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Learning Responsibility


In her viewpoint article "Seen and Heard," education researcher and former teacher Antonia Lewandowski writes that, for schools to make progress, students need to have a better understanding of their own responsibility for their education.

An 8th-grade class from New Jersey has responded to the article. Now, what's your view?

Do students take enough responsibility for their own learning? Do they do their part? How can teachers and schools help increase student motivation?


Antonia Lewandowski asks a key question in her article: "When and where did students develop the idea that they are not personally responsible for the work they do?" Find the answer to this question and the entirety of the education experience could be radically changed. When and where does the curiousity and spontaneity end and the boredom and lethargy creep in? When and where does active learning and introspection give way to a disdain for learning? In the end, students of all ages must realize that responsibility for what they learn is totally and unequivocally theirs. The teacher cannot "learn" someone. The teacher's role is to set a context in which learning can flourish. If that context requires motivation and inspiration, then instill it. If relevance is required, bring it into the setting. Galileo said it best -- You cannot teach anyone anything; you can only help them discover what is already within them.

I teach students with disabilities who really want to learn. Often they come to high school feeling worthless and unable to learn. I alwyas tell them that the person who does the work is the person who learns. Although I try to create excitement and interest in the subject, it is the students responsibility to do the learning. I am unable to open their heads and insert the information. I let them know that I am willing to help them but they must do the learning themselves.

As an educator/staff developer I thoroughly enjoyed Antonia Lewandowski's article, "Seen and Heard." The process of education is doomed if students do not see what we have to offer as important. Sure student engagement and all the spin presented of late is vital or at least bears some attention. Regardless of what "new and exciting" things are up and coming if we are missing that key ingredient all is lost. I would offer two suggestions: 1) live the Confucious quote "When a student is willing, a teacher will appear" and 2) read the Patrick Welsh article "For once, blame the student." It appeared in USA Today. THANK YOU ANTONIA!!

It is interesting to note the responses from the above cited eighth grade students. Most of them said it was 75% their resposibility. I am more of the opinion that it is 50/50. Any endeavor that is worth learning requires sound preparation so that the recipients, which includes the taxed public, can get the most they can out of their teachers. On the other end, the careful planning needs to be fulfilled through honest effort by students in completing the requisite work.

I appreciated the article by Antonia Lewandowski because it lends credence to a condition that frustrates even the most reflective practioner - blaming poor grades mostly on the teacher. As teachers we owe the students thorough preparation, relevant topics, stimulating assignments, timely feedback, and not least of all indidual respect. (Is anything missing?) Such is more easily stated than accomplished; however, we knew that going in. The other fifty percent is up to the students.

I have taught for the few years at an inner city public charter school that is on academic emergency. I read the article and printed it for my fellow teachers. We all agreed we see far too much responsibility placed on the teachers by the administrators, the parents and the students for student learning and the lack thereof. Teachers are called on the carpet to defend their lesson plans, their discipline styles, their grading scales, etc. Administrators discard student progress reports, because there are too many D's and F's; grade cards aren't sent out for the same reason. Are the parents calling? Are the students asking for them? Very few! The work ethic these children have is ridiculous! We offer additional assitance after school, and on Saturdays, but the parents are not interested in getting out of their beds and bringing the kids to school for free tutoring. Do you think this is why they prefer to be on welfare, then to earn a real living? The constant disruptions in the classroom and the threats that are norm wear the teachers down emotionally, then to hear from the administration that it is our fault the students aren't getting better grades-whose fault is that? We have an alarming truancy rate, yet only this month after the teachers have brought forth the rally cry do we have someone calling homes to see why students aren't in school. One parent told their sophomore student if they didn't pass their state graduation tests it was on them, they didn't need to get them to school on time. They didn't care if they passed or not. When students are out of class, few find get the assignments that are readily available in each teacher's room. They tell their parents "we" haven't given them their make-up work. Excuse me, you're in the middle and high school, whose responsible for getting the make-up work? It doesn't matter how many times and how many teachers teach them it is the students' responsibilty, we, the teachers, take the blame.
This isn't just a local inner-city at-risk problem either. Teaching in other parts of the country, I've seen this lack of a work ethic across the board of race, creed and color. If America is going down hill, don't blame the teachers look in the mirror and take some responsibilty for your own actions. You also can't blame uneducated parents either, I've heard professionals with masters degrees say it isn't their responsibilty as the parent to ensure their child is working to earn their grades and have a chance at a better life. Even our politicians would rather blame the "other" party for the failures in America. Yes, I work with some teachers who don't put a true effort into teaching their students. Why should they, they don't appreciate what they do is the mind set; but how many really do work their hardest and have a desire to see all their students be successful after school.More then those who aren't dedicated. The bottom line is this: when you point the finger, remember there are three fingers pointing back at you.

As a first-year teacher I may not know all that many of my colleagues know, but I do know that it is impossible to teach 7th and 8th graders when they do not want to learn and have no desire to learn. I teach in a school district that has a 98% poverty rate, and is a Title 1 school. Many of my students are so discouraged that they just don't care about school anymore. Whose responsibility is it when the students have given up? Ours-the educators!

I enjoyed reading student comments regarding who is responsible for learning and found it refreshing to hear that most students admit the majority of the responsibility for learning is theirs. This finding should be shared with both parents and educators.
The major responsibility teachers have is to foster a supportive learning environment that encourages students to be curious and seek answers to their curiosity.
While I am off for the summer I am doing some work through a temporary agency. The work I am being asked to do is new to me and I find myself being in the role of a student. As I observe those teaching me this job, I am aware of the qualities I appreciate most from teachers. These qualites include: Patient, supportive, clear, specific, prepared, encouraging, forgiving.
Perhaps just as important is the need for teachers to be aware of their tone and non-verbal communication. The old adage, "It's not what you say, it's how you say it" can be a decisive element in a teacher's effectiveness with students.
Teachers are human and can only do their best each day. From there it's up to students to do their best(just as many students said in their responses).

I totally agrre that students are responsible for their learning. Whereas a teacher cannot teach where there are no students, students can learn where there are not teachers. The role of a teacher is to set the tone ang guide students in their studies. If we are to restrict students to what we teach them they end up knowing "only what we know" and this is not enough take teaching computers for example it is best that the teacher guides and the students do the rests as the teacher will not certainly be able to know everything about computers.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Mr. Kwenda: I totally agrre that students are responsible for their learning. read more
  • Mark M. , Mathematics Teacher: I enjoyed reading student comments regarding who is responsible read more
  • Ms. L. Alston: As a first-year teacher I may not know all that read more
  • M. McClain, Language Arts Teacher: I have taught for the few years at an inner read more
  • Mike Huhndorf: It is interesting to note the responses from the above read more




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