Move Students to Maturity Through Responsible Learning

Many teachers become frustrated with students because of their lack of enthusiasm for content, low levels of engagement and homework completion, and increases in student failure. In a recent survey, 66% of students reported they were bored nearly everyday while in class (Yazzie-Mintz 2010). The good news? Boredom can be cured - by students! Claiming boredom, however, is not a valid reason for students not to learn. No matter how entertaining a teacher can be, there is no learning without diligent effort on the part of the child. 

Leaders and teachers must create a learning environment where students take greater responsibility for their own learning.

The next time you conduct a walkthrough, pay attention to the classroom routine. In many classrooms, students enter the room and wait for the teacher to tell them what to do; or they follow a “get started” activity written on the board that the teacher created. In this type of environment, the teacher—not the student—is responsible for most of the learning.

How much more enjoyable would teaching be if teachers had classrooms where students walk through the door and immediately understand the difference between their social world (outside the classroom) and the world of learning and productivity (inside the classroom)? Students pick up a portfolio folder, or log onto a Web site that features their current work and a specific schedule that students developed the prior day; they read through comments from the teacher that include specific feedback (task, process, self regulation) on how to improve their performance; and then they start working on activities they choose. Students determine what materials they’ll need to complete their tasks, and they sign up for those activities, including small-group mini-lessons taught by the teacher. They use rubrics and scoring guides complete with success criteria to gauge their work and understand how to assess their own progress; and they are able to tell the teacher how well they are doing and what the teacher can do to help them be more successful. The teacher has now created an environment that has been carefully structured so that students take more responsibility for their own learning. Student responsibility for learning requires clear expectations, structures that students use to achieve success, and guidance and feedback from the teacher. 

Academic Rigor

When students are engaged in learning and are taught to take greater responsibility for their own learning, then increasing academic rigor is attainable. Antiquated teaching strategies such as lecturing, drilling, and rote memorization will not increase learning. These strategies may lead to small, short-term increases in high- stakes assessments, but as time goes by, the students will have little to show for their work, and little foundation to build upon the following year. If you engage students’ minds in grappling with content through meaningful, authentic performance tasks, they will build knowledge and understanding for the long term. If you increase their responsibility for learning, offering them freedom and choice, they will be able to accomplish more, not remaining dependent on others to continue moving forward. You can then increase academic rigor through well-designed assignments, questions, differentiation, collaboration, and a host of other meaningful learning opportunities.

Leading Toward Success

Instructional leadership does not have to be a source of stress and fatigue. In fact, with the right conditions, it is not necessary to micromanage every function of instruction. Specific leadership actions are directly related to student achievement. It is clear that what leaders do to create a better environment for teachers and for student learning has a clear, measurable and profound impact on student learning. Focusing on leadership rather than management values, monitoring adult teaching practices, and maintaining a laser-like focus on fewer initiatives remain remarkably constant predictors of success according to the research, even as researchers change.

As more leaders adjust their roles to reflect a focus on instructional improvements that will directly influence student achievement, the process of systemic improvements necessary for lasting positive change in education will continue to gain momentum.