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Empower Your Students to Own Their Learning

From the series: Developing Students Ownership of Learning—from a Distance, too! 

Over the past several years, we have worked together with our colleague John Hattie to identify key practices that help students develop ownership of their learning. We believe that students canand shouldbecome their own teachersAnd we believe that teachers have a profound role to play in helping students accomplish that goalPerhaps most importantly, we firmly believe that this is still all possible within the current context of social distancing practices. In fact, these imperatives hold even more relevance now, as we strive to ensure that student learners find success in every learning mode and context they may encounter on their learning journeys. 

Over the next several weeks, we’re going to delve more deeply into this idea of empowering students to own their own learning. And we’ll share a series of practical lessons that will help you support students as they make the leap into taking this ownershipeven in the midst of challenging and sometimes difficult-to-navigate educational circumstances. 

What Exactly is an Assessment-Capable Visible Learner? 

When students own their learning and begin to teach themselves, we say that they are “assessment-capable,” visible learners. There are several indicators we look for when identifying those students who meet the criteria of assessment-capable, visible learners. These students can be characterized as learners who . . .  

  • Know their current level of understanding 
  • Understand where they’re going and have the confidence to take on the challenge 
  • Select tools to guide their learning 
  • Seek feedback and recognize that errors are opportunities to learn 
  • Monitor progress and adjust their learning 
  • Recognize their learning and teach others 

Of course, fostering these skills requires teachers to be assessment-capable themselves and to provide students with opportunities to practice and apply the skills required to become assessment-capable, visible learners. 

How Do I Get Started? Simple Lessons to Drive Students’ Ownership of Their Learning 

In our Becoming An Assessment-Capable Visible Learner books for grades 3-5 and 6-12, we worked alongside Karen Flories and John Hattie to craft lessons that are impactful and easy-to-implement. Every other week, we will provide you with sample lessons from these books, including both teacher and student pages. You’ll be able to immediately download and use these as you develop plans for your particular teaching and learning environment.  

We recognize that distance learning, does not always mean virtual and digitalDepending on the realities in your district or school, you may need to physically print pages and drop them in a place where students can retrieve them. Regardless, we hope that that this presents an opportunity for you to develop some habits with students that will serve them well—whatever the learning context may be.

Lesson: What is Learning? Grades 6-12 

We’d like to start with students focusing on the question, what is learning? Maybe they have taken this for granted. Maybe they haven’t considered what learning will be like from a distance. So, we encourage you to start by surveying students. It’s a great starting point or check-in point for gauging any changes in students’ experiences with school over timeOnce they take the survey in the lesson, you might ask them to reflect on their results or perhaps have an online discussion about it. We developed a tool for use in grades 612, but this could be adapted for use with younger students.  

View the sample lesson hereTeacher pages and student pages

Lesson: Ensuring Students Know What They Are Learning and What Success Looks LikeGrades 3-5 and 6-12 

Teacher clarity is an accelerator of students’ learning and we should be thinking about that as we change the environments in which students learn. Part of teacher clarity is ensuring that students know what they are learning (learning intentions) and what success looks like (success criteria). We hope that the distance learning isn’t distracting for students but rather presents an opportunity for them to keep learning. To encourage this, we suggest that you become even more explicit about learning intentions and success criteria for each lesson. To help students understand what learning intentions and success criteria are and how they work, we have developed these lessons 

View sample lessons about Learning Intentions here: 

View sample lessons about Success Criteria here: 

Looking Ahead 

In our next post in this series, we’ll take a closer look at how to help students monitor their progress. And, we’ll begin to answer that elusive question facing students as they work to gain proficiency: How do I know if I’m on the right path?

Written by

Douglas Fisher, Ph.D., is Professor of Educational Leadership at San Diego State University and a teacher leader at Health Sciences High & Middle College. He is the recipient of an IRA Celebrate Literacy Award, NCTE’s Farmer Award for Excellence in Writing, as well as a Christa McAuliffe Award for Excellence in Teacher Education. He is also the author of PLC+, The PLC+ Playbook, This is Balanced Literacy, The Teacher Clarity Playbook, Grades K-12, Teaching Literacy in the Visible Learning Classroom for Grades K-5 and 6-12, Visible Learning for Mathematics, Grades K-12The Teacher Credibility and Collective Efficacy Playbook and several other Corwin books. 

Nancy Frey, Ph.D., is Professor of Literacy in the Department of Educational Leadership at San Diego State University. The recipient of the 2008 Early Career Achievement Award from the National Reading Conference, she is also a teacher-leader at Health Sciences High & Middle College and a credentialed special educator, reading specialist, and administrator in California. She has been a prominent Corwin author, publishing numerous books including PLC+The PLC+ PlaybookThis is Balanced LiteracyThe Teacher Clarity Playbook, Grades K-12Engagement by DesignRigorous Reading, Texas EditionThe Teacher Credibility and Collective Efficacy Playbookand many more. 

To view Doug and Nancy’s books and services, please visit Fisher and Frey Professional Learning. 

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