Sunday, April 6, 2014

Learning? You have to own it before you can share it!


I haven’t had the chance to write in a while, but I heard a question last week that I have been grappling with…why do we put so much emphasis on student-centered instruction?  Great question.  I believe the answer lies somewhere in Einstein’s quote:

“If you can’t explain it to a five year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

Students have got to own learning if they are going to share it.  The best teachers find ways to motivate and encourage students to be responsible for what they learn and how they articulate it.  They insist students take responsibility and become engaged in a lesson. Once kids do this, they are much more likely to not only “go deeper” into the learning, but also retain the information.  If they own it, they can share it!  However, knowing the information is not enough. Providing the extra opportunities for kids to share their learning with their peers is the final, essential piece of many lessons.  Many of us call it “closing the lesson.”

So where does collaboration connect to ownership? Collaboration has become a key goal in education as more and more teachers recognize the value of students working together to discuss and explore new learning.  What many of us don’t realize is how doing so has the potential to take away the student ownership of the learning.  Several warning signs: 

·      Does the individual student voice get lost in the group?
·      Can a reluctant learner “hide” and let others do the work?
·      Does each student feel responsible for the learning?
·      Can one influential group member override the input of others?

There are many other potential pitfalls when setting up collaboration in the classroom, but NONE of them should keep a teacher from pushing forward.  The aspiration, just as in the chart above, should be for group ownership of the learning.  When true collaboration takes place, ALL the students participating own the learning and in an ideal setting, ALL should be able to share it. We OWN, We SHARE.

It is paramount that teachers remember when students share their work with others that they can’t share, what they don’t own.  If a student is struggling to articulate their learning, it is highly likely they never owned it in the first place.  


  1. Insightful! Thanks for sharing!

  2. As a teacher of students with learning disabilities and other special needs, this is a constant challenge for me. My gut reaction, even after 12 years teaching special education, is something to the effect of " isn't that the blind leading the blind"? However, when I design the activity appropriately, then let them teach one another, I'm always humbled by their ability to make learning happen. Luckily for me, I share a room with an outstanding teacher (and she's only in her second year of teaching) who is truly a master of having students collaborate and learn from one another. It's downright beautiful to watch!