Student Ownership and Responsibility Are Key to Academic Success Finds New Research

January 17th, 2014 No Comments Other

With the multitude of factors that influence academic achievement, it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact reason why some students excel while others fall behind.

However, a new report released by the National Center on Scaling up Effective Schools (NCSU) shows that student ownership and responsibility are two key factors that have a big impact on a student’s quality of academic performance.

The report presented findings from the first phase of a five-year research project that aims to identify the types of programs, practices, and processes that support better outcomes for students at risk of failure.

Initial findings indicated that the practice of increasing student ownership and responsibility for their academic success was a distinguishing feature of schools with higher-student achievement.

The researchers, based at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development, explain that students who take responsibility for their own learning are personally invested in their education and are more committed to understanding their subject matter, which in turn helps to boost confidence.

“The idea is to both develop the mindset that students are willing to take on challenges and persevere and to provide a set of skills to focus that effort toward achievement,” commented Marisa Cannata, Associate Director at NCSU and the study’s lead researcher.

One thing that all schools with higher value-added students had in common was that they held high expectations for student learning.

The researchers note, however, that these schools didn’t just assume that students would develop this sense of responsibility on their own; instead, teachers put specific structures in place to help students take ownership of their education, and made a concentrated effort to encourage and support students along the way.

Additionally, teachers held the mindset that student ownership is a vital component of learning and must be developed early on in a student’s educational career.

The research shows that students who are encouraged to take ownership for their own learning are better able to identify and work toward learning goals; are more likely to believe that it is within their control to succeed in school; and demonstrate life skills such as initiative, self-direction and productivity.

Such students will show their responsibility through behaviors such as completing assignments on time, making up missed work, seeking additional help when they are struggling, asking questions when confused, and monitoring their own learning.

Cannata points out that these findings are consistent with current research that focuses on helping students develop so-called “growth mindsets” and provide them with the skills they need to focus their learning efforts.

The specific practices and conditions that make such a learning environment possible are described in more detail in the report Reaching for Rigor: Identifying Practices of Effective High Schools.


Marianne Stenger is a London-based freelance writer and journalist with extensive experience covering all things learning and development. She’s particularly interested in the psychology of learning and how technology is changing the way we learn. Her articles have been featured by the likes of ABC Education, The Huffington Post, Lifehacker, and Psych Central. Follow her on Twitter @MarianneStenger.

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