April 15, 2015

Motivate Students to Take Charge of Their Learning

No matter how much you love teaching, it's easy to get discouraged this time of year. There's so much left to do, and not enough time to get it all done. Spring fever always hits at the worst possible time - right before testing! How do you respond? If you're like me, your natural reaction is to push your students harder and harder academically, ignoring all signs of their resistance, until you reach the end of your rope!

When you get to this point, it's time to take a deep breath, calm down, and accept the fact that something has to change.

But what? And how can you turn things around and end the year strong?

Believe it or not, it IS possible to regain your enthusiasm and get your class back on track. But you need more than motivation... you need practical strategies and concrete action steps to take today. Angela Watson's newest book, Unshakeable: 20 Ways to Enjoy Teaching Every Day ... No Matter Whathas that and more! Every chapter is AMAZING, filled with wisdom, encouragement, and specific strategies to implement right away.

Angela Watson is the teacher who created The Cornerstone for Teachers website, and she's been sharing awesome resources with teachers for years. This is her 4th book, and it's just as inspirational as her others. I was excited to be invited to participate in a blog series that examines each chapter in Unshakeable, day by day. Today is Day 15, so I'll be sharing my insights about Chapter 15, "Motivate Students to Take Charge of Their Learning." You can find all 20 chapter reviews on her Unshakeable page, where you can also download a list of all 20 chapter titles.

Why Kids Need to Take Ownership of Learning
Reading Chapter 15 was a joy! Angela confirmed something it took me 20 years to figure out: when kids take ownership of their learning, they work harder, make greater academic gains, and ultimately discover the joy of learning for its own sake. Angela makes a case for motivating students by giving them choices whenever possible, and I agree. Student choice makes all the difference.

You might be thinking, "What? I'm the teacher! I'm the one who will be held accountable for what they learn or don't learn! I can't give them too many choices because I have a curriculum to teach!"

But stop and examine that thought. Yes, administrators will be holding your feet to the fire if your students don't make academic progress. But, ultimately, who will pay the biggest price? If your students don't learn the skills they need to survive in a world that's ever changing, THEY will feel the affects for the rest of their lives! When kids stumble through each school day like zombies, following directions but never asking questions or caring why they need to learn, they are setting themselves up for a lifetime of failure and missed opportunities. They need to feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for their own learning.

How To Motivate Kids to Take Ownership
So how can you cover everything in your curriculum, yet provide opportunities for student choice and ownership? Here's the key: You might not be able to let them choose WHAT to learn, but you can give them some choice in HOW they learn.

Easier said than done, right? Normally I would agree, but Angela makes it easier than you might imagine. Unshakeable includes loads of practical strategies for teaching kids how to take charge of the learning experience. Here are a few of the methods Angela shares to motivate students:  
  • Teach kids to use technology for both content consumption and content creation
  • Personalize learning with student-directed projects
  • Give self-assessments for students to reflect on their progress
  • Let your students help develop assessment rubrics so they understand how they are being graded
  • Conduct student-led conferences 
Each of these ideas is covered in Chapter 15 in great detail, with classroom examples and specific strategies. You'll find yourself jotting notes in the margins and filling the pages with sticky notes so you don't forget a single great idea!

Motivate Your Students to Motivate Yourself!
What does motivating your students have to do with YOUR own motivation, or lack of it? Remember how I said it took 20 years for me to discover the importance of kids taking charge of their learning? When I finally let go of the need to control every aspect of the learning process, I started to enjoyed teaching more than ever. I loved coming to school each day and learning right along with my students. Not surprisingly, these changes resulted in measurable academic growth for them, too!

Angela  sums it up really nicely, "Any topic instantly becomes more fun and meaningful for everyone involved when the kids are given some ownership of how they learn." When your students begin to ask thoughtful questions, make choices, and take an active role in the learning process, they blossom right before your eyes, and it's a joy to watch!

Angela is the creator of the Truth for Teachers podcast series, and she has a short podcast called How to Motivate Students to Take Ownership of Their Learning. You can download it for free from her website and listen to it on your way to work!

Where to Find Unshakeable
What if you're still going strong and you don't need motivation to finish out the year? You'll love Angela's book anyway! Reading it will reaffirm the best practices you're already using, and you'll learn new techniques to add to your bag of teaching tricks. You can get the Kindle or paperback edition of Unshakeable: 20 Ways to Enjoy Teaching Every Day... No Matter from Amazon.com or from Angela's website. Read a chapter a day and enjoy 20 days of inspiration!

Affiliate links are included in this post.


  1. Laura, you did an amazing job pulling out specific, practical tips for motivating kids to take charge of their learning! I appreciate your honesty in admitting it took you many years to figure out the importance of giving kids ownership of their work. I, too, taught for many, many years without giving that much consideration. It really revolutionized my classroom when I started turning the learning over to kids...once I got my first taste of seeing how empowered and engaged they were, I was hooked!

  2. What a joy to have two of my favorite teacher/writer/blogger/creators in one place! I follow both of you and always am inspired by your down to earth, empathetic, and inspiring work. Continue to come together! (one less blog post to read for us! Ha!)

  3. I really appreciate this blog. According to me students should be given choices of "How they learn" to make learning more interesting and exciting. The excitement should be created among students as well as teachers to learn through technology.

    In our school we have implemented a platform to share learning resources where students and parents are engaged in an interactive manner; platform named "Flinnt" (www.flinnt.com). Flinnt is a platform to communicate and share learning resources and is designed specifically for the educational institutes.

    Students are enjoying learning and every students' willingness to participate has created learning more fun and meaningful. Through Flinnt we also share videos/audios/images/files.

    We should encourage such platforms in educational institutes to make learning and education more concise and worthwhile.

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