly demonstrated that when students’ right to owning their own learning is embraced, learning is more substantial and effective. (Stefanou, 2004; Newmann, 1992)
Given appropriate education and authority, students have many places where they can exert their ownership rights within schools. Meaningful Student Involvement is premised on the belief that educators, school leaders and other adults throughout the education system can and should recognize student ownership. As far back as the 1970s, there were educators promoting student ownership of homework assignments, tests, self-evaluation, self-review/peer review/teacher review, and student feedback. (Erlich & Erlich, 1971) Those exact same topics are raised today. More than a decade ago, I found a dearth of imagination about this topic when I researched my first monograph on the topic, A Meaningful Student Involvement Idea Guide. In that piece I advocated to acknowledge student ownership through self-directed learning, student/teacher team teaching, student-designed courses and curriculum, student-driven school needs assessments, student-led teacher training, and staff hiring, among many other activities. (Fletcher, 2001)
Deeper Than Expected
However, student ownership is deeper still than positioning students to lead learning, teaching and leadership opportunities throughout schools. Within the hearts and minds of all students around the world right now—no matter what their economic, academic, social, cultural, religious, language, gender or racial identities—is an inherent desire to expand their abilities, capacities, wisdom and experiences, thereby creating the world they want to live in.
In talking about student ownership, many adults have attributed increased student engagement and student investment in schools to physical materials. They believe that learning tools like the laptops or tablet computers, Smart Boards, and networked printers in all classrooms, as well as schoolwide course-management systems are all that is needed. Other people believe it’s a teachers’ approach to learning that affects student ownership, concentrating on shifting to project-based learning, the addition of advanced placement courses, and increased academic rigor for all students. Still other educators express faith in the vestiges of what were considered vital practices in democratic education in the past, including classroom voting, whole school meetings, student courts and similar mechanisms.
The Context For Ownership
All of those tools and practices require context, and have often been used without one. Instead, they are used for the sake of building student ownership, but even that is done without context. Meaningful Student Involvement is meaningful because it is contextualized by its definition:the systematic approach to engaging students as partners in learning throughout every facet of education for the purpose of strengthening their commitment to education, community and democracy. Placing learning at the center of action ensures meaningfulness, which a lot of the activities mentioned above did not do explicitly.
Pedagogy is at the heart of the student learning experience in schools, and student learning is the goal of all schools. Meaningful Student Involvement acknowledges that by building the capacities of educators to engage students as partners in learning, in turn by infusing Student/Adult Partnerships throughout the education system. This can logically leads to progressive, democratic, open, free, experimental, or alternative learning. Educational methods and ideologies that are constructivist, holistic, or learner-centered; or specific innovations such as whole-language learning, discovery-based science, or authentic assessment all hold opportunities for meaningful involvement. Experiential and applied learning methods, service learning and activist learning, collaborative and group teaching all support the daily practices of teachers whose natural instinct is to treat children with respect. Meaningful Student Involvement provides frameworks for going further.
Questions to Ask
- What does student ownership mean to you in practical ways, right now?
- Can or should students have full and complete ownership over learning? Teaching? Leadership?
- Does student ownership need to be assessed?