Who Owns the Learning?
How VocabularySpellingCity Helps Students Own their Word Study

I’ve been thinking a lot about onee of the questions that each teacher and the whole educational system wrestles with daily: student engagement and motivation.   What motivates students to learn?  How can we motivate them to learn?

Long-time teacher and educational consultant Alan November says that students who own their learning are passionate, hard-working, and motivated to learn because they choose the work and believe in its purpose.

In today’s education system, too often students are told to do tasks in which they see little purpose. A large percentage of the work they do in school seems to have little bearing on their lives. As a consequence, students become more and more disempowered by the educational system. So they disengage.

According to Alan November, teachers can help students by empowering them to own their learning – to make choices about what they’re learning and to use their learning to make contributions to their class and to the larger community.

Key to Alan November’s theory is the idea that students invest more effort in their learning when they work toward a purpose; a purpose also helps students to retain what they have learned. In his videos and TEDx talk, November presents inspiring examples of ways that students have owned their learning, creating systems, lessons, and databases that have changed lives and educated communities, but the basic principles of his ideas can also be implemented on a smaller scale.

VocabularySpellingCity can be a great tool to encourage students to own their own learning by allowing them to choose their own activities and even their own word lists. For example, a student who is very invested in science might choose a word study list of names of planets, plants, or elements. Another student might choose a list of words encountered in his free reading book because he finds them challenging or does not understand their meanings. Both of these students will be motivated to learn the words on their lists because they have chosen them and the words are relevant to their own interests.

With VocabularySpellingCity, the choices don’t end there. After students have entered their lists, they have the choice of a wide array of games and activities to help them learn and practice their words and test their mastery of the whole list.

Here’s how to let students enter their own lists on VocabularySpellingCity so they can own some of their learning?  Click on Show Directions, and then click Allow Students to Create Lists.  Student-Created Lists are visible only to the student who created them. They can be imported into the teacher’s account to be edited and/or made visible to other students in the class – a great feature for teachers who want to encourage ownership of learning by having students teach other students!

Student-created lists and activities also provide a great opportunity for formative assessment. By conferencing with students, teachers can guide them in setting up a progression of games geared toward learning, practicing, and finally, testing mastery. As students proceed through their word study over the course of the week, they will see their progress and may adjust their activities lists accordingly. Teachers also have access to the scores on their activities. Further conferencing will allow teachers to discuss progress and to help students decide which games and activities might be the next appropriate step for their learning.

Students are Empowered by a Practice Test

Students are Empowered by a Practice Test

Another really simple way to empower students to own their learning is the use of practice tests by students for their own formative assessment. One of the strange things about studying a spelling list is that a student can’t really test themselves. VocabularySpellingCity empowers students by giving them tools to see what they actually know.
Use VocabularySpellingCity in your classroom to help students own their learning and their word work!

Who Owns the Learning?

3 thoughts on “Who Owns the Learning?

  • December 14, 2015 at 3:58 am

    Excellent piece!

    This article wafted my memory to another TED talk I heard on the NPR Radio Hour by Sugta Mitra, titled “How Much Can Children Teach Themselves?”. (http://www.npr.org/2013/06/21/179015266/how-much-can-children-teach-themselves)

    In a nutshell, Mitra conducts an experiment in the slums of India in order to see if he can “create” students who “own their learning” – and he most definitely failed in that portion of the experiment. He didn’t “create” them at all…he simply proved that these impoverished children are innately curious and brilliant when left to make their own decisions. They were left with a problem and they had the opportunity to creatively solve their issue – a teaching technique that our current education system today in most elementary schools do not utilize.


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