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Getting Students to Take Responsibility for Their Learning

Wouldn't it be great if our students came to class prepared? Not just having read the assignment, but mentally prepared as well — alert and ready to debate, challenge, interact, and contribute?

Unfortunately, it often seems that when students walk into our classrooms their brains are set on the lowest possible setting. One reason students may not feel compelled to prepare (or be in the proper mindset for learning) is that they don't mind being shortchanged. In our consumer-driven society, where more is supposedly better, education is the one area where people are content to settle for less. Want to make a class happy? Let them out early.

Are there some things we can do to get our students to read the assignment, come to class ready to participate and be responsible learners? Absolutely! Not only are there things we could be doing, we should be doing them, according to Marcia Magolda in her article "Helping Students Make Their Way to Adulthood: Good Company for the Journey" (2002). Magolda believes that instructors are in a unique position to help students learn two important lessons: (a) to be less dependent on external authorities, and (b) to take ownership and responsibility for their own lives.

So, whose responsibility is it for learning to occur in the classroom? The responsibility belongs to both the instructor and the students. Responsibility can (and should) shift, depending on the time in the semester and the level of the students. Faculty working with freshmen may take more of the responsibility for learning to occur than faculty working with seniors or graduate students.

Likewise, instructors may take more of the responsibility at the beginning of the semester. As the class progresses, they can slowly relinquish control and prepare their students to take over, so that by the end of the semester, the students are shouldering most of the responsibility.

By teaching responsibility, we not only enhance learning and raise the level of our classrooms, but we help produce responsible citizens and productive members of society.

For 10 specific strategies for getting students to take responsibility for their learning, click on "Words of Wisdom" below.


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Words of Wisdom

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