10 ways to encourage students to take responsibility for their learning…

1. Don’t make all the decisions

Allow choice. Encourage students to make decisions about how they learn best. Create opportunities for them to pursue their own interests and practise skills in a variety of ways.  Cater for different learning styles. Don’t expect everyone to respond in the same way. Integrate technology to encourage creative expression of learning.

2. Don’t play guess what’s in my head

Ask open-ended questions, with plenty of possible answers which lead to further questions.   Acknowledge all responses equally. Use Thinking Routines to provide a framework for students to engage with new learning by making connections, thinking critically and exploring possibilities.

3. Talk less

Minimise standing out front and talking at them.  Don’t have rows of learners facing the front of the class.  Arrange the seats so that students can communicate, think together, share ideas and construct meaning by discussing and collaborating. Every exchange doesn’t need to go through the teacher or get the teacher’s approval, encourage students to respond directly to each other.

4. Model behaviors and attitudes that promote learning.

Talk about your own learning. Be an inquirer. Make your thinking process explicit. Be an active participant in the learning community. Model and encourage enthusiasm, open-mindedness, curiosity and reflection.  Show that you value initiative above compliance.

5. Ask for feedback

Get your students to write down what they learned, whether they enjoyed a particular learning experience, what helped their learning, what hindered their learning and what might help them next time. Use a Thinking Routine like ‘Connect, extend, challenge’. Take notice of what they write and build learning experiences based on it.

6. Test less

Record student thinking and track development over time. Provide opportunities for applying learning in a variety of ways. Create meaningful assessment tasks that  allow transfer of learning to other contexts. Have students publish expressions of their learning on the internet for an authentic audience. Place as much value on process and progress as on the final product.

7.  Encourage goal setting and reflection.

Help students to define goals for their learning. Provide opportunities for ongoing self-evaluation and reflection. Provide constructive, specific feedback.   Student blogs are great tools for reflecting on learning and responding to their peers.

8. Don’t over plan.

If you know exactly where the lesson is leading and what you want the kids to think, then you‘re controlling the learning. Plan a strong provocation that will ‘invite the students in’ and get them excited to explore the topic further. But don’t  plan in too much detail where it will go from there.

9.  Focus on learning, not work.

Make sure you and your students know the reason for every learning experience. Don’t give ‘busy work’. Avoid worksheets where possible. Don’t start by planning activities, start with the ‘why‘ and then develop learning experiences which will support independent learning.  Include appropriate tech tools to support the learning.

10.  Organise student led conferences

Rather than reporting to parents about their children’s learning, have student led 3-way conferences, with teacher and parents. The student talks about her strengths and weaknesses, how her learning has progressed and areas for improvement. She can share the process and the product of her learning.

I  know there are lots more ways. Please add to the list!

103 thoughts on “10 ways to encourage students to take responsibility for their learning…

  1. I have tried to focus on the “Talk Less” part in recent months – it is working! Sometimes difficult as an ICT teacher I am often introducing new tools – however, I have certainly found that the students will most often learn best when they have time to explore and experiment and then share – I do not have to be the knowledge leader in the room – I like the phrase ‘expert learner’ . We both love it when they teach me stuff (which happens often)

    I love the rest of your list too – cant think how to make it better at this stage.
    Thanks again


  2. Excellent ways to encourage students to take responsibility for their learning. All teachers can learn from this list and take away something to try in their classrooms. I am going to share this with our PYP Coordinator. Thanks.


  3. A great list. Talk Less and Test Less will only work if we listen more and test more informally with frequency. I love the don’t play head games, it’s way too common. But I do think Play More games might be a good addition to this list, at least for the elementary set.


  4. This is a great list! I recently learned about talking less during the last school year. It is amazing to see what your students will come up with if you give them the chance.
    I’m also working on #9 by unwrapping my standards this summer. So far I’ve always looked for activities, without thinking about why I make the assignment. By unwrapping my standards I feel that my instruction is now focused and the students will benefit greatly from it.
    Thanks for posting!


  5. One technique I used to use, once I had real confidence in my ability to teach (say 3-5 years in) was to leave holes in my teaching (especially) or actually make mistakes (sometimes). You have to follow it up next class of course. The sense of achievement kids get when they have the Eureka moment (when they DO reinvent the wheel) is really profound and it then gives them the confidence to become challenging learners.
    And in response to 4. Model behaviours, talk about your own learning, I have done that as a novel. It is the novelisation of the Learner-Generated Contexts Group’s ‘Open Context Model of Learning’ called 63/68 A Visceral History, on SCRIBD, and freely downloadable;

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I like the ‘making mistakes’ sometimes – teachers who do take risks sometimes get it wrong. Let the kids know that you are human too – and ask them to help you solve the problem, or get it better the next time.
    In maths, I sometimes have a ‘virtual student’ – little Johnny – who always gets it wrong. I ask my students to explain to ‘little Johnny’ why he is making errors and how he can get it right the next time. A ‘kids teaching kids’ approach has been really successful for me.


  7. Dear Edna… Love your list! I’m working on many of these in my practice already and found reading through your list both affirming and encouraging… As with many teachers, I find talking less and letting go of the overplanning difficult! This list challenges me and I see many of my personal goals for the coming year reflected in your thinking! Thanks for sharing! Cheers, Michelle


  8. I think that #10 can also coincide with student evaluations as opposed to grades. I know the student can’t fully do their own evaluation, but I think evaluations will give students a better idea of those strengths and weaknesses, as opposed to, “I got a C in math because I’m not good at math/I didn’t do the homework.” I feel vague answers like that will definitely come from letter grade explanations. They have actually – I’ve seen myself, my younger brother, and my peers and many students do it all the time, because grades are vague.

    Anyway, to add to the list: Students proposing and voting on group/individual projects related to subject material. Also, allowing certain students the opportunity to explore topics further with reading, summaries/essays, a self-made film, or whatever they choose. This can allow students to exercise more freedom and participatory democracy, as well as gain intrinsic motivation to learn, because they have a personal say and stake in what they are doing. And often times (even on standardized tests!) I’ve wanted to read more about something, or do an essay or something, but have been made to move on just to keep up (relatively) to the rest of the group.


  9. Stop giving them the answers! Tell them to find the answer themselves. You will be amazed.

    I now give my IB Spanish students loose guidelines and have them prepare discussions and materials to add to our curriculum (with educational expectations, of course) but it´s amazing what they find…


  10. I have seen #10 tried and it was amazing! When I student taught, the students reflected for a week about how they were doing in each subject. We talked about what successful learners in each subject did and made lists of those things. Then out of those lists, the students pulled a few strengths from those lists that they believed they were doing. Then they pulled a weakness from those lists-something they could try to do better. Parent-student-teacher conferences provided a place for those 4th graders to have real conversations about their learning in the classroom. The after-affect was the best part! They referred back to the weaknesses, strengths, and goals they made on a weekly basis to see how they were doing!


  11. The responsibility for learning is on the teacher and not the student. Many teachers get this bit wrong as is evidenced by the large amount of homework dished out by teachers these days. This is lazy teaching.


  12. David if a child does not take resposibility they will never learn. The teacher’s resposibility is to give them opportunity and to facilitate their learning. Obviously you are not a teacher and have no knowledge of teaching theory..you just want to blame others for inadequacies you may face personally.


  13. I am finishing my Graduate Diploma in Education in November and I have just stumbled upon your blog. I think this is excellent since you specifically define things that SHOULD NOT be done. Thanks a lot, this has been a great help.


  14. Hi,
    I am a student teacher and I am about to complete my course next week. I just completed a professional practice teaching round and I have to say that your blog at times was like a godsend. You have some great practical suggestions that are easy to follow. Thanks a lot for all the help you provided without know it!!

    Good luck with everything


  15. Excellent resources! I use the 3 before me model in our computer room. In addition, when teaching a brand new skill to everyone the earlier finishers are shown the next skill, they master it and show it to the next person ready. In turn, that second person teaches the next person and so on. Show me, I fish, I teach someone else to fish….


  16. Thanks, Edna. A list to nail to the staffroom wall (and my own forehead!) What you say makes so much sense and is so practical it seems sttrange that I’ve never seen them written together in one place before.

    Have just posted a link tabout your post on the TeachingEnglish facebook page if you’d like to check there for comments.

    Please feel free to post on our page whenever you have anything you’d like to share.




  17. I already love a lot of the student centred ones like ‘don’t make all the decisions, talk less, and don’t over plan. I’m excited to try being a good learning model more- as the few experiences I have had with it (where the students and I were discovering together) have been some of the highlights I’ve had with teaching on rounds so far. Something that I want to work on is not needing all group discussions to go through the teacher, and also the practicalities of how to use progress tracking rather than tests for assessment. Does this also work with reports? Thankyou for a great post! I’m adding this one to my favs


  18. hi,
    i’m a new ESL teacher. Thank you so much. that’s gonna be a wonderful addition to my career.
    i will fix my weaknesses and put those ways into my teaching style.
    thank you again.


  19. Dear Edna,
    Your list was an excellent source of inspiration!! I’m an educational researcher based in Bologna Italy, and I would like to ask your permission to include this contribution in a short module that I’m preparing for a group of teachers which will be involved in a piloting course within the framework of an European Project. Your name and your blog will be fully quoted in the paragraph in which I would like to insert your 10 ways…….
    I’m looking forward to your kind reply
    Thank you
    Best regards


      1. Dear Edna,
        thank you very much for your permission. I’m very happy to be able to insert your valuable contribution in the module. It will be my pleasure to provide you with feedback next year when the piloting course will be delivered.
        Best regards


    1. Dear Edna
      I agree that the list is a good one. Our students just don’t hear enough about organization or it is easy for them to not try to stay organized. It is nice to see a list that you can break down over a few days to review items they can always use.


  20. I am a Grade 6 student and I’m doing everything to be a responsible student/pupil/child to my teachers and parents, my siblings, cousins and etc. I always search everything, I’m nearly graduating this March 2012.My parents asks me that “Do you have good grades?, are you a nice student?” Listening to that question again and again makes me unhappy, and embarrassed.”From now on Good Bye Old Days, Hello New Days!”


  21. I feel that teaching how to create effective inquiry is the most important thing we can do as teachers. It is the liberating skill around which all others array themselves. It serves, always, as the center, the anchor, the starting point for learning.


  22. I think that #5 is a key for all other propositions. If a student can not write his/her own notes nothing else from the list works. A lot of students at College/University level don’t write their notes because they cannot do it! In my Math classes, I must show to my students how they can write useful notes. It takes time for sure but without this experience students don’t remember and don’t understand important details inside of methods they learn.
    I would like to know your opinions, colleagues. Thanks.


  23. Hi Guys, Can I ask your help to answer this, please? the question is this “1. As a mentor /facilitator/educator what are the virtues you need to show case among your pupils/student? from 1 to 5 only….and number 2. Write the 5 A’s or approaches that will make facilitating learning more inspiring and interesting to your pupil/student for a total learning output”…thanks guys for sharing your ideas.. this is my email add: rra25ph@yahoo.com and my skype is rikz_world


  24. Thanks, for your contribution,and I have seen what motivation as concept is all about, & how its related to learning. I have learned & developed some common techniques which may be used by classroom teachers,to motivate students in their work. The teacher should not strictly admere to one theory of motivation,but he should make used of various approaches in his teaching. Thank you once again.


  25. I am currently studying towards my diploma in Earlly Childhood Development NQF level 5. And I would like to add that learners or students learn through exploring and experiencing the lesson. I as an educator try to include an exploring activity in all my lessons that I plan. I am currently a pre-school teacher to 4 year olds.


  26. id go for # 3 Use routines that are thinking rich. Allow the child to think and deliberate.Get them to discuss and arrive at the solution. You’d be surprised at some of the answers. One of the strategies i use in class is chalk talk. This enables even the silent child to contribute. Questions like what makes you say that? are pretty effective. It helps students describe what they see or know and asks them to build explanations. It promotes evidential reasoning (evidence-based reasoning) and because it invites students to share their interpretations, it encourages students to understand alternatives and multiple perspectives.


  27. This is a great list! thank you for putting it on. I am a trainee secondary teacher- less is definitely more! it’s amazing how much the kids know and use their imagination when you just let them have a chance to speak and discuss with each other! its wonderful to see.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s