Let’s Stop Spoon Feeding Our Students!

The term spoon feeding, in this article, refers to any process which robs students of the opportunity to take responsibility for their learning.

Examples of Spoon Feeding:

  • Telling students what they need to know (to pass the next test).
  • Handing out repeat copies of notes once the first (or second) copies have been lost.
  • Repeatedly telling students when, where and how much to study.

Please, feel free to add more examples in the comments below.

Here’s an interesting fact about spoon feeding. It mostly applies to teacher-centric approaches to teaching. Think about it. The very term ‘teacher-centric’ implies a flow of ‘spoon fed’ information from the teacher to the student.

On the other hand, student-centric approaches to teaching lend themselves to students taking responsibility for their learning; a desired outcome of education but unlikely to be achieved where spoon feeding is common.

Reflections on Spoon Feeding:

  • It has been the dominant educational paradigm in schools since the invention of the assembly line and is still prevalent today.
  • Results in students thinking very little about what or how they are learning.
  • Is driven, in part, by an over-reliance on traditional and standards-based testing (“OK students, listen up, I’m going to tell you what you’ll need to know for the upcoming test.”)
  • Is kept in place by a societal belief that ‘this is the way education happens.’
  • Tends to create ‘learned helplessness’, a condition in which students become reliant on being spoon-fed information; they become ‘lazy’, take little responsibility for their own learning, for example, lose handouts on a regular basis and appear engaged only when he/she has the teacher’s undivided attention.
  • Creates the dynamic where the teacher invests considerably greater effort into the learning process than his/her students, yet with disappointingly poor outcomes.

Which ones do you strongly agree or disagree with?

Is it time to pull back on spoon-feeding? When we do, expect some backlash—parents accusing us of negligence, of not teaching ‘Little Johnny’ properly.

So, What’s the Alternative?

Plan for change. Do some research. Find out what alternatives to spoon-feeding look like. Implement change which includes a move away from teacher-directed learning towards a well scaffolded, student-centred approach. A move towards student-centricity will lay a foundation for reducing the amount of spoon-feeding. Plan to foster meta cognition in students. Inform your students of the coming changes. Always keep them in the loop. Explain that the changes may feel uncomfortable for a while but that in a month or two they will likely prefer the new system to the old.

The alternative sounds pretty straight forward and in truth, once the change is made you will likely find it easy and rewarding. A return to the old will be difficult to make. Nonetheless, the transition from being a spoon-feeder to becoming a facilitator of learning is pivotal and will have far-reaching affects. Learn Implement Share has two courses which advocate quality, well scaffolded, student-centric approaches to learning (for general teachers and for mathematics teachers). Part of that journey is to cease being a spoon-feeder and become a facilitator of learning.

The above is a snippet from a longer article on the same theme.


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Captured Heart.

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