There are many outcomes we seek for children. We want them to be happy, to be wise, to have friends, to have meaningful work and relationships, to be ethical, curious, thoughtful, kind, generous of spirit, collaborative, creative, tolerant, and any number of other characteristics.
The primary desired outcome of schooling is mastery of core content, but that outcome, as a single metric needs to be balanced so that it doesn’t drive out all other non-cognitive and social-emotional goals that school is charged with. We have chosen the metric of student ownership as a balancing trait to academic mastery.
The tension between these two metrics shows up in day-to-day decision making. Do we take the time to explore a topic deeply, or do we practice skills in the way they will be presented on standardized tests? Because these metrics are in some sense in opposition, the tension between them provides a guide that keeps the culture, and the student outcomes, from becoming too one-sided. And the outcome of student ownership of their learning brings along with it a host of other desirable outcomes.
In fact, the energy that comes from balancing these two metrics can drive disproportionate results. For example, these oppositional outcomes were found to be synergistic by many early implementations of mobile learning. These pioneering programs saw dramatic improvement in student work and/or test scores even as students increased ownership over their learning. These were the programs where teachers and students worked together to find ways to improve learning using technology and student ideas and approaches were respected as valid.
In other words, in these programs the teachers were able to give up some control (though never authority) making room for students to begin taking ownership. This happened in different ways in different programs, but in all cases:
- Students used their devices for both personal and academic purposes
- Students had Internet access at school, at home, and at places in between
- Teachers embraced the messiness and uncertainty of giving up a certain level of control
- Students felt a connection to each other and the teacher conducting the program
- Students were encouraged to innovate in how they approached and presented their assignments
- Teachers innovated in how they used technology for teaching, keeping what worked and discarding what didn’t.
For students in these environments, all the conditions for intrinsic motivation were in place:
- They had a great deal of autonomy in choosing tools and content to learn and to demonstrate their knowledge
- They experienced and recognized their own growth in mastery first over technology and then over academic content
- They found meaning in relevant work and participating with their peers and with caring adults in discovering new ways to learn