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Problems of Practice

How do I develop student ownership and accountability in a station rotation model?

Key Takeaways

  • Understand how creating a culture of choice and accountability, together with systems to support that culture, develops student ownership and leads to student success.
  • Explore various strategies for building student choice, developing independent learning habits, and empowering students through data.
  • Develop and iterate classroom structures using research, strategies, and tools to foster a culture of student ownership.
Student sitting at desk gives two thumbs up, smiling

What is the problem?

After launching a station rotation model and continuing to deepen differentiation and personalization, teachers find that the nature of independent learning in stations requires intentional accountability systems to develop student ownership and ensure student success. Without the right culture and intentional design, students can lack direction and easily waste hours of learning time while in stations. However, teachers can design learning and accountability systems to create a culture of student ownership, investing students in their own learning and ensuring their independent learning time is productive.

In order to nurture student ownership and accountability, educators must consider three main questions:

  1. Choice: How can you include student choice and get students invested in their learning, rather than managing every student activity?
  2. Habits: How can you develop key habits and accountability systems during independent work time to ensure productivity and ownership?
  3. Student Data: How can you build student data literacy skills and empower students to advocate for their own learning and goals?

Why is it important?

Data on student performance has long been used for evaluation purposes, but it has even more potential to empower students to adapt and learn when used as a tool for ongoing feedback and reflection. Fostering student engagement, independent learning, and personal accountability are all underlying drivers for creating a station-rotation model. Consequently, deliberate systems for overseeing choice and student learning habits help teachers and students realize these goals and engage effectively.

The research says...

  1. Student choice increases their intrinsic motivation to learn, which leads to more, longer-lasting learning.
  2. Students’ perceived levels of competence, or their understanding of what is expected of them and why, coupled with their belief that they can accomplish what is expected, also influence their motivation to learn.
  3. Cognitive engagement, or students’ ability to self-regulate, as well as understand their learning objectives and the relevance of these objectives to their future, is one aspect of student engagement that is related to better learning outcomes.

How: Solution

In station rotation and personalized learning models, students often self-direct their learning activities. Without the proper guidance and culture, students may lose investment in their goals and waste learning time. In order to develop student ownership and ensure success with self- or group-directed learning, educators should consider the following three ideas:


Choice: Build student investment

As soon as you shift from controlling all activities a student completes to giving students options to choose from, you’ll find that students become immediately more invested in their work. Rather than simply following given instructions, students gain the power to shape their learning journey with your guidance. Giving students a level of choice also communicates that you trust them to make the right decisions for themselves. Even if they make a wrong choice occasionally, it’s okay; acknowledge the mistake, help students learn from it, and develop their decision-making skills for the future.

Choice can be given in almost all aspects of the classroom, including (but not limited to):

  • who students work with (teachers, students, or alone),
  • what activity students work on (or the order in which they complete activities),
  • when students complete and submit work (often with teacher guidance),
  • where students work and in what conditions,
  • why they are working (learning can be tied to personal goals), and
  • how students demonstrate mastery.


As you explore the strategies below, think about a few key questions to translate these practices into action in your classroom:

  • What systems and supports need to be in place to ensure students make good choices?
  • How ready are your students, as a whole and individually, for various levels of choice-making?
  • How can you gradually release responsibility and develop more choice over time, versus all at once?

Habits: Develop independent learning habits and accountability

Once given choices, we can’t expect that students immediately and always make the right ones. Rather than only giving consequences when students make inappropriate choices, it is crucial to design systems and supports to encourage good decision-making and the development of self-regulation skills. Giving students more responsibility, choice, and control of their learning encourages them to weigh the benefits and consequences of each choice, make the choice they think is best at the time, manage and problem solve their learning and time independently, and reflect on the outcomes of their choices in the end. Ultimately, students develop self-direction and advance their decision-making abilities. In order to foster strong independent learning habits and choice-making, consider these questions while exploring the strategies below:

  • What explicit skills need to be taught and developed?
  • How can these habits and skills be modeled? Celebrated?
  • How can students be held accountable for their choices and work?

Student Data: Empower students to own their learning

In order to allow students to continually grow, they need constant feedback and reflection. Though it may be a teacher’s instinct to interpret student performance data and give students direct feedback, shifting part of the data analysis and reflection to students empowers them to understand their ongoing progress, constantly reflect, and try new strategies to improve.


As with any other skill, students need guidance and support in...

  • Interpreting their data.
  • Making conclusions.
  • Identifying next steps.

As students build these muscles, they will be able to set ambitious goals and work towards them independently – a skill that will support their success in their education and beyond.

To learn more about empowering students with data, explore the following strategies while also asking yourself:

  • What roles do teachers and students play in setting goals and analyzing data?
  • What systems and structures allow a student to take control of their learning and progress?
  • How do these strategies impact students?

Take it further

As you increasingly personalize instruction and foster student ownership, you’ll find that shifting to a mastery-based model will allow students to excel individually in pacing and mastering content. Allowing students to advance to new content based on mastery is different than in schools where advancement is based on Carnegie units, or “seat time.” A mastery-based progression approach requires five components:

  1. Learning objectives.
  2. Definition of mastery.
  3. Assessment of mastery.
  4. Learning pathway.
  5. Reporting.

Explore these strategies below to learn how to get started.