Students abandoning their responsibilities and not doing what they need to do is a problem I have wrestled with for years.  I don’t have any magic ideas to solve it but will share some of the ways I have dealt with it.  The first thing I have had to work on is my attitude toward this problem.  That means that I am learning not to take responsibility for what students choose to do or not do, nor do I get overly involved in the choices they make that seem unwise or that I think will lead to unhealthy outcomes.  I also try to remain nonjudgmental about my students’ choices, knowing that sometimes the most powerful lessons are those that teach us what doesn’t work.  In other words, I think the best way to encourage responsibility from students is not to pick it up ourselves.  I know that is easier said than done, but here are a few specific strategies that have helped me maintain this stance.

1. I make every effort to provide students with a syllabus that clearly states course expectations regarding assignments, attendance, and behaviors.

2. I give students three “No Questions Asked” coupons per quarter which gives them an opportunity to turn in up to three assignments after the due date and not be penalized for being late.  This provides a “safety net” for those times when the unexpected occurs, but beyond that (unless there is a circumstance that is clearly out of the student’s control), late assignments are not accepted.

3.  About mid-point in the quarter, I require students to write an assessment of their experience in the course so far, consisting of what they expected to learn in the course when they chose to enroll, what was helping and what was not helping them fulfill those expectations, and what suggestions they had for improving their experience in the course.  I also require them to calculate the grade they have earned so far (a guide for this is included in the syllabus).  I think this assessment not only empowers students to see more clearly the part they play in their own learning, but it also gives me information that I can use to clear up any miscommunication or make any needed modifications in class activities or direction.

4. Lastly, if I think of “responsibility” as the “ability to respond,” it seems less burdensome and more empowering.  Students seem to like it, too.

–Nancy Flint, Instructor, Student Support Services, Skagit Valley College, WA

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