Taking charge of learning in a learner-centered classroom requires instructors to shift their mindset from being in charge of student learning to students being in charge of their learning. Weimer (2013) offers the following ideas for shifting this mindset:
- Allow students to experience the consequences of their lack of participation in class. Many times, consequences go unnoticed by students, because they can get by in class without reading or thinking ahead. Students can hide in the rows of other students and escape requests for responses to questions. How can instructors reverse this tendency? Weimer suggests the following:
- Provide a quiz (graded or ungraded) at the beginning of every class about the readings. The quiz allows students to self-assess their level of preparation for the class.
- If students lack an answer to a question, let them know that they will be addressing that question at the beginning of the next class or on the next exam. Do not provide the answer to the question. If students are truly confused, then have them go back and explore content that will prepare them to answer the question.
- Coffman (2010) suggests asking what “being prepared really means.” Does it mean that the student has accomplished all the readings? Or, could it mean that the students bring an example to class or a question to share with others?
- Maintain consistent guidelines and policies. Do what you say you are going to do. Predictability is important. When your syllabus states that you will not accept late papers, do not accept late papers. When you say you will be available to students, be available. Treat your learners as the mature people they are. Only amend policies when a student’s situation makes it essential.
- Keep your standards high. Believe that your students can attain high standards: “Learner-centered teachers uphold high standards, but they also hold high beliefs in what students can accomplish” (Weimer, 2013, p. 155).
- Care about your students. Behaviors associated with caring include using humor appropriately, using students’ names, interacting with students before and after class, moving about the classroom and noticing students, and/or interacting with small groups of students (Meyers, 2009; Hawk and Lyons, 2008). Wilson (2006) discovered that approximately 58% of the variance in student motivation was attributed to instructors demonstrating care for their students and investment in their students’ success.
- Maintain a strong commitment to learning. Students can sense an instructor’s commitment to their learning: “If the professor can talk about what he is currently trying to master, or if she provides explicit learning skills instruction—whether that’s critical thinking, problem solving, analysis of evidence, or knowledge transfer – students start to see that learning matters. They become more aware of themselves as learners” (Weimer, 2013, p. 157).
The following list combines work by Coffman (2010) and Magolda (2002) and identifies strategies for promoting student responsibility in learner-centered teaching.
- Have students tell you why they decided to take your course. This requires students to reflect on why they are taking the course. What was their role in deciding to take the course? What do they hope to take away from the course? This also increases instructor knowledge about students.
- Help students come to class ready to learn. Hook students when they first come into class with unusual music related to the theme of the class or use a cartoon, a puzzle, a movement activity, etc. This creates curiosity and intrigue with the class and the content.
- Encourage students to take responsibility for the learning of their peers.
- Have students brainstorm their own group guidelines and ways to maintain those guidelines. Students assuming responsibility for their teams is a lifelong learning tool.
- Provide examples of pertinent research in your field, for example, or questions that scholars are pondering. Model how you might go about solving this problem or answering this question.
- Provide multiple opportunities for students to provide feedback to you and to one another about the class.
- Make the ending of class as exciting as the beginning. Introduce thinking about the next class and new material they will be encountering. Take a few minutes and show a brief video or ask a provocative question.
- This document is the alternative assignment developed by Dr. Meggin McIntosh, Professor Emerita, University of Nevada, Reno ('82 MS, '88 PhD University of North Texas). She used this approach in her courses to promote student responsibility and experienced much success.
- See our previous article, Encouraging Students to Take Responsibility for Learning
Center for Learning Experimentation, Application, and Research. (2016). Teaching Resources for Engaged Educators [online training modules]. Denton, TX: University of North Texas.
Coffman, S.J. (2010). Ten strategies for getting students to take responsibility for their learning. College Teaching, 51(1), 2-4.
Hawk, T.F., & Lyons P.R. (2008). Please don’t give up on me: When faculty fail to care. Journal of Management Education, 23(3), 316-338.
Magolda, M.B. (2002). Helping students make their way to adulthood: Good company for the journey. About Campus, 6(6), 2-9.
Meyers, S.A. (2009). Do your students care whether you care about them? College Teaching, 57(4), 205-210.
Weimer, M. (2013). Learner-centered teaching: Five key changes to practice (2nd ed.). San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.
Wilson, J.H. (2006). Predicting student attitudes and grades from perceptions of instructors’ attitudes. Teaching of Psychology, 33(2), 91-95.