School of Thought

A Deconstructed View of Key Educational Themes


At Revolution School of Thought, we open conversation across settings and leverage divergent ways of thinking. What we share is meant to bring diverse ideas together, to connect us, and to inspire innovation.  

Innovative evidence-informed educators have many choices when designing program structure and planning instruction. This month, we focus on a continuum of perspectives that might answer the question: Who owns learning?

This Month's Question
Who Owns Learning?

We begin with a graphic of examples that sit on a continuum of ownership. This continuum represents the range of answers to the question of ownership. We suggest answers must take into consideration: settings, experiences, resources, backgrounds, needs, and goals, and bring them together with evidence that can be used to inform our practice.

There are occasions where any one of these examples might be relevant and fitting for a learning experience.   

In more teacher directed classrooms (moving toward the left end of the continuum), teachers guide and direct learners through the learning process. The motivating principle behind this instructional choice is that not everything in a school program should or will be immediately or obviously relevant to students every day lives. Teacher directed classrooms are structured around the idea that rich and complete education must include introductions to unfamiliar and challenging ideas, people, and events. Interest and engagement may encourage positive outcomes, but can also be a way of merely falling back on the familiar. Educators in more teacher directed settings lead instruction directly through lecture, or in flipped classrooms, guiding practice. Teachers pre-plan and choose paths carefully, creating specific sequences regarding what students are taught. Relevance can be found through personal connections or problem solving. Choice can motivate learners, but is not be the key driver of instructional design. The goal in more teacher centered approaches is for teachers to serve as learning providers towards specific knowledge and skills, creating thoughtful learning experiences then guiding learners towards greater independence. This approach tends to be especially beneficial for novice learners and new knowledge and skill building.

In more student-centered settings (moving toward the right end of the continuum), co-constructing educational experiences with learners means the teacher takes the role of a collaborator in making educational choices. Student ownership is shaped as students take part in decisions about what, how, when and where they learn. When guided by a student owned approach, teachers follow students’ lead, facilitate learning, and ensure students are supported on their journeys. Student owned learning has been associated with positive youth development, motivation, and engagement. Learning in this way is framed from a student’s point of view — connected to background, interest and experience. It is grounded in the belief that students have wisdom about their learning needs and path. Teachers do not lecture, but listen for student understandings, content misunderstandings, and to ensure learning matches where students are and where they need to go. When supporting a student owned environment, educators view students as substantive, powerful, and significant partners. Ownership can manifest in the classroom in a number of ways: structure of school, schedules, learning content, activities, end products of learning, evaluation systems and even how the classroom is set up. Student owned settings work well with students who have foundational skills and knowledge and allow for increasing levels of student autonomy.

The Debate
Moving towards more autonomous or student owned instruction means asking questions about effectiveness and efficiency. The following two quotes exemplify this tension.

Teacher directed learning experiences: 

"If you look at what most good teachers do, they are using direct instruction, but if you say to them they are using direct instruction they look at you as if, and this is a Dutch phrase, water is on fire, and they say ‘No I am a progressive’...A good chef does not limit themselves to just one technique, tool or ingredient and neither should a teacher. The teacher should be making use of everything they have to achieve effective, efficient and enjoyable learning." 

Paul Kirschner

Student owned learning experiences:

“Everyday more educators are showing that they value students by involving them in meaningful ways in school. These teachers and administrators say that it is not about ‘making students happy’ or allowing students to run the school. Their experience shows that when educators partner with students to improve learning, teaching and leadership in schools, school change is positive and effective.”  

Adam Fletcher

What do you think?
These resources are meant to inspire and push your thinking on who owns learning.

Resources in Support of Teacher Directed Learning

Research:  The long history of research supporting a teacher owned approach can be found here and here. The effectiveness of direct instruction, a more teacher oriented approach, has been supported by research. A clear description of the benefits of teacher driven direct instruction can be found here.  An accessible summary that aids in defining direct instruction can be found here.

Model Schools:  Thales Academy, Franklin Academy,  Youngsville Academy

Organizations:  The National Center for Direct Instruction has a lot of useful resources and information supporting those who are interested in the why and how.

Podcasts and resources:  Some examples in Pennsylvania. A great podcast that sets out this issue and brings in supporters of a teacher centered approach can be found here.  A little something on the flipped classroom approach. And a podcast on models of direct instruction.

As an example of the teacher orientation of the flipped classroom, see this blog, this medical school example, or these resources. And a well balanced piece that leans away from student owned- learning — perhaps sitting in the middle, can be found here.

Resources in Support of Student Owned Learning

Research:  An influential report from colleagues at the Education Trust, Motivation and Engagement in Student Assignments: The Role of Choice and Relevancy provides some background on student choice and the difference it might make. The associated benefits of a student owned approach can be found here. For research on the effectiveness of personalized, student owned learning, here is a great resource.  A report on the effects of student-centered learning practices on student ownership and achievement details the power of ownership. A great report summarizing studies of student-owned can be found here, with challenges on implementation in some settings described here.

Schools: Design 39 Campus, Hoboken Charter School  Castilleja School. Examples of high schools in student owned learning environments can be found in an interesting podcast here.

Organizations: An organization founded on the principles of promoting Student Voice.

Podcasts and resources: What is student ownership of learning? Find out here. A great illustration of what choice and voice means, with examples, evidence and experience can be found in this podcast. An activity to be used with students on participant ownership of learning

Click here to learn more about where Revolution sits on these issues.

Upcoming Events

Innovative Schools Cooperative Annual Conference

Sunday and Monday, March 17th and 18th, Hosted by Teachers College, Columbia University, New York City

Revolution School is proud to be an inaugural member of The Innovative Schools Cooperative, a national network of innovative independent schools. The cooperative connects passionate, hard-working, and visionary educators to strengthen, support, and promote truly innovative education practice. Members of the Revolution team have been planning the first annual conference and look forward to leading sessions and learning among these inspiring peers. Click here for more information. 
Remake Learning Days Program Preview

Sunday, May 19th, 1-3:30  at 230 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia 19102   

Join us in breaking down the walls between learning and life. Our next Program Preview is part of Remake Learning Days, a festival of events hosted by a variety of organizations, such as schools, museums, libraries, universities, tech startups and more. For this event, rising 7th and 8th grade students will experience first hand the Revolution School Difference Maker curriculum; educators interested in our design and approach can learn how we connect academic learning to the local community; and community members will find many pathways to advancing their own work in Philadelphia through partnership with educators and young people.
Together, we all can MAKE A DIFFERENCE in Philadelphia. More details about the event can be found here.   

Previous Events

Thank you to all who came to join us for a Difference Maker Program Preview on the evening of February 5th.  More than 40 members of the community learned more about Revolution School from school founders and leaders, engaged with dynamic educators and difference makers on issues related to food access and were inspired by ideas and actions taken by fellow Philadelphians.

On Tuesday, February 26, we celebrated the acceptance of our first cohort of founding students! Highlights of our event at the Discovery Center included an epic climb to the top of a treetop observation deck where students photographed the city from on high followed by a tour our new, state-of-the art school building. 

Revolution Recommends

We support the fusing of evidence and craft! School of Thought’s book recommendations this month are practical, readable and research-based. One presents thoughts from a scholar who leans towards the teacher owned, direct instruction methodology and the other, student owned.

"School of Thought” is a platform for uplifting and connecting different perspectives so that together we can uplevel education.

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