Friday, November 19, 2010

Be less helpful? It Depends

Dan Meyer writes about teachers being less helpful in the classroom. For me that depends on the situation. Knowing when to step back and let a student "flounder" a bit can be useful, but sometimes it can do more harm than good. A swimming analogy may not be appropriate, but it comes to mind. Here's what someone wrote about learning to swim: "Contrary to popular belief never throw your child in the water to help them learn to swim." Apparently in China parents aren't worried about this; it's very commonplace. Now learning math is not as life threatening as possible drowning might be but for many of our students who are not intrinsically motivated to learn math it could be a problem to be less helpful.  I'm sure Dan doesn't have in mind to let kids flounder. His concern is that there is too much hand-holding and dependence of students on teachers to tell them what to do most of the time. What we want is to have students become independent learners so they don't rely on the teachers to have to crack the whip all the time. A blend of both (nudges and standing back) by the teacher applied appropriately yields the best results.

A historical note:
Logo the programming, learning software environment that Seymour Papert championed in the 1980s and got such a splash from the media lost some its sparkle when too many teachers expected Logo to work its magic all by itself and were "less helpful."  Guidebooks were written to try to help with that, but that didn't allay the public perception that Logo doesn't work. Withholding help in a teaching sense is a skill that needs to be carefully applied.

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