Helping Students Take Responsibility for Learning
by Janet Mizrahi
Millennials have some delightful qualities—they are open-minded and collaborate well—but so many of my students seem to take little responsibility for their own learning. When I hear a student ask “What do you want?” after I have just spent time painstakingly explaining the purpose and objectives of an assignment, my heart sinks. After all, it’s not what I want: It’s how the student applies what I’ve taught to a new task.
Scholars have long known that self-regulated learning—the cognitive process whereby learners set their own learning goals, create their own learning strategies, and monitor their own learning progress—is a key to academic success. It’s also what I think some students, many of whom have not yet developed independent thinking skills, are lacking.
Self-regulated learning (SLR) includes several components:
- Self-instruction: steps a student uses when doing a task
- Self-evaluation: examination of one’s own behavior compared to standards
- Self-correction: correcting behavior to match standards
- Self-reinforcement: rewarding oneself for accomplishments
While self-regulated learning ultimately depends on the student, we instructors can help them be more successful by integrating tasks that encourage them to take more responsibility for their own educations.
Dr. Linda B. Nilson of Clemson University, where she founded the Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation, offers ways to integrate activities that foster self-regulating processes. Because they’re designed exclusively to help students develop and take control over their own learning, these exercises are ungraded.
SRL Task #1 At the beginning of your semester, have students write about how they can earn an “A” in your course. The task should ask them to identify and include specific strategies such as keeping up with reading, visiting the instructor during office hours, and attending all class sessions. At the end of the semester, students repeat the exercise to assess whether their learning strategies worked.
SRL Task #2 After a reading assignment, assign students to write about what they remember from the reading without referring to the book. Then ask them to review any information about which they were unclear.
SRL Task #3 At the end of a class session, conduct a “lecture wrapper,” in which students write about what they learned that day. Have them address what stood out and what remains unclear. Steer students to review what they have missed and perhaps link the importance of the topic to a future assignment.
SRL Task #4 If you give quizzes, ask students to analyze what they missed. Have them define why they made errors (i.e. carelessness, poor time management during the exam, unfamiliarity with the material, etc.)
We all will probably always have some students who resist the strenuous work of learning. But I hope that by using some of the strategies Dr. Nilson proposes, I can push them closer to taking charge of their own education.
What strategies do you use to help students learn? Start a conversation!
 Schunk, D. 2009. Self-Regulated Learning. Retrieved from http://www.education.com