As adults and parents, we know what it means to be responsible. We know we need to take responsibility for our actions and decisions. But how can parents teach their children to be responsible for their own learning?
Parents can teach their children to be responsible for their own learning by helping them set achievable goals and create expectations for meeting those goals. In addition, when parents are involved in school and create a positive learning environment at home, students become more invested in their education.
Continue reading to learn more about the benefits of teaching children to be responsible for their own learning and the importance of parent involvement in the learning process.
Why Is It Important for Students to Take Ownership of Their Learning?
It is important for students to take ownership of their learning because students then become increasingly independent, responsible, and self-motivated.
Responsibility is not innate, however. It is a skill, and we must teach it. Teaching responsibility and ownership for learning begins at home.
When we teach children to take ownership of their learning, we teach them responsibility. But the word “responsibility” can feel like a loaded one, with many expectations. Both teachers and parents want students to be responsible, and we all recognize that it is an invaluable life skill in academic settings, personally and professionally.
We’ll talk more about how to scaffold those expectations and identify strategies that will help students grow into responsible adults a bit further in the article. But first, it is crucial to understand why this essential skill is so important.
The word “responsibility,” defined simply, means that a particular task is an individual’s job to deal with (source).
We cannot take the responsibility to accomplish a task from students if we hope for them to grow into responsible, successful adults in the real world. When we give students the opportunity to take ownership of their own learning, we encourage responsibility and independence (source).
Often, teachers and parents fall into the trap of dictating expectations and telling students what to do. When we do that, we are taking responsibility for a student’s learning into our own hands instead of helping them make decisions about what they must do to reach a goal and how to achieve it.
A better way is to instead ask or provide an opportunity for students to explain their feelings as they encounter a task such as homework or an assigned project.
Allowing students to set goals and helping them to achieve them on their own is crucial in teaching ownership. It also aids in teaching critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Rather than identifying a problem and figuring it out for them, allowing them to take ownership and make decisions themselves teaches that it’s safe to take risks and that failure is part of learning. Thus, taking ownership becomes a motivating factor.
How Ownership Helps Students Identify Strengths and Weaknesses
Taking ownership of their learning not only aids in teaching responsibility but also helps students identify their strengths and weaknesses and thus know when to ask for help.
Many students struggle to ask for help, and learning how to ask for help when necessary is part of learning to take ownership of our learning.
Some students have home situations that make this harder than others. For example, many students with difficult or uncertain situations at home will do nothing, avoid interaction, or mentally shut down when faced with a challenging task. As a result, asking for help does not come easily.
But, if parents and teachers model how to ask for help when something becomes challenging, students may realize that we all have strengths and weaknesses, and knowing when to ask for help is an equally important skill.
Students who learn to take ownership of their own learning realize that we may need to fail first to identify our strengths and weaknesses. So, as adults, we model what to do when that happens, showing that we can try again, try a different method, or ask for help.
Finally, ownership helps students identify what they enjoy, too. And conversely, what they do not enjoy.
Many students will find that reading is a struggle while mathematics comes naturally. However, the opposite is true, too. When students learn what they are good at, they can dive more deeply into subjects and topics they enjoy, fostering intrinsic motivation or a desire to learn.
And for subjects and topics that do not come naturally or are not enjoyable, these are opportunities for parents to become more involved in the learning process, which we will discuss a bit later in this article.
First, we’ll talk about scaffolding and how it helps students take responsibility for their learning.
Scaffolding Expectations as Students Take Responsibility for Their Learning
Scaffolding helps students learn how to take responsibility for their learning. As parents, we start small and move students one step at a time toward a goal and, ultimately, more independence and ownership over their own learning.
Just as we wouldn’t sign up for a marathon having never run a mile, the same is true with teaching students how to take responsibility for learning. We cannot drop them into the deep end without first teaching them how to swim.
Scaffolding also helps us to understand what students know and have learned, even when it comes to teaching expectations. In other words, it helps to give us a starting place to begin when helping students learn how to take responsibility for their learning.
When we ask questions instead of dictating expectations, we also understand what students know and what they do not yet know or understand (source).
While scaffolding may seem like a complicated word, it doesn’t have to be. To explain it simply, it means starting with small, achievable, measurable goals. It also means that we model the behavior we hope to see.
Scaffolding means we begin by asking questions to find out what the student understands.
However, it is common to jump into an argument instead. For example, if your student is failing all of their classes, we might argue and say, “You will pass all of your classes next term, or there will be a consequence.”
While it doesn’t sound like we are doing anything wrong, per se, for the student, that is an overwhelmingly huge expectation, one that likely will result in the student doing nothing at all because they simply don’t know where to start.
If you instead handle the situation with scaffolding, you sound more like a helper than one making demands. For example, perhaps you ask what class is the most difficult, what teachers the student enjoys the most, or which classes the student has friends in. Start with something positive before moving into or toward critique.
If your student tells you about a teacher or subject that they like more than the others, you can start there. Instead of the expectation being that your student passes all of their classes, begin with one class.
Then, break it down further. Instead of saying they must pass the class and then leaving them to figure it out, look at missing assignments and begin with one. Try to tackle only one at this point.
Build on the Base Scaffolding
Next, model what you would do. You could choose the most straightforward assignment or the one with the largest point value, depending on what you know about your student – model how you would tackle the assignment. Show them what you would do if you were stuck, even modeling your thinking process as you begin.
You can begin with phrases like, “I wonder what would happen if I tried _________” or “I’m struggling with this question. If we email your teacher, maybe we can ask for help.”
The next time you tackle an assignment together, gradually release more responsibility to the student. Continue to ask guiding questions, but allow the student to experience a slight struggle and the achievement that comes from not giving up.
We cannot expect students to take responsibility for their own learning overnight. Instead, it is a life-long skill that even we, as adults, learn daily. As we model and set small goals students can achieve, their independence and responsibility for learning will grow.
Benefits of Having Parents Involved in the Learning Process
When we teach children that they are both capable and cared for regardless of ability, we build self-esteem, fostering independence. In addition, students whose parents are involved in their learning achieve higher grades, are more consistent with work completion, and are much more motivated to do well in school and life.
Parents and caregivers are every student’s first teachers. Parents can provide opportunities at home for students to feel a sense of power, control, and autonomy in many tasks outside of homework and school.
This may include chores, setting a goal, modeling how to take small steps toward achieving it, and creating a home environment that supports and encourages learning.
A Parent’s Challenge
One challenge many parents face is doing things for their students that they can do independently.
If we are too afraid to let them fail, they will never learn to take responsibility for themselves. That may mean giving up the way we may go about doing something and allowing the child the freedom to figure it out for themselves.
For example, a child making their bed may look quite a bit different from how we would go about it, likely a lot messier, too. Still, the child’s sense of accomplishment will lead to an increased sense of responsibility over time (source).
Remember, taking responsibility for learning develops over time, many years, in fact. It will take a lot of practice and probably many mistakes along the way. But that is how children learn: when we let go and let them experience the struggle while knowing when to step in to help.
The most noted benefits of parent involvement include a higher level of achievement, resulting in better grades, higher test scores, and better attendance.
In addition, students whose parents are involved have higher self-esteem, are less afraid to take risks and ask for help when needed, and transition to higher education much more seamlessly (source).
The benefits are not only for students but for parents, too. Students talk more, respond and share more, and feel a stronger sense of healthy attachment. In addition, parents are more aware of what the students are learning and can discuss world affairs, including politics and decisions about the school.
Examples of How Parents Can Help Students Take Ownership of Their Learning
Parents can help students take ownership of their learning by creating a home environment that fosters and encourages learning, modeling goal setting and encouraging high but attainable expectations, becoming involved, and being present at school conferences and other events.
Creating an environment at home that encourages learning can be as simple as reading books with your child and showing them that you also enjoy reading.
It may mean a “no cell phone” rule for certain hours of the evening that parents can choose to spend talking about what the student learned at school, asking questions, and showing interest in schoolwork.
Instead of watching TV, for example, parents can join their children while they complete a project and show enthusiasm for exciting facts or new information. Asking questions shows the student that we care about what they are learning and that perhaps we are learning something new as well.
Indeed, we don’t want to hover and do the work for them. So we must be present and allow students to do the work themselves.
Model Goal Setting
Additionally, we can model goal setting. Modeling steps toward achieving a goal doesn’t have to be related to learning. For example, maybe you have a goal to exercise three times a week. You can show your child that committing to exercising for seven days is too much and likely too hard to achieve.
But three days a week is doable, and we can show how we stay committed even when we’d rather not. We can also model how we respond when we fail to reach a goal, expressing positivity and a growth mindset. We may not have achieved the goal this time, but we celebrate successes and communicate that we can try again next week.
Finally, it is essential to be present at school. Get to know the teacher and work as a team. Attend conferences so that you know what is happening at school.
You can even attend school board meetings if you choose so that you can be involved in the decision-making process by your child’s school district. When your student sees your involvement, it will encourage them to be involved, too.
Social and Emotional Development in the Classroom
Social and emotional development in the classroom is not a single lesson but something teachers should incorporate throughout the school day. This includes teaching and modeling responsibility, showing empathy for others, creating positive discipline methods, and fostering opportunities for a growth mindset.
While social-emotional skills are just that, skills, teachers can easily incorporate them within a larger curriculum. In addition, teachers can intentionally model appropriate behavior for their students.
Regardless of the grade level, issues between students arise frequently, whether a minor disagreement while working on a group project or a conflict among friends.
For example, in an ELA (English Language Arts) classroom, students may read about a conflict in a novel. Teachers can then incorporate role-playing among students, allowing them to either agree or disagree with a character’s actions and explain their reasoning.
Before addressing social-emotional skills, we first need to create a warm, safe learning environment and classroom culture for students (source).
A safe learning environment is where they can feel comfortable asking questions, making mistakes, and explaining what they are thinking or how they came to a conclusion, even if it differs from the larger group.
When shown how to accept others’ differences, students become a part of showing how meaningful relationships between one another (and between the teacher and the student) are possible, even when our backgrounds, life experiences, or opinions differ.
Helping students to take ownership of their own learning is a process that takes time. Remember that responsibility is not an innate skill, but one we must teach and students must practice.
Setting goals, high but achievable expectations, and being present and involved are all ways to foster independence and ownership over learning. But it all starts at home by creating a positive learning environment where adults are also committed to learning.