Taking Responsibility for Learning

When a student enters my class, he is taught the logistics of my teaching plan. This is a crucial step in the process as he is going through his orientation. Many students need assistance with their folders. They have difficulty organizing, setting goals and recording their progress, so I start teaching these skills as soon as they walk in the door.

They need to know they are responsible for their own learning.  So, I teach each student to take a pretest for each subject and how to determine which assignment he needs to complete, based on the pretest results. Then the tutors or I take those charts I have made, and show him how to color in which assignments he determines he needs to do.

This is not easy for a lot of students, but once you get them to understand the pattern, in the long run it saves everybody a lot of time and a lot of grief. Everybody knows “who is on first”, so to speak, and it clears the way for educating.

They are also given supplemental materials such as calculators and rulers.  They’re offered all types of supplemental books they may borrow. A student can study his materials when he is not in class, which also speeds up his progress. When in the classroom, he can also choose to watch videos or complete appropriate computer programs, in lieu of the core books. That helps to address different learning preferences and styles.

Prior to entering class, achievement tests established each student’s approximate grade level abilities in reading, math, and language.  So the classroom pretests simply hone in more clearly on exactly what skills need work, and what skills have already been mastered.

Each student now has his own individualized plan with his own input. He will know exactly what he needs to accomplish. He can work at his own level for each individual subject and have control over how and when to do this. If he is poor in math, he might spend most of his mornings working on math, and then a smaller amount of time working on his strengths. He can balance out his abilities, and each student usually enjoys having something he can control.  He will have power over his time, and the ability to work on what subjects and skills he chooses during any given session.

Each student grades his own daily work, keeps his own records, listens to the required lectures, and marks them off on his checklist once he completes them. He writes his required essays, and he decides when he is ready to take the GED practice test. This allows more time for the teacher to assist the students directly, to periodically monitor their progress, to critique essays, and to prepare for small and large group presentations.

It also creates more time to work with the lower level students, who generally need much more direction and instruction. The lower students, the third and fourth graders, and even the kindergarteners use this system, but they have much more direction and guidance, depending on their abilities.


Janice M. Chamberlin, a licensed prison educator in Indiana, is the author of Locked Up With Success. In her book, Ms. Chamberlin shares stories not only of the challenges she has faced, but also the triumphs she has seen in the prison classroom setting. She has successfully developed a system that can unlock potential even in the highest risk students. The full paperback or digital version can be purchased at http://www.lockedupwithsuccess.com/