Building a sense of shared ownership is an effective way of achieving high levels of student interest and engagement. It can be achieved in many ways; many of these involve some form of formal or informal negotiation about parts or all of the content, tasks or assessment. Another complementary approach is to ensure that students' questions, comments and suggestions regularly influence, initiate (or terminate) what is done.
Learning is almost always better if students work something out for themselves, rather than reading it or hearing it. This is not always feasible of course, but often it is. It can involve short, closed tasks: e.g. 'if the units of density are grams per cm work out the formula by which we calculate the density of a substance from the volume and mass of an object made of that substance'. It can also involve much longer open-ended tasks: e.g.'Here is a photo of the ruins of Machu Pichu, work out as much as you can, from this photo, about the Incas and their fate'.
Students respond very positively to the freedom to make some decisions about what or how they will work. To be effective, the choices need to be genuine, not situations where there is really only one possibility. These may include choices about which area of content to explore, the level of demand (do more routine tasks or fewer more demanding ones), the form of presentation (poster, powerpoint presentation, role play, model etc.),and how to manage their time during a day or lesson.
Raising intellectual self-esteem is perhaps the most important aspect of working with low and moderately achieving students. Success via interactive discussion, question-asking, role-plays and tasks allowing high levelsof creativity often results in greater confidence and hence persistence in tackling other written tasks. Publicly recognising and praising good learning behaviours is useful here.
This sort of talk fosters link-making and, as our research shows, commonly reflects high levels of intellectual engagement. Teaching approaches such as delayed judgement, increased wait-time, promotion of 'What If' questions and use of P.O.Es are all helpful. The classroom becomes more fluid and interactive.
The (student) conception that they can learn from other students ideas, comments and questions develops more slowly than the conception that discussion is real and useful work. The classroom dynamics can reach new, very high levels when ideas and debate bounce around from student to student, rather than student to teacher.
We underestimated the very high levels of perceived risk that accompanies many aspects of quality learning for most students, even in classes where such learning is widespread. It is much safer, for example, to wait for the teacher's answer to appear than to suggest one yourself. Building trusts in the teacher and other students and training students to disagree without personal put-downs are essential to widespread display of good learning behaviours.
There are at least two reasons for this, one is that teaching procedures that counter passive learning and promote quality learning require student energy and effort. Hence they need to be varied frequently to retain their freshness. The other is that variety is another source of student interest.
One of the origins of PEEL was the belief that students could be taught how to learn, in part by devising a range of teaching procedures to variously tackle each of a list of poor learning tendencies, for example failing to link school work to relevant out-of-school experiences. The variety in (8) is not random and one basis for selecting a particular teaching procedure is to promote a particular aspect of quality learning.
Many, if not most students, do not perceive schooling to be related to learning key ideas and skills. Rather, they see their role as completing tasks and so they focus on what to do not why they are doing it. Much teacher talk, particularly in skills based areas such as Mathematics, Grammar and Technology reinforces this perception. For these reasons, students (including primary students) commonly do not link activities and do not make links to unifying, 'big ideas'.
This is a key aspect of learning how to learn. Students typically have no vocabulary to discuss learning. it is very helpful to build a shared vocabulary and shared understandings by regular, short debriefing about some aspect of the learning that has just occurred. Having a rotating student monitor of a short list of good learning behaviours can be very helpful.
Students (and sometimes teachers) typically see assessments as purely summative: something that teachers do to students at the end of a topic.Building the perception that (most) assessment tasks are part of the learning process includes encouraging students learning from what they did and did not do well as well as having students taking some ownership of and responsibility for aspects of assessment. It also includes teachers ensuring that they are assessing for a range of aspects of quality learning (eg if you want students linking different lessons then reward that in your assessment) and for a wider range of skills than is often the case.