Student Responsibility for Learning

By Bacon, Charles S. | Adolescence, Spring 1993 | Go to article overview

Student Responsibility for Learning


Bacon, Charles S., Adolescence


Many teachers complain about the problem of getting students to be responsible for their own learning. If word of mouth is an indicator, this problem is serious and becoming more so. This paper presents the results of a study utilizing Morris's (1961) philosophical notion that a person may "be responsible" or "be held responsible." Students who are being responsible will do the work without constant reminders or prodding. Students who are being held responsible will do the work only when someone is somehow forcing them to do so. This distinction is discussed in more detail in Bacon (1991).

Others have described various aspects of "being responsible." Maslow (1976), for example, states that the self-actualized individual will take responsibility. He further states, "Each time one takes responsibility, this is an actualizing of the self". Rogers (1983) discusses results from his study of 75 juvenile delinquents (Rogers et al., 1948) in which he says, "I began to see the significance of inner autonomy. The individual who sees himself and his situation clearly and who freely takes responsibility for that self and for that situation is a very different person from the one who is simply in the grip of outside circumstances. This difference shows up clearly in important aspects of his behavior". Brown (1975) explains that, in confluent education, "What is sought here is a more intelligent use of mind so that individuals will not avoid taking responsibility for that large portion of their existence wherein potentially they could take responsibility.... As the student becomes more in touch with his interior and exterior reality, he can also take more and more responsibility for his own learning".

The present study was an effort to better understand student perspectives on responsibility for learning as suggested by the distinction between being responsible and being held responsible. Following Anderson and Prawat (1983), responsibility is viewed here as "... a complex concept involving a number of related issues, such as accountability and control.... Perception of control is an important factor in responding to one's own behavior as well. Individuals who feel in control are much more willing to accept responsibility for their own behavior. In the classroom, responsible behavior involves self-regulation and self-control by students". It is further contended that responsible persons are not satisfied following the path of least resistance. They will seek out challenges or, at the very least, will not back away from such challenges as they are presented.

The kinds of parameters applied in definitions of responsibility are discussed in the research on intrinsic motivation (e.g., Anderson & Prawat, 1983). For example, Lepper and Malone (1986) offer a way of organizing the various approaches to intrinsic motivation that seems heuristically useful for the present study. They discuss four theoretical orientations for looking at the concept of individual intrinsic motivation. Each represents the work of a number of scholars who have studied intrinsic motivation. These orientations are: humans as problem solvers, humans as information-processors, humans as voluntary actors, and the concept of fantasy. The notions of control and challenge are central to the first and third orientations. Working from an intrinsic motivation perspective, therefore, will enable us to study such central parameters of responsibility as control and challenge (for discussions of challenge, see Bandura & Schunk, 1981; Csikszentmihalyi, 1975, 1990; Deci, 1975, 1980; Deci & Ryan, 1985; Harter, 1978; Lepper & Greene, 1978; Weiner, 1980; White, 1959; for effort as an element of challenge, see Anderson & Prawat, 1983; Covington, 1984a, 1984b; Csikszentmihalyi, 1975, 1990; Harter, 1974; for control, see Condry, 1977; DeCharms, 1968; Deci, 1975, 1980; Deci & Ryan, 1985; Nuttin, 1973).

In this paper, an intrinsic motivation view of student responsibility for learning is used. …

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