Chapter 7: Cultivating Student Ownership with Audience, Autonomy, Discourse and Reflection

7.1 Seeing A Need for Change

Student using a laptop with the words Audience, Autonomy, DIscourse, and Reflection overlaid in a circularg raphic

One of the most influential books in my digital literacy journey is Alan November’s Who Owns The Learning?: Preparing Students For Success in the Digital Age (2012).  November emphasizes how students become more self-directed learners when they are able to create content and participate in work that is meaningful to them.  To illustrate this point, November uses the idea of a digital learning farm.  In this model, “students supply much more of the creative design, preparation, delivery, and revision of the educational process, enabling teachers to spend more time in the roles of mentor, advisor, and facilitator.” (Kindle Locations 251-253)  He states, “The goal of the Digital Learning Farm model is to redefine the role of the learner as a contributor, collaborator, and leader in the learning culture.” (Kindle Locations 244-245).  As a teacher who is constantly seeking out opportunities to improve my students’ learning, I started to reflect on the digital work my students had been doing.

Before reading this book, my students had digital experiences on a regular basis.  They had become accustomed to blogging, watching me use Twitter, Skyping with authors and using a few websites as part of our reading and writing workshops. Yet, to continue November’s metaphor of farming, I realized that my current classroom was more proportionate to a small digital garden because it was a smaller space and mostly managed by me:

  • My students’ blogs were not visible to the public.
  • I designed most of my students’ digital experiences.
  • I was the only person who could access our class Twitter account.
  • Students used laptops and iPads as a whole class at the same time so it was easier to manage.
  • Much of my students’ digital work was researching science or social studies topics or playing math games.

Yes, I was giving my students digital experiences, but I was not asking them to be very strategic in their digital work.  These experiences did not allow students to connect, collaborate, analyze, reflect or actively contribute to the digital world.  Also,  the digital work was passive and did not recognize the importance of an audience other than me, autonomous decision-making, purposeful feedback or opportunity for student reflection.  I needed to shift control of my students’ learning.  I began to acknowledge that I was not meeting the needs of the digital learners in my classroom because I still controlled their learning.  It was time to transform my classroom into a “digital learning farm” where my students were empowered to cultivate their own learning journey.

Digital citizens contribute to the digital world, they don’t just live in it.  I was going to ask my students to live in the digital world by:

  1. Publishing more content
  2. Continuing the conversations we had in the classroom using digital tools
  3. Connecting with other writers (inside/outside of classroom).
  4. Making decisions with purpose behind these decisions
  5. Reflecting on their learning to gain new understandings and digitally record these reflections

In order for students to be active digital learners, and make these contributions listed above, there are four core essentials that I use as the foundation for the digital experiences I give students.  These four principles are: audience, autonomy, discourse and reflection.  In this chapter, I will demonstrate how these four principles, when at the core of students’ digital experiences, empower students to be more mindful participants of their own learning.

The Four Essentials Of Digital Experiences

In all areas of life, we must decide which tools to use for which occasion.   Obviously certain tools work better in certain situations.  When is the last time you used a pencil to eat cereal?  This sounds ridiculous because at one time we learned that the tools we use fulfill a purpose.  When parents, friends, teachers and others train us to use certain tools, the purpose behind that tool is part of the learning process.  This must be the same as we teach our students which digital tools to use.

With each digital experience, my students need to understand the purpose behind each tool.  As a result, I hope that my students will see the value in the learning; thus, they will be more intentional and strategic when using the tools.  That is why multiple conversations with students take place about the four essentials that support a culture of ownership.  Here are brief synopses of audience, autonomy, feedback and reflection that I use with my students as a basis for our digital work.


Traditionally, the teacher is the sole audience of a student’s work.  A digital learner has an audience that extends beyond the four walls of the classroom. Giving students a sense that someone else is invested in their learning process (besides teachers and parents) helps engage students to develop skills and knowledge to complete a product.  Thus, it gives students a deeper purpose for learning and producing high quality work.


Often times, the assignment a student works on, and the time in which they can work on it, is dictated by the teacher. Teachers can give more control to the students so they have their voices heard and their choices honored in determining their learning path.  Autonomy can include: student choice in what students work on, when they work on it and how they complete a task.


Discussion plays a significant role in a student’s comprehension of text, and of the world.  When students participate in a productive and purposeful conversation, they can share opinions, evaluate ideas, take risks, make connections and dig for deeper meaning.  Collaborative conversations has been enhanced by a number of digital tools available to students.  As a result, there are new opportunities for discourse that allow students to be a more active learner.


Because of the Internet, today’s learners do not need teachers to provide them with facts and knowledge. Therefore, students must be able to take new knowledge and act upon it and make new meaning.  Digital learners must examine their learning process and draw connections between content areas, instead of always focusing on the end result.


Launching Digital Writing in the Elementary Classroom Copyright © by Edited by Julie Johnson and Johnson, Julie. All Rights Reserved.

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