When I was moved from 5th grade to 3rd grade a few years ago I was freaking out. Not because it was new curriculum but because I knew without a doubt that third graders were not as much of independent thinkers as fifth graders were. That was one of the things I loved the most about fifth graders – how they were so grown up and yet, still wanted to please you (most of the time).
After adjusting to students that were a little more dependent, I realized it wasn’t so much the dependency that was – forgive me here – driving me nuts, but that some students acted like they wanted me to spoon feed them everything. Perhaps I’m one of those mean teachers, but I just don’t “play that way.” I expect my students to think. When I go home at night, I want to feel good knowing that my students were the ones who worked hard and are tired – not me. And let’s be honest, if they aren’t willing to “think more for themselves” and put in the effort needed, they aren’t going to be successful.
Sometimes I think we live in a society where everything is quick and convenient – so when something isn’t immediately that way, we give up too quickly. Isn’t that starting to be evident in our students? That’s why I wanted to write this blog post, creating more independent thinkers who don’t rely on you spoon feeding them the answers.
Are you spoon-feeding your students?
First, let me define what I consider spoon-feeding. To me it is when you walk students through each step, failing to develop the endurance in your students to work through problem-solving. There is a difference between first teaching something to students and guiding them. I’m talking about students who are definitely capable or nearly capable.
Spoon Feed Strategies
I’m sure in your classroom, you are already teaching some strategies in math and reading, but have you ever considered teaching independence strategies? Teach students what steps to take when they get stuck on a problem. Teach them different things they can try. For instance, in math, I’m going to teach my students to look back at their notes at the part similar to what they are working on. Then I’ll have them ask themselves “what did she do here?” This doesn’t always come naturally to students. They often copy down notes and never look at them again. They don’t know they should reference them. It’s the same with Anchor Charts. You may even want to make a checklist handy for students for just this purpose.
Spoon Feed Mistakes
Students are not going to work independently if they are not confident. The best way to do that is by providing students with plenty of opportunities to make errors and mistakes so they can learn what doesn’t work and why. When a student makes an error, and I casually mention it’s not correct, I am quick to ask a student why they think it’s not correct. I don’t let a student create mistakes so many times that they “learn” the wrong way- but I do let them make errors. I think of it this way. I can tell my teenage child over and over again that _____ is bad. But she is not going to learn it until she experiences it. I did it. If you think about it, you did it. (Of course, there are some exceptions. I wouldn’t want my daughter to find out the hard way drugs are bad. But you get my point… I hope.) Then after they have created errors and learned what doesn’t work- they will have that internal excitement when they get it right. These errors can be referenced later during encouragement. “Do you remember how you worked through that really hard problem before? You can do it again!” Boost that confidence!
Spoon Feed Delay
If you run to children as soon as there is a question or problem, they begin to rely on you. Instead, delay. Take your time getting to them. Casually mention to the student, “I’ll be right there. Why don’t you try a few different options before I get there.” I require my students to try at least 2 different ways first. I tell them, “when I get there I want you to show me what two ways you tried first.” This requires them to think. It also helps me see their thinking process and what went wrong. If I get to a student who hasn’t tried two different ways, I’ll say every time, “I’ll come back to you when you have tried two different options.” (I explain to parents ahead of time at the beginning of the year how I do this and try to encourage them at home to do the same.) Further, you may want to check back frequently with the student to verify that the student has a repertoire of strategies and isn’t just sitting there.
These are just a few ideas I had. I know I have high expectations of my students – and they rise to it! Sometimes I can be “mean” but I have to remember, it’s for the good of my students – both short term and long term.