4 ways to get students to take more responsibility for their learning

Uncategorized May 23, 2022
A common issue that teachers have is that they feel that their students don't take enough responsibility for their own learning. They lose their work, they might not even bring a pen to class, they don't hand assessments in on time, they don't take the initiative to catch up on missed work when they are absent, they expect the teacher to spoon feed them everything... the list could go on!
However, we know that in order for our students to have a successful future, an essential skill they will need to have is self-regulation. They will need to be able to manage themselves, to motivate themselves, to set goals and achieve them, and to take the initiative.
Self-regulation is a skill that students don't just 'have' - they need the opportunity to learn it and develop it. Here are 4 ways that we can do this:
  • Boundaries and expectations are an important part of cultivating a positive learning environment. When clear and strong boundaries are in place, this helps students to feel a sense of security as they know what to expect.
  • You might not be able to make your students do anything, but you can decide what you will and will not do in response to your students actions.
  • Make sure your students are aware and clear on what your boundaries and expectations are.
  • For example, if your students are emailing you the night before an assessment asking you to check their work, that is not ok. Clearly state in advance that you will only check work that has been emailed to you 48 hours before the deadline. You will most likely have to put this in writing and repeat it in order for it to sink in. It's also a good idea to let their parents know. And then the most important thing is that you have to stick to it - no exceptions. Only then will your students realise that you mean business. They will quickly experience the natural consequence and realise that they need to abide by your boundaries next time. 
  • Another example could be the problem of students arriving to class without their equipment. Decide in advance what your response will be to this and let your students know. Will you allow them to go and collect their equipment, resulting in lost class time and disruption to fellow students? Will you have spare equipment to lend to them? Will you expect them to catch up on work that they could not complete in their own time? You need to decide this based on your specific situation.
  • In regards to missed work - have a system set up where students can easily access missed work. Perhaps it is a folder in the classroom, or somewhere online. Make sure your students know what your expectations are in regards to this, what support you will offer, and how they can access this. Make sure you let the parents know as well. Then, it is up to the student whether or not they take you up on this. Make it clear to them that the natural consequence will be that they fall behind in their learning which will lead to poor results.
Learning intentions and success criteria
  • In order for your students to take more responsibility for their learning, it's important that the learning process is made visible. If students know what it is that they are working towards, they are more likely to be motivated to achieve it.
  • Ensure that you provide clear learning intentions and success criteria throughout a unit of work.
  • Provide model answers and demonstrations where necessary.
  • Encourage self-evaluation and peer evaluation, using the success criteria as a guide.
  • Ensure success criteria is also provided for assessments.
Student voice and choice
  • The more opportunities for student voice and choice you can give, the more likely it is that they will be self-motivated, engaged, and empowered, and therefore more responsible. Some ways that you can do this is:
    • Commonly agreed deadlines - for example, if the class is working on a project, break the project down into smaller tasks and agree as a class when each small task should be completed by. This way, students are more likely to comply with the schedule.
    • Goal-setting - ask your students what individual learning goals that they have, and see how they could be tied into the unit of work. Teach them how to set SMART goals, how to break them down into smaller steps, how to create an action plan, and how to monitor and evaluate their progress. These are all skills that need to be learnt in order to develop self-regulation and to encourage more ownership over their learning.
    • Choice in content, process or product - by allowing choice in any of these areas, students are able to tap into and develop their individual strengths, interests and talents. This means that they will be more invested in their learning and more likely to be self-motivated and take more responsibility for their learning.
Positive learning environment
  • A positive learning environment is one in which students feel a sense of safety, security and connection. They feel free to be themselves, they feel cared for, and they work in collaboration, not competition, with their peers.
  • The more connection and self-assurance a student feels within the classroom, the more likely it is that they will be intrinsically motivated to do the right thing and to be engaged in what they are learning. This naturally translates to becoming more responsible for their own learning.
  • It's worth pointing out that research has shown that common behaviour management strategies that utilise rewards and punishments actually decrease levels of intrinsic motivation and can do more harm than good in the long term, so do away with the competitive reward charts and prizes, and focus more on developing connection and collaboration within your classroom.
After reading this, what are your thoughts? Which strategy will you focus on in order to get your students to take more responsibility for their own learning? 
For more guidance and support on how to get your students to take more responsibility for their own learning, please join our online professional learning community, Transformational Teachers. Here, we go in-depth on topics such as visible learning and positive learning environments. You can access a huge range of professional development sessions, coaching, bonus resources, and community. 
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