Helping Students Take Personal Responsibility for Learning

By Sharon Haag1

As you’ve thought about your goals for this school year, is the above title one of them? If it is, and if you are wondering how to go about it, the following is just a short list of ideas that could help. Your students need to 1) know themselves in order to maximize their learning opportunities, and 2) be taught specific study skills which they lack.

Understanding What Helps Me Learn

What learning environment helps me concentrate best?

  • particular time of day
  • temperature
  • light (amount, type)
  • background noise (noise/silence)
  • alone or with others
  • freedom to move or stillness
  • food/drink
  • location (inside/outside, formal/informal, neat/messy)

What modalities help me remember best?

  • Visual: using posters, videos, models, graphics, demonstrations, sketching while listening, visualizing pictures/words in head
  • Auditory: verbal interaction, audible repetition, talking through tasks, reading aloud, verbal directions, tapes for review and rewards, music in background
  • Kinesthetic: short time periods on any one topic or in any one position, stand-up-and-stretch breaks, individualized interaction, role plays, writing on board, hands-on activities/demonstrations, tracing new words, writing in air/on forearm, “fiddling” with something while listening, rhythmic repetition

What helps me understand?

  • Moving from the whole to the parts (needing to see the forest before the trees) or
  • Moving from the parts to the whole (focusing on the trees in order to understand the forest)
  • Do I easily see the big ideas but miss the details? Or do I focus on the specifics and often miss the main ideas?
  • What motivates me to learn? What kinds of goals do I need to set for myself, and what helps me “hang in there” when the going is tough?

Developing Specific Study Skills

  • Taking Notes – from textbooks and other written material; from oral presentations (4th and up)
  • Interpreting Graphic Aids – charts, graphs, maps
  • Preparing For and Taking Tests
  • Making Good Use of Time


Study Skills for Learning Disabled and Struggling Students: Grades 6-12, 4th ed. by Stephen S. Strichart
This book features 122 engaging and reproducible activities, each of which provides a unique opportunity for active learning and practice that encourages student success in the classroom. Teaching struggling and special needs students to use study skills and strategies effectively is a vital step in transforming these students into accomplished and independent learners — and this workbook offers a comprehensive and hands-on look at an array of time-tested approaches and innovative tactics for learning, retention, and analysis.

An included teachers’ guide provides teaching suggestions for using the activities, ideas for extending the activities, and an answer key for each activity, while a CD-ROM assessment tool allows teachers to evaluate students’ use of the skills covered in the book. This CD-ROM, which can be administered an unlimited number of times, is available from Mangrum-Strichart Learning Resources ( for both the Windows and Mac platforms.

The Way They Learn by Cynthia Tobias
The learning-styles expert gives parents a better understanding of the types of learning approaches that will help their children do better in school.

Permission is granted to copy, but not for commercial purposes.

  1. Sharon Haag grew up as a third culture kid (TCK) along the northern border of Mexico. She received her K-8 teaching degree through Biola University and an MS in school counseling and School Psychologist’s credential through Cal State Long Beach. She joined SIL in 1974 and taught TCKs in southern Mexico, piloted the Field Education System (FES – a support program for homeschooling families) in Guatemala, and was an itinerant teacher in Cameroon. She later worked from the United States supporting homeschooling families overseas and doing educational evaluations and consultation. She is now retired.