Le Castellet, © Marva A. Barnett

"Whose Course Is It?
Promoting Student Engagement and Responsibility"

Marva A. Barnett

In Margaret-Ann Kassen, ed., Language Learners of Tomorrow: Process and Promise. Report of the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook, 1999: 61-97.


Teachers often complain that students miss class and neither prepare, participate, nor care about learning. When students are relegated to the sidelines because the teacher decides everything, they have little motivation to work hard in the course. But students who take responsibility for learning work harder, know other students better, and contribute and learn more. Collaboration between the teacher and students-the teacher's recognizing students' knowledge, talents, and possible contributions-promotes student responsibility. It is also an organizing principle for the current paradigm shift from teacher as purveyor of information to teacher as facilitator of learning.

This article provokes readers to recognize how much teachers have traditionally taken responsibility for a course and to grapple with the challenge of modifying instructor attitudes toward their courses. Once instructors recognize the value of the collaborative model, they need to communicate it-sell it, at times-to their students in order to promote better learning through greater commitment. On the practical side, this article will offer examples of how certain teaching approaches and classroom assessment techniques can work toward this end: for instance, organizing discussions around students' questions, listening carefully to students' ideas, developing their ideas in productive directions, provoking students' thinking during lectures, using e-mail to continue dialogue outside class, facilitating students' work on the World-Wide Web, draft writing and peer editing, establishing cooperative teams, communicating high standards and expectations, alerting students to their ways of learning and to effective learning techniques. Students' comments about this approach are included.