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VIII. Student Ownership

A student’s first encounter with new instructional materials often can promote a state of fear, which might produce a state of avoidance. Words of assurance are not enough to overcome avoidance, which is best addressed by developing a sense of student ownership. Student ownership takes place when the teacher is able to engage students in instruction through “opening” activities that are specifically designed to build student confidence.

While teaching in Edina High School a colleague introduced new history units or topics with the construction of a bulletin board consisting of pictures and headings designed to give an overview of the new subject matter. It was not an ordinary bulletin board, but was designed to identify sub-concepts and relationships to be learned. In addition, this “opening” activity became a joint teacher-student endeavor intended to introduce the topic. Depending on the nature of the instructional material and the topic, the bulletin board served as a chronological timeline, or as a topical introduction for new ideas and for linkages to connecting relationships.

To begin this introductory activity, the teacher divided the class into small groups and each group was given the responsibility for a segment or section of the bulletin board. The students were assigned the task of organizing folder materials into a cohesive or logical arrangement and to place their arrangement on an assigned space on the bulletin board. Before deciding on the arrangement, students were advised to consult their textbook for additional information and how things might be arranged. Once the bulletin board was complete, students were invited to explain ideas and relationships. In addition, students were invited to ask questions, make suggestions and corrections, and to suggest other arrangements. In another example, a teacher working with students with learning difficulties introduced new instructional material through a set of classroom games. In yet another situation, a teacher used dramatization as a means of encouraging student confidence and a sense of ownership.

By reviewing Designing Effective Instruction for Secondary Social Studies -- “Teacher’s Role in Motivation”, (pp. 181-189) -- the reader will become more familiar with issues related to motivating learning as an aspect of effective instruction. In addition, Chapter 13 contains a review of instructional strategies that could be modified to emphasize student ownership. However, the creativity of the teacher will always play an essential role in devising activities to help students deal with avoidance created by a fear of the unfamiliar. Once begun, strategies for involving participation in instruction should continue beyond “opening” of a new course, unit of instruction or the introduction of a new topic. These strategies would include such approaches as group and individual project work that could supplement classroom instruction. Under the heading “Creative Settings” we have described a section entitled: “Student Produced Presentations.” This section contains suggests for everything from making multimedia presentation to the development of scrapbooks related to architectural features of public buildings (See pages 340-344). The advantages of student involvement in the instructional process are many, but the main advantage of student ownership is that it tends to promote a higher level of student interest and motivation.

1. Student ownership strategies are designed to deal with such psychological factors as fear of instruction and the avoidance of instruction.
2. The most critical place to deal with fear and the avoidance of instruction is during the introduction of a new topic or unit of instruction.
3. Student participation in instruction helps to develop the notion of a shared responsibility for learning new materials or the content of instruction.
4. Student ownership is activity-centered rather than lecture-centered, which helps to create a shared teacher-student relationship which then becomes a cooperative arrangement.
5. Student ownership for learning should extend to other aspects of instruction including the opening of instruction, the development of the body of instruction, and the closing of instruction.
6. The opening of instruction should be designed to provide students with an overview of the new material, its conceptual structure, and the relationships between interrelated concepts. (For example, students might develop a bulletin board based on the idea of a conceptual-web of the major themes of instruction -See page 257.)
7. The development of the body of instruction might include projects related to the most important ideas that are to be emphasized over the course of instruction. (For example these projects might include both individual and group tasks that present some aspect of a timeline related to a historical period or the development of a series of maps related to the study of a geographic region.)
8. The closure of instruction might include student tasks related to reviewing the themes of instruction that will help remind them of the major themes of instruction and will also help prepare them for the evaluation of learning.
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