Ownership, Choice, and Voice

Build opportunities and systems that empower students to take ownership and agency over their learning process

About Ownership, Choice, and Voice

Overview Description

When students are empowered to own their learning, it allows the teacher to focus on his or her role as a facilitator of learning. Providing opportunities for students to engage in tasks aligned with their interests, goals, skills, and preferred learning styles lays the groundwork for a student-centered class and can support future growth in other domains.

Here is how we at BetterLesson think about these three important characteristics of a student-centered classroom:

  • Ownership: Students have ownership over the procedures and routines of a classroom. This includes the initial establishment of these norms as well as their ongoing execution. Additionally, students own the processes and systems that govern how they enact their agency, make choices about their learning, and reflect on their progress.
  • Choice: Students have opportunities to make decisions - about what they're working on, where they're working, who they're working with, the pace at which they're working on it, and how they demonstrate mastery. Choices of this nature put students at the center of their own learning, deepening their engagement and investment.
  • Voice: Students have a platform to advocate for help, share their ideas with the classroom community, give feedback to the teacher, and lead initiatives geared toward improvement of the learning environment. With these systems in place, students feel that they are agents of change in their classroom.

Shifting to student ownership in the classroom can understandably induce a lot of anxiety for teachers. In particular, teachers are often concerned about whether students will make the right choices for themselves. These concerns can be mitigated through careful planning and the structured implementation of strategies that incrementally build toward more and more student ownership.

Why it's important

Providing students with opportunities for agency and choice is a critical step toward moving from a classroom where learning is a result of compliance to one where learning is grounded in true student investment and ownership. When teachers build systems that enable students to own their learning and have a voice in the learning process, students are more engaged. This, in turn, develops students' career- and college-readiness skills like flexibility and adaptability, initiative and self-direction, metacognition, and critical thinking.

Additionally, when a classroom's learning has its foundation in  student agency, teachers are able to become facilitators of learning and push more ownership on students during the learning process. When ownership, choice, and voice are used as a frame for instruction, teachers are better able to create personalized lessons (or at least allow students to make choices within lessons) because as facilitators of learning (who talk with students, learn about their skills and interests, and adjust their instruction accordingly) they have more capacity to understand the needs of their students. .

What success looks like

A classroom that provides students with true ownership, agency, and choice is one in which students are able to make choices for themselves based on different criteria - their personal interests, their individual learning profiles, or an analysis of their strengths and weaknesses. In this sort of a classroom, students feel that they are in charge of their learning trajectory. The goal, of course, is for these choices to generate student investment in the task while at the same time aligning with what the students need.

In a classroom where students are entrusted with choice and know how to make sound choices that will have a positive impact on their learning, these are the sorts of behaviors that can be observed:

  • Students set, manage, and reflect on goals, and they are able to explain what they are working on and how it supports their goals

  • The teacher conferences with students about their goals and how to achieve them

  • Students are empowered to identify a pathway for their learning that is aligned to their goals, needs, and interests

  • Students engage in learning tasks and content that are aligned to their individual skills, abilities, and affinities

  • The teacher varies their approach to instruction based on what he or she has learned about student preferences, strengths, and areas for growth

Featured Strategies

Choice boards give students autonomy and choice in their learning while allowing teachers to differentiate, observe, and assess in real time
Choice boards give students autonomy and choice in their learning while allowing teachers to differentiate, observe, and assess in real time
By defining student roles in group work, the teacher can support each student to be successful and support a steady work pace for each group
By defining student roles in group work, the teacher can support each student to be successful and support a steady work pace for each group
Weekly goal setting allows students to track their individual progress, celebrate achievements, and set goals to help master objectives
Weekly goal setting allows students to track their individual progress, celebrate achievements, and set goals to help master objectives

Growth Areas

BetterLesson growth areas are targeted goals for growth in a learning domain through BetterLesson Coaching. Learn more about BetterLesson Coaching.
My students develop and reflect on personal learning goals
My students exercise choice in pursuit of their goals
My students engage in tasks aligned to their skills and abilities
My students engage in tasks aligned to their affinities and interests
I utilize flexible, varied approaches to delivering curricular content

Additional Reading

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