September 10th, 2014

“She Didn’t Teach. We Had to Learn it Ourselves.”

By:

students working in group

Yesterday I got an email from a faculty member who had just received her spring semester student ratings (yes, in August, but that’s a topic for another post). She’d gotten one of those blistering student comments. “This teacher should not be paid. We had to teach ourselves in this course.” I remember another faculty member telling me about similar feedback, which was followed later with a comment about how the course “really made me think.”

So, the criticism is one of those backhanded compliments. The teacher is making students figure out things for themselves. They are doing the hard, messy work of learning. This is a style of teaching that promotes learning, but that’s not how students see it. Based on experiences in lots of other classrooms, they have come to believe that “good” teachers tell students what they need to know. If a teacher makes the students come up with examples when she has a perfectly good list she could be giving them, that teacher is not doing her job. My friend and colleague Larry Spence wrote about this same issue in April, 2004 issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter. “They expect a steady progression along a learning curve, which coincides with the amount of time they spend in classes. … Everything else — their personal struggles to master knowledge and skills in sports, software, games, or music they take to be ‘teaching yourself’ and an inferior way of learning.”

In addition to violating expectations, students respond negatively to this style of teaching because most of them want learning to be easy. When they have to come up with examples, answers, or solutions, that’s more work than being told by the teacher, and there’s the added stress of not knowing whether the examples are good, the answers are right, or the solutions correct. When learning isn’t easy, a lot of students question their intellectual wherewithal, but that’s not a problem they have to face if the fault lies with the teacher.


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Getting students to understand what we are doing and why starts by recognizing that what’s obvious to us isn’t obvious to them. When I took an introductory chemistry course with a group of beginning students, the instructor used an approach in the lab that drove us nuts. He refused to answer questions. If you asked him a question, he responded by asking you a question. The students (and me, for a while) thought he was being obstinate, or trying something he thought was clever. Then one day when the solution in our beaker changed color and started boiling like mad even though the Bunsen burner was set as low as it would go, he cruised over, sniffed our solution and asked us a question. Thinking the liquid might be about to explode, we shut down the Bunsen burner and started talking about what we thought was happening. After some discussion, we figured out what was going on with our experiment. It was then that somebody pointed out that we had just answered the question the instructor asked us 15 minutes ago.

The instructor’s technique was good, but he should have explained what he was doing or asked us why we thought he wouldn’t answer questions during lab. Some lab groups never figured it out. In the seminar section I taught that accompanied the course we had a heated discussion about whether teachers were obligated to answer student questions. Virtually all the students thought it was part of a teacher’s job.

If teachers are going to refuse to do something students expect, especially if students think it’s something they believe makes the learning easier, how teachers refuse to help is important. “I will help, but not until you’ve got some answers, part of the solution, a few examples.” “I am not going to give you the answers, but I will give you feedback on your answers. By the end of class, we’ll have a set of good answers.”

Weaning students from their dependence on teachers is a developmental process. Rather making them do it all on their own, teachers can do some of the work, provide part of the answer, or start with one example and ask them for others. The balance of who’s doing the work gradually shifts, and that gives students a chance to figure out what the teacher is doing and why.

It’s unsettling when students make comments about how we aren’t doing our jobs. It’s easy to respond defensively or to think derisively about students. But those responses don’t make students less confused about what it means to teach and what it takes to learn.

This is such an important topic. I welcome you to share in the comment box how you help your students understand their role in the teaching and learning equation.


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  • Instructor

    I completely agree in facilitating learning in students through flipping in the classroom. Sometimes you do have to take in consideration what kind of students you are having to teach. You have to have a mix of both lecture and flip activities to stimulate learning. You cannot just ask questions and think you are promoting learning. It is about learning the concept. So, building the foundation is important. You need knowledge to apply. A good instructor is one who can provide both.

    • independent learner

      Unfortunately many "teachers" think facilitating learning means sending the student to do independent projects and then commenting on the project. Teaching involves sharing experience and knowledge as well as guidance. If all we needed to do was
      send the student to the library to imbibe of knowledge then no teachers would be needed.

      • "Teacher"

        I wonder if students would even know the library exists without "teachers," as you say, did not send them to the library. What I was most grateful for, after finishing my degree, was having learned through those many projects how to learn. It actually makes me think of that quote, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." Chinese Proverb.
        Unfortunately, to use your term, most students would prefer the grocery store style of teaching.

    • JennyG

      SOMETIMES you have to take in consideration what kind of students? Nope, ALWAYS find out who your learners are, what they are already prepared to do, what motivates them and why they are there. Only then can you build a course that engages and then challenges them.

  • Sharron Wall

    The trend seems to be shifting back to students wanting the answers pronto rather than embracing engaged, self-directed learning. It's hard to facilitate both styles at once. I have had more than one class split over "my" methodology…now I provide a statement of approach at the beginning of the term and a contract that the student must sign, acknowledging that the student has read and understands the "workshop" approach.

    • Susan

      I think I may try this in my courses. I am so tired of students just wanting information spoon fed to them because they have been taught that this manner of teaching is acceptable. I teach pre-service teacher candidates who will have to think on their feet and apply constantly; they are not going to get to take a quiz and pass it with 80% proficiency when they are working in the classroom. They have to teach, negotiate meaning, interact, and move forward…Drives me nuts…

    • Alice

      What an innovative idea Sharron! Your "workshop" approach works well if students meet their responsibility to spend time outside of the classroom reading, comprehending, and learning the material. I work with a population of students who as a whole are not particularly adept in independently learning and suffer from lack of motivation. In community colleges, many students are excellent, but some lack critical thinking and comprehension, and many more don't even want to be there. When I flip the classroom, a few students end up asking and answering all questions, while the rest of the class sits in silence or spaces out because they didn't do the work the night before. My biggest challenge is finding a balance between between them information and helping them figure out the information they need to know.

    • Vicky

      I would never take your class. Learning comes from Read, See, Do. First give instructions. Second, show an Example. Third, have the student do it themselves. Students can't learn without steps. Just responding with questions and not providing directions is frustrating time lost.

      • Patricia

        In life there are many times we must "figure things out" without being given direct instructions. Part of preparing students involves teaching them how to think things through and follow things to a logical conclusion without being spoon-fed all the details. If you teach a student how to learn independently, they can go on to learn anything about any topic in life. If they are waiting for instructions life may well pass them by with those instructions never coming. Teaching students how to teach themselves is one of the greatest gifts a teacher can pass onto a student.

        • GeoBonsai

          In roughly 75 percent of my college courses, I had to teach myself the subject matter (using those commercially published self-learning books) because the instructors were inept, lazy, or they practiced the "self-directed-learning" methods mentioned in many of the comments in this thread. By college, I didn't need a teacher to tell me what a library is or how to find answers online in the age of the Internet. Teaching involves a whole lot more than monitoring attendance, moderating discussions, assigning homework, and telling students to figure it out on their own. After formal education, in the work place, there are plenty of opportunities for former students to figure things out on their own based on the fundamentals they learned in school from those apparently rare educators who selflessly impart knowledge and wisely provide meaningful instruction.

    • Jay

      I cringe at the thought of a "course contract". I expect your students do, too. I'm sure this is handed out on the first day, as well. What a heavy-handed way to begin the semester.

  • Susan Higgins

    I teach a class on critical thinking to MLT students, where I try to get these analytical processes of interpretation, critical thinking, and problem solving started for the students. Then, when our labs in other MLT classes don't work, then we apply and develop those learned skills. These are the expected skills that are needed in the workplace as a professional in a hospital laboratory, performing the testing for the diagnoses on patients. Reagents may go bad, bacteria may not grow in culture, or instruments may malfunction, and as professionals, they are expected to problem solve, fix, and then continue with their analyses and service for the patients. Anything less is a disservice to them and the patient.

    So, the students know that this critical thinking is a major part of their education and training. And, I also answer their questions with questions of my own in order to help/guide them to arrive at the answers through their own thinking. These processes are part of the goals and objectives in every lecture/lab in every program course, so that they know up front that this is expected of them. We are 'Medical Detectives"; it's what we are and do.

    • Jerzy Dydak

      And MLT means?

      • Alice

        Medical Laboratory Technician

    • Hector Ramos

      This is true for most of the Technical careers out there, they must think, not just memorize. They must DO and the time may be in an emergency setting.

  • Sonny Witherspoon

    The only teaching experience that I have is raising 4 children and coaching child sports. I have been a hands on manager in the trucking industry and owned my own business. The best teachers that I ever had gave me the instructions and made me come up with the answer. Many times there are several ways to answer the same question correctly, but there may be better and faster means to the same answer. That is practical learning that can be applied to any profession. When teachers spoon feed their students, not much is learned. When the student goes out into the real world they are lost.

    • KAH

      Excellent points here, Sonny. Especially relevant is that regarding "real-world" expectations…if we instructors in classrooms must constantly explain WHY we use a certain methodology (Socratic method is the one I often get nailed for using, which cracks me up, since it's time-tested), then students are not learning HOW to learn. Instead, they are learning that the world owes them an explanation. Now that is bad teaching.

    • bob

      There's a difference between using Socratic teaching methods and being completely disengaged. I've had both kinds of teachers. There are some teachers who sit in the back of the room drinking Mountain Dew planning football plays or watching YouTube videos at his desk while we're supposed to read the next section in our Algebra textbook and do the next problem set on our own. He does this every day. There are others who help up think through problems. They know what kind of questions to ask when we get stuck, or how to break large problems into smaller problems for us to solve on our own or in groups. These kinds of teachers drive us crazy sometimes, but we DO learn things from them. And, at least it's not like they aren't trying to help us at all….

  • AudreyS

    Great topic. I actually do an activity in first week that requires students to answer the question: Why do I answer your question with a question?". Great discussion follows that gets the students on board with active learning and questioning techniques.

    • Balalaika29

      My answer would be: Because you like wasting my time on pointless crap.

    • bright

      my answer would have been "because you chose to be rude".

    • Natasha

      Is there any way you can send me that activity? I am really trying to improve in this area and would love to start off next year with helping my students adjust to this type of teaching and learning.

  • Sydney Fulbright

    I tell the students at the beginning of class, "Today we are going to …… At the end you will be problem solving case studies using your critical thinking skills." That way they are prepared to come up with the answers and understand I'm not spoon feeding. Yes, students love faculty who just hand them everything they need to know for the "test" but succeeding in a profession doesn't include someone handing you all the answers. It's a tough world out there. Excellent article

  • Gordon Aubrecht

    My administrators used to give me grief about similar comments. They came even though the students were told the first day that my answers would be questions, and the goal was for them to tell me in their own words their understanding of their experiences (with experiments). So, even alerting students is not enough. As you say, there is a developmental process at work. But I disagree that it should be implemented gradually; I would remind students that there is a class goal (above) and do it from the start. I think the gradualist approach is fraught with dangers of its own–student expectations are hard to adjust in a semester or quarter Just because our colleagues are not doing their jobs because of trying to meet student expectations doesn't mean we should give in. Nowadays, I send students an email a couple of weeks before class begins about the method. This seems to work better. And the administrators are more understanding.

    • Sally Stumpf

      I was teaching at the community college. The students were accustomed to being told answers rather than seeking their own. At the test prep before exams, I would go over content areas that would be tested. Many of the students complained to the dean that I didn't word the exam questions the way I did at the prep. The dean told me I needed to spoon-feed more. Needless to say, I was not asked to teach the next quarter. I have reviewed this many times in my mind, and I still believe that being a student requires effort. Still, I believe I was correct in my methods, however, I don't have a job.

  • MaryM

    We had a similar situation in our Catholic High School back in the mid 60's. A lay teacher did not teach us students very well. She would always say "I showed you that last week." Meaning she wasn't going to go over it again when most of us didn't understand. Her other famous remark was, "I'll be at the beach this summer while you will be in summer school!" As if threatening us with summer school would help us learn. Yes, I went to summer school. The following year we had Algebra. OH boy, I thought to myself if I didn't get to pass Business Arithmetic, how was I going to get through this subject. Well, different teacher, different ending. We had a great teacher and never, ever had a Regents in Math where I got a 98 except in Algebra.

    • guest

      Mary, sorry for your experience, but not really the same situation here. This article is not talking about neglectful teaching, but rather a purposeful choice to make students work and think for themselves. It challenges exactly what a teachers job is. Is it to give the material and digest it for the student or is it to make the student discover it on his/her own? I agree with the author that the only mistake being made her is to fail to communicate why the strategy is being used and what the teacher IS doing. Glad you finished up with a better experience.

    • Anne G. Lynch

      I can remember this situation both as a student and as a faculty member. I well remember my freshman zoology prof using what I came to call the "re-invent the wheel" method of teaching. It is a very, very slow and tedious methodology. It took mankind a very long time to invent the wheel in the first place. The solution was not going to pop into my head between 10 and 11 AM on a Tuesday morning. I was taking courses to bring me to the point where I was ready to solve the problems requiring solutions today.
      The sooner I got to that point, the better! However, a person does not learn to solve problems just by learning solutions which already exist. He/she also does not learn to solve problems just by studying an existing solution step by step. Thus teachers need to give students problems to solve themselves using the new concepts learned in class or from reading the text. The students then need a significant block of time in which to struggle with said problem and try to devise a solution. In other words, send them home with the problem. After that the teacher should be available to help them work through any roadblocks they have run into.

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  • Richard Patel

    I teach high school physics using the modeling method which very much involves teachers not giving much and making students do a great deal of the thinking and figuring out (the messy work of learning … an excellent description!)

    I have found that if you communicate this to students (and parents), the problems quickly evaporate. With the communication, they understand that "not doing much" is very much intentional, and for their benefit. Complaints lose their teeth.

    In addition, when parents are told, they tend to get very excited. I didn't think they would care much but they really seemed to embrace what we do.

    • greg

      could I get some information about teaching physic through modeling?

      • June

        Hi Greg, Arizona State University has a lot on modeling. Here is the link: http://modelinginstruction.org/

        I am enjoying these discussions. I also teach HS/CC physics and some students and administrators would make the same complaints about me I am seeing here. Those who didn't "get it" usually quit doing homework and would even quit showing up (but were often too lazy to withdraw from the course). Those who did "get it" would come back and say "I wish you were teaching the next class!"

    • Dace Highlander

      How do you handle questions from students who actually don't understand a technique or material?

  • Robert Berry

    Maybe you should talk to your colleagues in the high schools. There the teachers "spoon feed" the facts to the students instead of teaching them how to think, learn, and find the facts for themselves. I am a 1971 high school graduate and my teachers then did that. My children and grandchildren since then have told me teachers don't do that now.

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  • Lily

    Refusing to answer questions and calling it "technique?" Unbelievable! Is your goal to have the students understand the material, or is your goal to frustrate and defeat the student? I think the latter. In the professional world an instructor is expected to present the material objectively and without drama. The student will learn, or not, according to her effort and determination. Why does academia think that it is their job to mold the person? Who are you to mold anyone? Your arrogance is astonishing and knows no bounds.

    • The only molding that's going on here is of the students' ability to learn without a teacher looking over their shoulder every moment of the day, which is an unrealistic expectation of what life will be like. Learning is not the same as being given the answers. Knowledge is created in the mind of the student, not transmitted from one person to another. It's not simply a list of facts or ideas; it's also understanding and synthesis. If all students gain from school is facts, they haven't really learned anything. You can look those up in a book.

      • John Q

        Your comments are superb and spot-on. Thank you for making those statements.

    • sam

      lily who would you hire some one that know some of the answers, someone that has most of the answers or some one that has most of the answers and can do the necessary work and develop that answers to the problem that s/he does not know the answers. I know I would hire the person who could find the answers themselves. that is who I would hire or keep employed and get rid of the others. why would you want to have to hire some consulting firm.

    • Randy

      I agree with you, Lily. As a student, when I ask a question, I expect a response, not another question on which I could answer only "I don't know". I am very frustrated by the fact that I don't know how to do some things and when I ask for explanation, I am refused and ordered to figure it by myself. I don't. Teachers neither give information nor instruction and later cry that students cannot do something what they expect. I am fed up with being constantly examined and judged unable and stupid.

  • Don

    I think all teachers in this era are lazy and can't wait to get home.Back when i went to school teachers would stay hours after school to help a student,now they want students to teach them self. That is BS. If a student asks a question answer it.

    • guest

      I am a teacher and stay till 10 at night at least 3 times a week for my students who have jobs after school and need help in their studies. The campus is in a high crime rate area and my school office was broken into last week and they stole thing that I personally bought for my students to make learning more interactive. I spend my time and own money on my students because I think they are worth it. How dare you say that I am lazy. Go and become a substitute teacher and see how long you last. BTW here is food for thought, you think because you have been a student that you know how the education system works so with keeping with that logic then I have been operated on then I should be able to operate on others. I expect you to donate your time to your local school district for one year for punishment for such a outrages and inflammatory statement.

    • Jim

      Teach them "self"? Apparently, "back then" didn't work out too well.

    • Ray

      I don't think you know any teachers "in this era." There might be a few bad apples, but most of them are hard working, dedicated, overworked, stressed out, underpaid, second-guessed, blamed, unappreciated, bullied by parents, bullied by students, bullied by administrators, ignored, undervalued, micromanaged, … shall I go on?

      I was a teacher. I was one of the good ones. So were ALL of my colleagues.

      Every teacher I know has stayed late, or has given up their planning time or lunch break to help students. I can name names. Lots of them. Can you?

      • Barbara

        Ray, excellent and "spot on" reply! I am currently a student in a Masters program who works as support help for faculty at a community college. These faculty are completely underpaid and overworked. These are all Masters prepared nurses who could be making twice as much working in a hospital; however, they take that underpaid position because they love teaching students! And as far as my experience as a student – I made the transition from being spoon fed to an independent learner (quite resistant at first) and once comfortable, realized that this was the first time I wasn't memorizing, but thinking!!! Wouldn't have it any other way now.

    • If I just give you the answer, will you remember it? If I make you work for the answer, you sure will.

    • MZimmerman

      We're lazy?
      I just spent 12 hours at school and still brought work home. And I'm not the only one I know who did that today.
      The teachers aren't lazy; they're defeated by students who want answers spoodfed to them and won't think beyond the right/wrong answers. Teachers are required teach students to think critically because that's what people need to know how to do, but many students simply don't want to and refuse to do basic work. Students need to learn how to think critically and figure out things for themselves or figure out where to find the answers to their questions because there won't always be a teacher around to tell them what to do. Would you want that in the real world? Someone to walk around and tell you what you should and shouldn't be doing all the time instead of you figuring it out and learning from your mistakes?
      Teachers are told that the actions of students reflect them instead of the many other influences in students' lives (crappy parents, uneducated parents, poor nutrition, general hatred for a subject, a belief that all teachers are stupid fueled by people like you, the media, and politicians, a belief that school has no value and they'll be rich by being awesome like Kim Kardashian, etc.).
      They need to learn to think critically. I have students who, a month into school, still can't grasp that if they missed a day they need to make up the work and be prepared for any tests we have. Just because they missed Tuesday doesn't mean they are exempt for a test on Friday ("Wait. I didn't do it, though. So, I don't have to take it, right?") I can't tell how many times a day I hear: "Well, I think, well, I don't know how to say it, but yeah." The question was "What was the story, "Romeo and Juliet," about?" I have students that can't grasp the idea that the glossary of words is in the back of the book and instead simply pull out phones, then they are really confused when they can't find a definition on dictionary.com that is in the back of the book anyway. Some of my students still don't understand what a "theme" is ("It's what the characters did in the story, right?" "No, that's plot.") I have students who pointblank admit that they didn't do work and don't care that they fail because the state will find a way to make them pass anyway. So don't tell me we're lazy. We're exhausted and beat down from a system and assholes like you who think we don't know anything and kids are better off without us. If you think we don't matter, YOU figure out how to teach your kids to read and do calculus and the basics of DNA so they can be better than us. YOU make your kids pass the state test. YOU come in and show me how it's done. But if you're not willing to do that, then sit down and shut up.

      • guest

        Great response from a fellow teacher!

      • NCTeacher

        Right on!

    • sam

      @ don

      who would you hire someone who had to be given the information and spend week helping that person under stand it or some one given part of the information and that person can take knowledge that and develop the right answer on how to do the job and get it done. that is what that teacher is doing.

      that is what business want from the workforce. that is what common core is trying to teach. so the people who graduate high school can do.

  • K. Willliams

    I hate to say this, but asking students to teach themselves is laziness on the faculty member's part. Student do not attend college to have to teach themselves. There are so many variable involved in teaching that asking a student to realize what is relevant or not to their learning is preposterous. Teaching someone to implement critical thinking is not a bad thing and is part of classroom facilitation and I hope the dialogue derived from this topic differentiates the two teaching styles. I believe that teachers are still the foundation of education and that we learn from each other. I can't go out blindly and start a business named Microsoft and by instinct know that Microsoft is trademarked and using the name as my own could cause me a financial hardship I can ever recoup. Ignorance is not an excuse. If we encourage teacher to allow student to form their own conclusion about certain things progress will never occur as rapidly as it should. However, if we encourage them to apply critical thinking to learning a skill or discipline then that becomes the modality that will guide their learning not their demise.

    • cassie

      There is an idea that we must teach students to think, because that is the real world. Spoon feeding will not do, and there may be many paths to the final conclusion.

    • Ray

      K. Williams, I don't think you read the article thoroughly enough.

      • Oom

        That's because you weren't there to explain it to him or her!

    • I'm always amazed that people whose only experience in a classroom has been on the student end feel qualified to tell the folks on the professional end of the interaction how to do their jobs.

      • Teacher

        I'm MORE amazed that administrators who SHOULD know better think students can too.

    • guest

      The trend in College is ONLINE classes. They are really pushing ALL departments to offer more online classes and less face-to-face classes. It is not that the teachers are "lazy" but they are losing their academic freedom just like the Public School Teachers lost theirs with NCLB's "teach the test". After 20 years of teaching at the college level, I no longer have Academic Freedom on what I teach or how I teach. No longer am I free to write my own exams or decide what assignments I give. Have you figured out where I am going yet?
      Yes, I have been given a STANDARDIZED course module, which I must teach as of the Fall 2014 semester!!! Lecture is provided ONLINE (standardized reading material/powerpoints and YouTube videos) and when the students come to Class that is called "LAB". Lab is for the students to get help with the assignments which they are to start after reading all Lecture Material and taking a Quiz on the Lecture Material.To add to it, we have gone from 3-6 hours per week with the students to 1.5-3 hours per week!!! So this means the SCHOOL has put the responsibility of LEARNING on the STUDENT.
      Meanwhile we are getting less time with the students and as a result. they are restructuring the entire Administration (Mid-level) and Faculty. Course loads are being reduced to avoid ACA and the reduction of contact hours is to reduce salaries. The ultimate goal of the higher ups is to increase student body and reduce the number of teachers needed as the School looks to join the Digital World. So we will see more schools seeking to make more money and to do that you have to offer more online classes so you reach a broader audience than just your geographic area. And so they are standardizing so they can make the most profit possible. This is no fault of the Teacher, the blame lies with the School seeking to increase Profits. Charge them more money for tuition just for using Digital Technology, Give them the ability to work school in whenever it is convenient with their busy social lives, Give them standardized courses, Give them less contact with the Teacher and in the end let's call the Teacher "lazy"…I don't think so!!!

      • Jay Gee

        Many good points. One request: Please use acronyms AFTER you denote what they represent. NCLB? ACA? What…?

        Ok, I do know what NCLB means! But it's much more courteous to spell it out the first time.

        Something needs to be done to reverse the commodification of learning and teaching K-12 and beyond.

    • MZimmerman

      There's a big difference between making them teach themselves and what's called flipping the classroom.
      With the first, you hand them the material, grade it, and they have to figure it out without any intervention from the teacher.
      With flipping the classroom, the teacher guides students through material for a while then lets them go and responds to individual needs as needed. This requires the students to work hard. It's usually project based, too. The teacher becomes a tutor to those who need individual help and guidance on an as needed basis.
      That's what teachers usually try to do and kids today hate it because it requires them to think and work.

    • Guest

      You're clearly not an educator. It's not "lazyness," it's called self-directed learning. Unfortunately, many students enter higher education not knowing how to think critically nor implement any logical process for solving real-world problems. Learning needs to be authentic. The traditional "sit and get" method of learning doesn't prepare students for the challenges awaiting them in their respective fields. You should also reconsider your statement: "If we encourage teacher to allow student to form their own conclusion about certain things progress will never occur as rapidly as it should." It is the ability of one to develop their own conclusions to implement their own creativity; the foundation for innovation and progress.

    • NLH

      Amen to everything you said!

  • Pat Chow-Fraser

    I used the self-directed approach to teach large classes (300-450) between 1998 and 2001. Students were given information on a multi-media CD that I prepared based on my class notes, and instead of coming to lectures, they learned the material on their own, and then met in small (25 maximum) weekly 3-h tutorials to teach each other under the supervision of a TA. The first year that I did this, I was told by both fellow professors in my department as well as my students that I had abdicated my duty as a teacher, and "let the students learn on their own". I persevered even though my teaching ratings were the lowest that the department had ever seen, and that I have ever received. By the 4th year that the course was offered, students were relatively happy to do the learning on their own and many told me how much they valued this approach, because they learned "how to learn". Nowadays, almost all of the courses in our university have some component of self-directed learning and in fact the University encourages it. But there will always be a portion of students in every course who do not like this type of learning approach, and there are professors who will cling steadfastly to the conventional lecture. These days, when I encounter students who criticize me for not teaching, I ask them if they have ever used a cook book to prepare a meal. Some get the metaphor but a few just say, "I don't cook. I just heat things in the microwave."

  • Jessa

    When I was in university, I have to say that my professors were useless. They lectured about topics that had absolutely nothing to do with the course. Our tests covered material that was supposed to be reserved for future courses. It was like expecting a first grader to solve calculus problems without having first learned arithmetic, algebra, etc. I don't mind digging deeper into the course material by reading and researching on my own. In fact, most of my classmates didn't mind doing extra reading and research outside of class. What we did have a problem with was professors who didn't even provide us with basic concepts. You need to have a solid foundation in order to build more knowledge. If professors are not even willing to provide this basic foundation, then what is the point of college? We can teach ourselves by going to the library or ordering books off of Amazon.com. It would certainly be cheaper than paying $20,000 a year to have a professor say "Figure it out yourself."

    • Laura S

      I took many classes just for the sake of learning something that interested me. Why did I not stick with just reading the books? I enjoyed the interaction with my fellow learners and the teacher – they asked questions I would not have thought to ask, they shared opinions that would not have occurred to me on my own. The teacher selected material that I would never have thought to engage with. The teacher posed thought provoking questions for discussion. The teacher gave us assignments designed to engage us in deeper thought about the material and encourage creative responses. The teacher pushed us to do what we might not have otherwise bothered to do. Note here that I emphasize that it was we, the students, who were "doing" it.
      The worst, most boring classes I have taken were those where the teacher just droned on and on "telling" us what we need to know (lecturing) – sometimes obviously just reading from their own prepared lectures. We could have read that for ourselves without the teacher. We needed the teacher to help guide us in HOW TO THINK about the basic information, not do the thinking for us.

    • GeoBonsai

      Agree! Maybe some college instructors have a financial interest in forcing students to buy teach-yourself books. In some of my college classes, I had to purchase teach-yourself books such as the "DeMystified" and "For Dummy" instruction manuals and I had to take "Lynda.com" online courses to fill in the huge information gaps that inept (or lazy) teachers wouldn't (or couldn't) provide. Real teachers are subject-matter experts who impart knowledge and assess progress. Real teachers are a whole lot more than attendance monitors, discussion moderators, and homework-assignment supervisors. After college, in the work place, there are plenty of opportunities for grads to figure things out on their own based on what they learned from real teachers.

      • Emily

        It's even better when college instructors have you buy a textbook they wrote. $200 of 3-hole punched paper that isn't worth the paper it was printed on.

  • Sandy

    Well….what about this method of teaching? My high school kids have several classes where they are given the assignment of reading a chapter section/sections and then are quizzed on it the next day. No lectures, and often the quiz answers are not gone over in class. No feedback. This goes on daily until the end of the chapter/chapters, when a test is given. Then it all starts over again withe the next chapter. Seriously!
    In my opinion, this is NOT teaching – it is merely sitting in a classroom with a bunch of kids. I think it is lazy. Administration seems to believe that this is beneficial to the kids, as it teaches the kids to think and rely on themselves to learn things. They say that they are preparing them for college courses. Ha! I also have three in college, who say that their professors actually teach, lecture, and allow them to apply their newfound knowledge by thinking for themselves, too.
    I am certainly not in favor of "spoonfeeding" the kids, but there must be some form of lecture and feedback, so that the kids know they are on the right track. Thank goodness my kids are pretty smart, but I really resent the fact that schools think that this is "teaching". By the way, this is a private school, where the tuition is high and the reputation is excellent. This will catch up with them – unfortunately, my kids are the guinea pigs.

    • noname

      Why do you still have your kids in that school if you find it to be such a useless drain on your money?

    • Susan

      I do understand your frustration. Feedback and useful feedback should be given, but lecture is the least effective way for people to learn. You have work through information and then apply it in new and different situations. Kids need to learn how to think for themselves. I tell me children I will only help them so far and that they must learn how to think for themselves…I agree this teacher is probably being lazy. But we do need to get beyond the lecture format which is what irritates me most as a mother and a teacher.

      • Samiam888

        Couldn't disagree more with your assertion that lecture is the LEAST effective way for people to learn. It's not the MOST effective in EVERY situation, but it's very, very rarely the LEAST effective…

    • MZimmerman

      That isn't the best method at all. I'm not even going to try to defend that. But I will ask this: are the students doing the reading at all?

    • Colleen

      I do not know where your children attend school;however, many schools are doing away with the traditional textbook approach. In the high school where I teach we are encouraged to get our students highly engaged in the work. We use references such as Blooms Taxonomy. I do not spoon feed my students. They work in collaborative groups as well as individual assignments. I work one-on-one with each student as the others may be working in my computer lab. I am a special education teacher, a Special Olympics coach, a single mother, work on my doctorate, volunteer in my community, work another job as a tutor, and help others as much as I can. Oh, I forgot to mention, as a special education teacher there are many aspects to that job in addition to the classwork. It may seem like spoon feeding information when we are pressured to teach to the test but really most of us do care and do push our students to learn.

    • Noname

      Sandy, my daughter has the same kind of teacher…This method of teaching could work ok in certain subjects such as philosophy, theology, history where kids read the material and discuss and debate and there are wiggle rooms for their answers. This method doesn't work well with subjects like algebra, geometry or accounting/finance because it requires solid foundation/concepts and accuracy. Therefore, concepts have to be taught and problems given after concepts are taught. If my kid or your kid are smart, then more power to them but most kids CAN NOT teach themselves math.

  • wayne

    Formal education will make you a living, self taught knowledge will make you rich.

  • Leah

    I am a private math tutor. This year I had students coming to me in droves all from the same geometry classroom. The teacher adopted a new exploration model of teaching. He had the students do exercises to learn the material and answer questions. The problem was that he didn't follow up and confirm whether the students were correct or incorrect. Consequently the information was never solidified and the students spent their entire year uncertain of their knowledge base. Guided learning requires guidance on the part of the teacher. Simply wandering around the classroom and making sure students are working is not guidance. In order for this technique to be effective, especially with high school age students, they need the reassurance that they are on the right track and they are actually understanding the information.

    • Charita J.

      I agree. I've had teachers spoon feed me material. I have had teachers that gave no feedback and gave some feedback while teaching you to think.

      As much as I understand that all kids learn differently, I think all kids need to learn to think critically. The answers in life won't be given like they are on a test. Sadly I've had mostly teachers that spoon-fed and gave no feedback, as a result I have hardly any desire to learn due to frustration and critically thinking is not a strong skill of mine.

      • Charlotte Hutt

        I wonder if this teacher helped his students learn how to check their own work, and the work of others. After all, that is the point. You have to know that you are correct without an answer key eventually. Or perhaps these were not the kinds of problems that students could check, talk through themselves and determine?

        • June

          I have taught college algebra as well as physics. After a few semesters teaching math, I began to give "quizzes" on already-taught and practiced content where I'd assign a few problems, the students would work them, and then I'd go over the answer. However, as the semester went on, I'd begin making the students work with each other to check their work, requiring them to verify the solution more and more on their own. It was a thrill for me to watch as their confidence (especially the over-30 or very shy students) would grow. After a couple of months I almost never had to go over the answers.

          I was less successful with this in my physics classes when I gave traditional textbook problems that might take 15 minutes to go through. However, after I began to use this technique as skill builders or as the "exit question" conclusion to a problem already underway, it worked much better.

          • ctaylor

            I hate that nonsense of students checking each other's work. They have the right to privacy. Some students will have difficulty and can be made the butt of jokes and mocking from others and it's not up to the students to teach each other. It's up to YOU to teach or get out of the classroom and chose another career.

    • Noname

      Leah, my daughter is a sophomore at a private high school and she has algebra with sophomores & juniors. Her math teacher uses this method of teaching… I call it the "lack of teaching" method. The kids read the new lessons at night as part of their homework , the next day the problems are given to them on the board by the teacher to see if they understood the concepts they read from the night before. The work in groups and discuss how to solve problems. The kids also work in groups to go over their homework problems. She doesn't even put up the answers for the kids to check to make sure their answers are right or wrong…. no feedback. The teacher doesn't lecture the concepts before giving problems… she wants the kids to work and collaborate with each other…she takes a very hands-off approach. Encouraging independence and problem-solving skills are all good but there has to be a BALANCE… teachers can't just wander around, encourage kids to collaborate with others and expect kids to do well in the end…. who collaborate with them when it's SAT or ACT time? From what I can remember, you work on your own during exams.

  • Laura S

    I love that activity! I'll have to try it in my own classes. Thanks for sharing.

  • sgallanis

    Thanks for the article. This is a topic that has come up recently. This will help faculty work with the students classes include more active learning.

  • Lynn Washington

    Excellent article. I prod my students to participate in discussions in General Psychology, giving examples of what we are studying in class. Some are resistant, especially at first, but most warm up and engage, and most report that they remember concepts better that way. I can definitely see who has and who hasn't read the material also.

  • Anonymous

    You must both people both something (content) and how to use it (think)… self-directed learning is fine but you must force the students to do it (as in hold them accountable for doing the work) not just be lazy and not want to teach. (And the former can require more work than just spoon-feeding the little dears the right answers, too.)

    • MZimmerman

      This is pretty true. I agree with you. There's a big difference between guiding and spoon-feeding, teaching and busy work.

  • fred

    Where we fail as a society is teaching people how to learn really. Each person must figure out a way to learn from teachers, parents, etc. Not easy, but it's doable. I remember writing papers in college required by non-writing type profs, for example a design teacher telling us to explain in writing the theory behind a design style. Then the idiot would not even comment on it or correct anything, saying "that wasn't his job." What? Really?

  • Clarence

    A simple question then if I may: If I have to learn it on my own… what the @^#$% do I need the teacher for?

    • Oom

      It's not like you won't ever get stuck and need help, or benefit from lectures, but you have been learning on your own your whole life. Nobody taught you to walk or talk, did they? One of my kids taught himself to read when I thought he was just looking at the pictures; within two years he had gone through all the children's classics and was starting on Charles Dickens. Anyone is capable of such feats unless the public schools have convinced them otherwise.

    • GeoBonsai

      Somebody's got to take attendance.

  • ggrow

    My effort to sort out this topic resulted in an article, "Teaching Learners to be Self-Directed," that appeared in Adult Education Quarterly. Basically, I proposed adopting different teaching styles that are matched to the learner's degree of self-direction.

    It is risky to require learn on their own, because they need background knowledge, self-motivation, and learning skills before they can do so. Even Socratic questioning requires students who have the skills to make use of it.

    Before they can become more self-directed, some students may need you — like a personal trainer in the gym — to tell them what they need to do and make them do it. As they gain the essential background knowledge and become more skillful at learning, you can change your role to be less directive, more facilitative.

    Most discussions on this topic neglect to mention the students involved — whether from elite schools with selective admissions (with such students, all teaching methods work), or whether from open admissions community colleges, where few students are prepared to learn on their own and most require intensive direct instruction to make up multiple deficits. One method of teaching does not work for all students.

    Here's the article. The online version has been optimized so you can sample it quickly. The figures summarize the concept.
    http://www.longleaf.net/ggrow/SSDL/SSDLIndex.html

    • ctaylor

      Good comment!

    • Oom

      Not everyone at community colleges is stupid. Some just want to save thousands of dollars by taking the first year or some and then transferring. That's the opposite of stupid. Why start your career burdened with debt?

      • ggrow

        Sorry, trying to be brief, I was unclear. I wanted to distinguish between students who have met high admission standards (and thus have good learning skills) and students with poor background knowledge, learning skills, and motivation, many of whom are being admitted in colleges and community colleges around the country so those institutions can keep their enrollments up.

        Of course many good students go to community colleges. In my part of the world, CCs also admit many under-prepared students, and they may assign those students to teachers who have no special preparation for teaching them.

        As far as I can tell, a mistake made by well-meaning teachers is to think that under-prepared students have the skill and motivation to learn academic subjects on their own. Thus, a teacher might assign, "Read Chapter 1 for next time and we'll discuss it in class," and find that few students know how to complete that homework successfully. In my experience, such students are likely to need more direct instruction than many new teachers expect, and, unaccustomed to college, some may need to be instructed in things teachers rarely consider, such as coming to class, arriving on time, paying attention, and figuring out when they have learned something.

        You may not teach such students, so you may not need to use such directive methods. I wrote about the methods I knew for helping dependent learners become more self-directing. Your methods may be better.

        Sorry to go on about this. I'm trying to be clear.

  • Laura S

    "She Didn't Teach. We Had to Learn it Ourselves." I have seen this complaint myself and just cringe when I hear it. I wonder if students equate teaching with lecturing ("being told by the teacher"). So if the teacher does anything else in the classroom – active learning techniques, discussion, student presentations, a "Flipped" classroom, being the "guide by the side" rather than the "sage on the stage" – that forces students to take a more active rather than passive role in their own education, the students don't like it (they don't want to have to work).
    The point of this article is that we should explain to students WHY we teach the way we do – so they will understand the unexpected and come to expect (and appreciate) it. I also like the approach of gradually "weaning" students from dependence on the teacher.

    This issue is even more pronounced in online courses where students have to take on that much more responsibilty for guiding themselves through the material with that much less (or no) direct contact with the teacher. Students do not realize just how much work the online teacher does BEFORE the students enter the classroom: select materials and set up a logical progression of learning activities for the student (it can take up to 6 months to design a good online course and often we do not get paid for all that work until the students are enrolled and start using the course). Online teachers may be more or less "present" in the online classroom (in discussion, announcements, email, creating their own audio or video "mini-lectures", even the occasional live session), but the student still has to take advantage of what is to be found in the online classroom and often has to make the first move to connect with the online teacher (I do not know they are having trouble – until it is too late and they have failed an exam – if they do not email to tell me).

  • transsurge123

    I think the most important thing a teacher can do in class is to engage their students in a way that makes them interested in the subject. I know that when I went to school there were many teachers who made the classroom experience worth going to. There were also some who could care less about their students. Sadly this is true today. Getting and keeping students interested in their class is the most important thing a teacher can do.

    • Monique

      Transsurge, yes, there are people in all careers who are great at what they do and not so great at what they do. What do they say…..that's life!

  • Dorothy

    As a retired teacher, mother of four and grandmother of nine, I agree that our job is to get students to think.

  • Gwynn

    When teachers "don't teach," two very different things could be happening, which might explain the two very different reactions that people are having.
    1) In some cases the teachers are indeed abdicating responsibility, having students do lots of work with little or no feedback, no attempt to guide, and sometimes little assessment.
    2) In other cases the teachers are carefully designing a learning experience, deciding which materials students can learn on their own, how to guide students to consider the important questions, and using class time for higher order skills like analysis and critical thinking.

    Assuming that teachers are in the second category, I agree heartily with the comments that advise telling students at the start what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how this is going to help them learn. I also point out that the research on teaching and learning strongly supports this practice. I have no complaints and students love to come to class because they know that we will be learning how to USE the information that they learned by reading on their own.

    • ggrow

      Gwynn, that's a really good distinction. If I may add to it, if teachers unfold their hidden methods to students, that may help students learn how to create similar learning experiences for themselves after that course is over. Otherwise, they may have a great learning experience in class but not understand how it happened. — This problem was mentioned in a book by Carl Rogers on an early experiment he made on self-directed learning.

  • paigeduffylewis

    This article reveals the consequences of spoon-feeding students to the point that they don't know how to begin to think and don't trust or respect the teacher. My first year teaching, a student criticized me on her evaluation by commenting that she "attended every class and didn't learn a thing." (She failed the class.) This student sat in class everyday without taking notes. I am sure she didn't make the connection between effort and results.

    Just recently I explained to a student why they have deadlines for each step of the research paper, and that she needs to follow instructions and meet the deadlines. She has since dropped the course. It's not her fault. The teacher is unfair and doesn't know how to teach.

    • ctaylor

      Oh brother … they were probably right about you.

  • Ilko

    We are in 21st century now, and our life is "posted" on the smart devices – from smart phone to quad core lap/desktops. Current concepts (nationwide and internationally) offers to college faculty to facilitate the course. By using effectively different campuses platforms (Blackboard, Moodle, or others) faculty can/may/should upload in advance all course materials – from syllabus all the way to lecture notes and assignments. This requires students to their work in advance (to download and read the lecture material) thus to be prepare for the class. Which does not mean that they "are teaching" themselves". Than the lecture will be turn in a pleasant discussion and environment – faculty will discuss and answer all questions students may have while reading material. They will be not lost or confused and the instructor will continue to do its major obligation and responsibility to students – to provide the best of the knowledge and experience for students future. Some faculty are frustrated by students because they expect them to have that knowledge from high school instead of "spoon-feeding" or repeating the material here at university/college level. What about online courses? Are they going to teach themselves? It is so common from students to "offend" faculty and label them "She/he didn't teach". C'mon guys, you are at the university level and your life at this time should be balanced between dorm/house-library-study groups-lecture/lab-conference hours with faculty. That is the way to build up a solid foundation of knowledge. Shift the gear!

    • Balalaika29

      I took several online courses and they were each and every one of them an utter waste of my time and money. Teachers post what to read, or an asinine video to watch …. you watch it, then discuss it with your mentally disabled classmates online. Teachers never even made an appearance on the boards.

      Not only that, but you can't self-pace it. So the course I could have finished in one week took 7 weeks. Great fun was had by all.

      • jetflyer71

        I want to give you ten thousand thumbs up. I learn more by reading professional journals and on-the -job training than I have ever learned in an on-line class.

  • Elena

    This article assumes the teacher is teaching correctly without verifying the teachers methods. If you do not give the students some basic building block of knowledge they will not be able to self learn. It would be like handing someone with no knowledge of baseball a ball and bat and expecting them to become expert players. Learning is a skill that must be taught and practiced, building upon a knowledge base that has already been established. That used to be the purpose of homework to encourage self learning.

    • ctaylor

      So true. Seems to be a lot of 'lazy' teachers posting here.

  • Balalaika29

    If I'm paying you to teach me something, then you had better be engaging me in every moment of the mostly worthless education you are trying to give me. If I wanted to learn on my own in the real world I would get what is called a "job." Or go on the "internet."

    What is happening is that students are now too informed and intelligent to learn anything from academics trapped in a cushioned shadow of the real world. High school students entering college probably know more about the real world than those in academia.

    I took several online classes last summer. Every one was an utter waste of my time and money. The minute amount of information I didn't already possess I could have found on the internet, had I cared. But I'm so glad I got to spend thousands of dollars for my "instructors" to guide me through the intellectually painful exercises to prove how lazy and intellectually inferior they are.

    • ctaylor

      So true, sadly.

    • Guest

      "Knowing the real world" is of course valuable. However, any progress that may happen in that world will come from people who have the imagination and the thinking skills to create changes. Unless you believe that the real world is already perfect, you may want to learn to think on your own. Providing information is only the beginning of a teacher's job — "education" does not only mean absorbing information, it means learning how to assess and evaluate that information, decide what is relevant and/or true in various situations not covered in the class, and (eventually) initiate new ideas! And someone failed to educate you if you don't already realize that.

    • Monique

      Balalakika, what is happening now is that some students think they are too informed and too intelligent to learn anything. Most Professors don't live in academia, and they have "real lives".

      It was your choice to continue taking online classes, even though you felt it was a waste of your time. In the "real world" I would recommend to you in the future if you feel you are not receiving a service then don't continue to use that service. Complaining never gets results in the real world, it just makes you look like a "whiner".

      • jett

        Actually, many of us our forced to take these online courses to keep or maintain our jobs, and since we don't have a college in our town that provides the classe, online learning is our only option. And Balalakika is absolutely right.

        • Sub Teacher

          Perhaps Jett is correct. Unfortunately, his teachers did not inform him of the difference between our and are. It is probably because he doesn't have a college in his town that provides the CLASSES not classe.

          Now, I understand why you are forced to take classes to keep your job. They cannot understand your writing!

      • June

        More and more, classes are taught by adjuncts (like me), not professors.

        BTW before I became a teacher I worked as an engineer for 12 years. Teacher education programs have increasingly reached out to non-traditional instructors, such as retired military. This does make a difference in how a teacher will approach his or her students.

        Also, most college students don't realize that most professors are not, in fact, taught to teach. They are highly educated in content, but not pedagogy.

        (as for myself, I got my MA in teaching – I'm now working on an MS in engineering/physics to catch up)

  • Guest

    Surely both kinds of learning and teaching can be combined. The teacher could give a few examples and then let students come up with more.
    I *hated* discussion classes, especially in grad school–I wanted to learn from the professor, and figured that if I wanted to find out what my peers thought about the topic, I could ask them at another time.

  • EMP

    I've had several teachers that employ this method. I dislike it primarily because I think many, many teachers take their knowledge for granted and assume the students are going to connect the dots or think as critically as they do. As a teacher you've had many years to really grasp the subject matter — as a student this might very well be my first introduction to the material. So while figuring things out for myself does have merit, answering my question with a question (especially when I've made the effort to find the answer) only frustrates and discourages me.

    • ctaylor

      So true. I still remember the old battle axe 'Mrs. Melvin' who had taught 8th grade
      math for 40 years and had no patience for students to whom this was new material.
      Hated her.

  • Dr Dave

    I retired in 2003 after 30 years of teaching college-level history and geography. God, I am soooo glad I am not teaching now. My former colleagues tell me that in-coming students have almost none of the background needed, so they are teaching the 5th grade curriculum, viz so basic that it is remedial. As such lessons based on "alternative history" designed to encourage critical thinking can't take place. For example, I used to ask students to discuss what might have happened had the Revolutionaries been defeated by the British in 1775-1783, but I suspect that doing so now would result in blank stares. Regardless of the teaching methodology students are not "getting it." They are so self-absorbed they are ignorant of what 20 years ago was common knowledge. And asking them to pool their collective ignorance in a "workshop-style" of learning is a disservice. They must have some knowledge of the facts before they can discuss anything.

    • ctaylor

      I'm sure they thank God you're retired as well.

    • Oom

      No textbook that presents the basic facts so you don't have to?

    • jetflyer

      That's because the powers that be want us as teachers to teach forty children in a classroom. Now, if they were forty children that came from stable homes, who were read to, who knew their basic math facts, and had the ability to sit down and listen, we may be able to teach. But 10 of them speak no English, 8 of them have mild/moderate disabilities, 2 of them have severe disabilities (the kind that distract the others extremely), 30 of them come from broken homes (20 of them dealing with new stepparents and blended family issues), 20 of them haven't had breakfast, and are falling asleep because they stayed up until midnight for some reason, and 5 of them are gifted, and have become behavior problems because they are bored out of their skull.
      Now add to that 5 unreasonable parents threatening to sue over everything, 20 parents who tell you that what happens at school is not their problem, and 5 that call/hover in your classroom constantly, and then wonder why anyone remains teaching.
      I'm not surprised by what students don't know. I'm surprised that any of them know anything.

    • Romulus

      Agree with your comment Dr. Dave. I teach college mathematics and student cannot learn algebra when he/she does not KNOW arithmetical facts.

      • Romulus

        Correction. I meant "a student"

    • New Science teacher

      I am a science teacher that is going to a school this summer that teaches science teachers how to in the socratic method. Its called modeling or white boarding and it is a method were i am a facilitator and my students figure things out on their own. From what I have been told and research I have been able to read, this is the best method to teach science. Students own the information because they found it own their own. I think after reading this article I will explain what I am doing with my students and why I won't be giving them the answers.

  • Monsieur le prof

    In most subjects, I totally agree. However, the teaching of language is a different animal. Direct instruction is the fastest and most efficient method of acquiring a language. Teachers should define words and then use those words in context over and over until they become firmly entrenched in the subconscious. Total immersion is frustrating and inefficient and may lead to incorrect conclusions. Unfortunately, almost all teachers of foreign language believe that their classes should be academic and that languages can be learned, as one learns math. In reality, they are acquired naturally through comprehensible input and constant repetition. Blaine Ray's TPRS method is wonderfully efficient and works for any age group, from elementary up to university level.

  • Dr. Shanda

    When students ask me questions I don't usually respond with a question unless their question is unclear to me. I do point them toward the answer by suggesting where they might find it. Some students still consider this "not teaching," but many students "get it." If a student has tried and truly cannot find his or her answer I try to use better pointers until they find what they are looking for.

  • Barb Bates

    I post in my syllabus and introduce each first week class to the concept of "Learning is not a spectator sport. You have to wrestle with the ideas and really TRY to understand what you're learning in order to truly learn. It is the EFFORT you put into learning that enables your brain to make new connections. Those connections represent the actual learning you have accomplished. You can't change the brain connections and get smarter without TRYING." Then I explain what that looks like in assignments, in class, in online discussions, and in team projects. This seems to help.

    • cmb

      Well teachers should TRY to teach

  • Krista

    Robert, your point is well taken. However in a world of standardized testing where the focus for much of the year is on test taking strategies and schools having the highest possible pass rates, teachers today are unable to teach in the same manner your teachers did during your years in school. A perfect example is this: can your children or grandchildren write in cursive? That is not a "testable" skill on a standardized test so it is no longer taught in the same manner it was years ago. My high school senior cannot write in cursive, which saddens me. I can assure you that young students today can draw bubble maps or recite rhymes to remember their strategies. Of course, in the professional world nobody cares if they can do those things. People care about how young employees can take an imperfect set of facts and come up with a viable, cost effective solution. When teaching that skill set was removed from the curriculum in favor of pizza parties if the whole class passed the test, our education system sentenced itself to its own demise. For the record, I do not blame teachers for this. I blame politicians and theorists who think they know better than teachers how best to actually teach children.

    • Samiam888

      Wow, Krista, i think you misunderstand a lot about current educational theory. Cursive instruction is going out, not because it's not "testable," but because it's not relevant any longer. Cursive was used as a more formal writing style, but formal writing is all word processed and printed from computers now. Beyond signing checks, there's no need for cursive, so time shouldn't be wasted on teaching it. It saddens you only because it's different from what you knew, not because there's any actual loss on the part of students in its passing…

      And your assertion that the skill set of "taking an imperfect set of facts and developing a cost-effective solution has been removed from the curriculum" is beyond silly. Common Core is more strongly linked to critical thinking and problem solving than the curriculum ever was before. Common Core is more directly linked to skills that employers think kids should know. That's one of my only complaints about it; I have never thought that learning should be ONLY for the purpose of getting a better job. Most of the time, learning should be about personal, rather than professional, growth…

  • Vicki

    If you expect this "self-guided learning" thing to work, first you must teach the students (and their parents) the proper technique! Also, the teacher must understand the limitations of self-guided learning, i.e., students still need feedback and guidance. It shouldn't be used as an excuse for lazy teaching.

  • Mr. Miagi

    wax on, wax off…paint the fence…sand the floor….and the Karate Kid learned Karate without knowing he was learning Karate. I guess the teacher REALLY WAS TEACHING after all!

  • Virginia Rich

    I agree with this approach, both teaching the students to arrive at answers on their own and the importance of helping them understand why you are asking them to do it. In my view, active learning is the best learning, and it's more rewarding for the students when they understand our efforts to this end.

  • AJ@lrc

    Rebecca Cox's College Fear Factor is a great book that explores this disconnect between students' expectations of being taught (lecture, exam notes etc) and the instructors' expectations of teaching (asking hard questions, not giving all the answers, challenging but doable work for students). College Fear Factor fits right into this discussion if anyone's looking for a more nuanced and in-depth exploration of this topic.

  • h4wkrider

    The teaching style that bugs me and causes me to write reviews about not teaching are when the teacher only gives the examples that are in the book and basically just regurgitates what the book says. Basically if I could have gotten all of the same information from lecture by reading the book then you aren't doing your job. The lecture should be a compliment to the book. Also, if your lecture involves equations you better make absolutely sure your writing the correct equation.

  • K. Jennings

    I tell my students from the first day of class that learning is their job–my job is to facilitate the learning and provide them the opportunity to learn as well as provide effective feedback. I have a student responsibility/instructor responsibility statement listed in my syllabus and it is a question on the syllabus quiz. "The instructor's philosophy is that _________ is the student's responsibility".

    All of my classes are 50% teacher-centered and 50% student-centered. Once the expectations are set all misunderstandings are avoided.

  • Hanh Huynh

    I teach the first 2 years of Medicine and Dentistry, and 1 of the course is Histology. When a student asks me a question, I rarely give them the answer. I usually start with a question to determine their previous knowledge and then continue with other question(s) when needed. The questions are raised in a sequential fashion such that it helps guide the learner through a process of thinking, retrieving/synthesizing their previous learning in order to come up with the answers for their original question. When this happens, I could see the stars in their eyes and their own satisfaction for arriving at the answers to their questions. This moment is a rewarding experience for me as a teacher and also for the student as the learner/discoverer of knowledge in the process.

  • guest

    Lily, it is called scaffolding. You answer a question with a carefully crafted question that leads the thinker to the answer on their own. It is a brilliant method, but not an easy one. It requires that the professor know, not only the material, but each student and how he/she learns and thinks in order to be able to craft the right questions. In University, we are not really teaching the material, much of which will be forgotten anyway, we are teaching how to think, how to discover and uncover, how to find the answers and decide their validity on their own. If all a teacher does is just refuse to answer, or they are asking the same questions for every student and no one is having those "ahhh ha" moments, then you are right, they are not teaching at all. However, if the students are working through things, despite their frustrations and conquering the material on their own with very subtle guidance, then the teaching is absolutely brilliant and those students will remember not only the material, but how they discovered it.

    • Bob Colyer

      Bravo. See comment below. "Guest Bob"

  • Jennifer J.

    As a college grad and parent of a special-ed boy in high school and another son a freshman in college, I'm not a fan of "learn it yourself" styles. First, not all people learn the same way. Some are visual learners & can get the info from reading, some are auditory learners and need to hear it, and others are tactile and need to be shown. Second, the teaching style should fit the material. How you teach a painting class is completely different from how you'd teach accounting from how you'd teach a chemistry lab or philosophy.

    • ctaylor

      Exactly.

  • ctaylor

    There seem to be lots of teachers here who hate to teach. No wonder you get little respect and so many negative votes. Perhaps a career change would be in order?

    • Ray

      No, it's not that the teachers hate to teach. They simply hate to teach students who hate to learn. It's perfectly understandable. On the other side of the 45, those same teachers love to teach students who love to learn.

      All teachers start out their careers with a love of teaching. They just get it beaten out of them by the students who hate to learn, the administrators, the parents and the politicians.

  • Greg

    Ever hear of Socrates?

  • Marlon Ruiz

    A very interesting discussion topic. In essence, student expectations will always be part of the learning process. I have taught at the secondary, graduate and post graduate levels and in all instances one can readily see the result of our education system. Understanding that the learning process boils down to "different strokes for different folks" helps craft teaching style and strategy. At the end of the day, holding students to some personal accountability in acquiring a deeper "comprehensive" mastering of the subject matter, rather than the usual "technical" proficiency will serve them all better in their lives as well as the general public they will function in.

  • S. Lott

    I had this experience just yesterday. I found the students disengaged and very passive, we stopped refocused and then spent about and hour discussing the unit objectives and their relationship to the content. E.g. one student said, "Oh! I really need to rethink how I study because I was just focusing on what the condition was and not the nursing responsibilities." In that hour discussion I took the objectives and asked them questions about what we had discussed previously and they could see the connection. As a result of showing them how to utilize their content outline, you could see the light bulbs popping around the room. It was very electric, so much so I decided to click my heals when they made connections!! Good luck everyone, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

  • J Mead

    This method of teaching has a name. It's called the Socratic method, and it's been around since…well. Socrates. It is not laziness. On the contrary, it takes multiple paths to a single concept. Given a question, the teacher has to ask another, but in such a way as to channel the student's thinking towards a conclusion. Oh sure, it would be much easier for the teacher to simply state the facts and move on, but that is not learning. It is just memory.

    • verismeris

      Forgive me as I am starting *very generally: I tend to think there is a mix-up between what students mean and what some teachers think they mean. Note I'm not intending to offend you with this comment.

      All of the below assumes that the student is willing to work with you, meaning doing reasonable homework, listening to lecture, and if stuck significantly behind other students such that catch up work is necessary: meeting up with you or a tutor.
      Of course if the homework is not reasonable, the lectures not adequate, and a tutor required to pass the course, you have other problems you need to fix.
      The below also assumes you do not punctuate with "obviously" :P.

      If a student is saying this without understanding self directed teaching, which isn't very likely as it is not a rocket science level topic, then they will understand if you explain it, and they will likely agree on its value. While I agree it is better long term, the adjustment process to a self-directed learning model will hurt their grades, confidence, and enjoyment of what subject is taught quite severely. If the student is in college, it may make them lost a scholarship that they needed to stay in college. In short, the frustration these students feel is due to real concerns.

      If the student does understand, with all the immense due respect: the problem is likely you. I've had math teachers who under the guise of self-directed teaching (and who fully thought they were doing the right thing) failed to provide me the resources to learn efficiently.

      So here is the stuff you already know :P, but from a students point of view.

      As a student:

      I need examples…with answers attached. This way I can work with things like integration, probability distributions, until I'm sure I'm doing it right. This includes lecture examples, book examples, any resources you provide. It's ostensibly the easiest thing to provide in something like a math class, but I unfortunately repeatedly run into people who give only very few.

      I need homework…with timely feedback. Like above ^, except over more advanced topics hopefully. I also need that to study, unless you expect me to carbon copy all my assignments. Its this unreasonable test that is hoisted on both students and teachers that has horrible consequences if one fails.

      I need answers to questions…not platitudes. Telling me that its wonderful I realize there is something wrong with my approach, while an attempt to be nice, doesn't help me. I don't have time to listen to spiels, nor do you have time to give them. If my question didn't make sense, please help me, I don't know how to ask it properly. I understand making a student wait until after they have tried, and even making them struggle, but don't assume they have the time or willingness (for reasons good or bad) to meet with you after class.

      I'd rather not have to learn an entire programming library just to do an assignment in a subject that is not programming…especially if I have to learn said library on my own. I run into this a lot with things such as MATLAB, R. Those things are not intuitive. If its not a prerequisite, please teach me the tools required to do your own course. Note here I say teach, since its not part of your course please don't make me go the hard way about it.

      Please know the difficulty of what you are assigning. There was a teacher who thought he was giving me 2-4 hour assignments, that in reality were 8+ hour assignments. (other students would confirm this). The reason why is that his assignments had many portions that were technically not in the scope of the course, and therefore not taught. We had to self teach. Funnily enough, the class had extra value due to this, but I'm less inclined to assign that value to the teacher, and more the cost in grades because of said added value.

      Most of all:
      Please don't introduce artificial barriers to learning. Students are taking out loans it will take them decades to repay in order to remove those barriers to begin with. They don't need drama. They don't need shit. They are there for help, because they are dependent on you to help them learn difficult subjects quickly.

      • J Mead

        Thank you for such thought-provoking comments. In turn, I hope you will accept the following thoughts in the spirit in which they are given, and not as a personal assault on your beliefs…

        You are correct in your first statement about a "mix-up". Why do you assume that post-secondary education is the same as secondary and the same as elementary? It's not the subject matter that is different – it's the whole methodology. Equating any of those is creating the mix-up.

        You say you need examples and answers. Fair enough, and especially in mathematics. Having said that, and again addressing the level of education (post-secondary, I am guessing), at what point should the teacher expect the student to take the initiative to research further, or are you expecting that the teacher stop the syllabus and address your concerns? You are an adult at this stage, and are expected to start dealing with life's problems as such.

        From your questions and comments, you expect to "learn difficult subjects quickly". I don't know how else to tell you that: a) difficult subjects are not easy to learn, and b) if the subject matter is so difficult, perhaps you are in the wrong class…or even the wrong field.

        • verismeris

          Duly noted. and thank you for not taking my comments in the wrong spirit. Few things about your response I want to comment on.

          The mix-up was between what students think "self-directed" teaching means vs teachers. Yes there are huge differences between teaching elementary vs high school vs college, and I have to admit to knowing little of the overall theory that is applied. I would assume however the differences between teaching one or the other are in the expectations of teachers from their students and students of their teachers (I hope that sentence made sense).

          I make no assumptions on how a teacher should handle the assigning of examples + explaining them + giving answers: except that all three of those things should be there such that they are in a workable format for the students who meet the prerequisites. The last one specifically is only there so that students not able to work with the teachers resources have a backup means that they can personally work through the problems by other means, be they random online sources or tutors. However, those requirements are different for someone in high school or in elementary, usually in such manner that I feel sorry for the teachers. Can't expect as much of the students.

          Though perhaps you are referring to the sharp change in expectations of students between high school and college, I have to admit I never really ran into that. I went into a community college first and then transferred to a 4-year (more like a 5 or six given my degree).

          As for learning difficult subjects quickly, that isn't a personal expectation but the expectation of schools and universities, at least where I am. Classes are switching to a single semester format, and more content is being put in them. Sometimes too much is done and a University will split a single class into two separate classes, but students will still be expected to complete both classes in the same number of years. If they don't they will have to explain that in interviews later, and for the unfortunate ones who have to pay dorm costs, it may make college unaffordable. It is worth mentioning that this last one is one I'll never blame a professor for, as its implemented by administration, and driven by economic need.

          I considered switching field, but decided not to. It's possible that I was in the wrong class, though I wish me and several other students were warned about this, because it seemed students were actually advised to make said mistake.

          One thing that may have driven some of the problems is that the particular college I go to is much more geared toward graduate studies. The expectations of students aiming for their masters or their PhD are much higher especially considering they are expected to contribute to the knowledge of the field. The teachers here teaching the PhD classes also teach the Bachelor's level classes. This doesn't mean that they teach badly as a result, but their goals for the students are different than the goals the students have. It seems the professors are preparing students for masters degree level classes or PhD classes. Students just want to leave with the knowledge an employer would think they need, or if possible what they actually need.
          That's kinda where I am, I want the degree, the things employers expect from people who have the degree, and more ability to learn…period.

          For the most part that is what I receive. 🙂

          (and yes you are right, Senior College level work)

  • Jackaroo

    I couldn't tell you how many times I would try to lead my students into a discovery of the connections to be found in history, and simply have them say, "Just tell us the answer and keep going." There was no intellectual curiosity at all.

  • JHWaldeck

    I'm going to share this post with my upper division students. I think it should stimulate some fabulous discussion! Thank you for always nailing it, Maryellen!

  • Cheryl McGill

    I tell my students that this isn't the 13th grade. I have certain expectations from them and I let them know what to expect from me.
    I disagree with the not answering questions approach, however, because as fabulous as I believe I am, if a student has a question then I need to better help them understand. This also develops trust and reduces the likelihood that I will make them feel foolish if they ask a question. Trust goes a lot further than frustration. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule and I deal with those differently. I also give my student a variety of formats to ask and have questions answered; i.e., chats, discussion boards, e-mail posts.

  • Robbie

    Not one of the comments as of yet addresses an issue that is at the heart of the question: student ratings of instructors. To flip or not to flip, to explain your methods or not to explain them, these are not the questions. In a system prioritizing student ratings, the incentives are not to be an outstanding teacher anyway; the incentives are to be liked by students.

    Likeability has become the new graduate degree/teaching credential. No matter how knowledgable, creative, and caring an instructor is, or how skilled at translating complex concepts into accessible language, likeability is still more important. Look at the professor rating websites, and you see the qualities that matter to many or even most students. You get high ratings by being nice, funny, good-looking, and, most importantly, an easy grader. What tiny percentage of the students listed in the article would be complaining about their instructors "not teaching them" if they received A's in these classes? The forms that colleges use for evaluation are less crass, of course, but if students like you and like the grades you're giving them, they will Likert scale you 5 out of 5 all the way down the 25-question line, and vice-versa with 0's if they don't. This is an especially important lesson for a new adjunct instructor, because you'll never get a full-time position or even a second semester as an adjunct if you don't ace this test.

    Of course, we as mature, professional colleagues are above all those superficialities, right? The emphasis on likeability begins long before student contact – as early as the job interview, if one is lucky enough to secure one. With swarms of qualified and overqualified applicants, committees make decisions based on intangibles, looking for someone they perceive as being like them, though even better would be a likeable candidate who shares their approach and attitude while helping meet the department's diversity needs du jour. Rather than the creative or iconoclastic, they want someone they would like to share an office with – easy to get along with, uncritical, and, dare I say, good-looking. Sound familiar?

  • Carolyn Johnson

    As a librarian, I see the frustration causes by professers *only* using active learning methods. Because of poor or insufficient educational backgrounds, they often need more of a scaffolding option so they have a foundation for their learning. Often, we all are guilty of focusing more on the method of teaching rather than the process of learning.

  • Giavonne

    Isn't it time we teach teachers how to teach? For goodness sake there are many different types of learners and until classes are sorted by learning style the teacher will have to do what s/he does best: Teach. Many students need a bit of guidance, sources to consider, resources for expansion and actual hands on activities in class. While I find the load that teachers have to bear, to be unfair, I am tired of seeing/hearing cookie cutter teachers complaining about lazy students. Students ARE NOT lazy when they are engaged, for crying out loud engage them and be one of those teachers that movies are made of…you know the ones? Inspirational? Please, lest you judge a student, go judge yourself first. They require more than a boring lecture, posed question or rote reading assignment. They require a reason to respect you and look at you as their mentor while you hold them captive.

    • Ray

      Uh-huh. And who, pray tell, is the expert on teaching who is going to teach our teachers how to teach? Is it the school board? The administration? Politicians and bureaucrats? A parents' group? YOU? What are your qualifications, and how are YOU going to teach them?

      In the fable "Belling the Cat," all of the mice thought it was a great idea to hang a bell on a ribbon around the cat's neck, until one mouse spoke up and asked them who was going to attach the bell.

    • Guest

      Creating classes by "learning style" isn't going to happen in higher education. Instructors know very well that students enter their classroom with a wide range of learning style preferences and modalities. However, at the end of the day, no instructor will be able to accommodate to every single learning style preference. What we, as instructors/educators, need to do is to implement a variety of instructional strategies and formative assessments (i.e. some direct instruction, lecture, project-based learning, peer instruction, hands-on, and so on) so that you reach to as many learning styles as possible/feasible. Some instructors are more effective at diversifying their instructional strategies, but, ultimately, we can't (and it isn't our job) to please everyone. Not only do instructors/professors need to assess their own instructional practice (and be willing to modify accordingly), but students too need to take responsibility and ownership of their learning (this includes putting in effort as well). Instructors/professors can't learn for their students, but we can definitely create learning environments that give students the opportunity to engage in the content and achieve learning outcomes (i.e. learn).

  • jenniferbk

    An educated person is one who knows how to find the answers, not one who has memorized everything. Even looking things up in the internet is slightly dangerous because of all of the crackpot garbage out there. Critical thinking takes effort. Nobody hands it to you.

  • Ray

    I had two different freshman chemistry professors: one for the lecture section, and one for the lab section. The lab professor, Eliot Butler, was the kind of teacher described in this article. The stuff I learned from him, I have NEVER forgotten. The stuff I learned in the lecture section, … well, I know where to look it up in the textbook.

  • Nic

    There's a fine line to walk when using this method of teaching. If you just preach/tell the kids all the info, most are going to be bored and stop listening. Engaging them by turning to them for questions and examples is definitely a better method (imho).
    But I think the problem here is that it's difficult to do correctly – not only must you account for varying levels of existing knowledge, enthusiasm and skills in the students in general, but just throwing them in the deep end right away isn't the best idea either. if you just refuse to answer any question, like the teacher in the chemistry class example, a lot of students are going to be so put off and frustrated that they can't get it early on and aren't getting any assistance from the teacher, that they're going to give up. I admit I avoided a French class once because I found out the teacher only taught through immersion and would not speak any English. The idea was so intimidating that it scared me out of taking it. I had another teacher who missed over 50% of our classes (with ill-informed substitutes filling in), would give incomplete examples during presentations, and still expected everyone to be on the same page — most students were completely lost by the end of the semester. I had managed to keep up by teaching myself using the class book. Unfortunately, when I ran into a roadblock with something I couldn't grasp through the book, I went to the teacher for help and was told to read the book, even after I'd explained that I already had. And, to be clear, I loved classes where teachers lead students to think critically on their own, or raised questions, and actively sought them out/participated, so I don't think I was a lazy thinker/student.
    I don't think it's always laziness in the students, in my experience, most people want to learn and become excited about when the right approach for them is found. More to my point – the article talks about the received feedback as if it must only/always be that the student who left it is lazy/just doesn't get the method of teaching. But to me, that's not the only explanation; it could also be that the teacher is not handling the method correctly, that they are not providing enough information, or the right questions, to lead students to the answers. They might be reaching a few in the class, but not all, or maybe they're reaching none of them. If I saw this kind of feedback from more than a single student in a teacher's class, I would want to discuss with them and maybe review what they are doing, to be safe.

  • Diana

    My high school chemistry teacher used the "answer a question with a question" teaching method.
    He had me so confused by the end of the semester that I thought I was flunking out.
    Since it wasn't a required course, I opted not to take the next semester.
    Boy was I surprised by the "B" I got in Chemistry on my report card!

  • Jlynnm

    One of my favorite teachers wasn't so much about giving you the answers…..after all in the REAL WORLD you have to find the answers yourself – he was definitely more of teaching you HOW to find the answers and then you applied what you found. Anyone can regurgitate facts – you have to apply it to the real world (or perceived world as in class) in order to get through life. My boss isn't going to give me the answers – and once you get to high school and college – the teachers shouldn't give them all to you either.

  • Realist

    I fully believe that there is, or should be, an unwritten contract between teacher and student. The teacher's job is to teach and the student's job is to learn. If the teacher (professor, instructor or whatever their title) does not cover the required material, while offering the opportunities for the student to learn, then they are not doing their job. On the other hand, the student must apply themselves as needed to learn the material and not expect to be spoon fed. Very few teachers are good at what they do, but then very few students are good students. During my college years it came to my attention that most of the professors did not even want to teach, but were more interested in getting grants (wasting tax payer money) to promote their own interest, and a high percentage of the students got through by studying old exams. Academia. Most of the professors could not themselves survive in the real world. Maybe all teachers should have to survive in the real world before being allowed to teach. Teaching is a noble profession and the ability to inspire the our youth is what will drive the world and by design or not, we are creating a society of people unable to think for themselves.

  • Bob Colyer

    "Guest"'s answer to Lily is the best of them all. Fundamental: all learning is by trial and error. Formal education narrows the range of trials., thus directed knowledge. Iused questions as "answers" because my students [HS English, college physical education] basically knew more than they think they know, and the right questions help them to realize that. My own daughter learned to adjust to my answering her questions with my own, but somehow she was able to handle a Top Ten college, so she must have got something from it.

    Two other thoughts: I can empathize with a student who says, "I want answers. That's why I pay $50,000 a year." Second, though, is that above all, education teaches values, and values cannot be taught by rote, only through an active mind.

  • Zeze

    "We had to learn it ourselves" Or "OMG. I actually had to STUDY for this class"…Future employers want self-motivated and independent thinkers/workers where you DO have to "figure it out" for yourself. We need more active learners and not future employees who can't think for themselves and must be handed a detailed script every time there is a project or task to be completed. Many times I am answering questions that students could have found answer to if they only READ the content of their textbooks!

  • Dr. Anonymous

    Thank you for the article. I recently had similar evaluations from students stating exactly that (she did not teach us, we had to do all the work our selves, she was useless) I must admit I was surprised and some self doubt began to creep into my mind. Any way this article and the students perspective his helpful because at the end of the day I want to know how can I be a better instructor and provide educational guidance that is appropriate and to standard. I am currently trying to find how to meet students expectations without spoon feeding them the work they will need to put in to learn.

  • Charlotte Hutt

    This is an excellent article, and I love that we are writing the "how to" part. I teach math to groups of no more than 40 students. The two rooms I teach in have white boards along front, back and side walls. I have a process that puts students on the board in groups to work on problems of my design. I find this easy to monitor, and I can "hear" what is going on and intervene with my questions when I hear the need. The whole class has several of solution methods to look at when they read the boards before sitting down. Then the class discusses. This is remedial math through precalculus.

  • Kevin Aiken

    I was under the philosophy that teaching is 80% listening and 20% talking. There is an obligation to the student to help them become more aware of the subject matter and provoke them to think critically about the subject matter. When I enter into the classroom, I am very eager to find out what I can learn from the students. I agree that most of the students I have taught enter into the classroom expecting to be spoon fed the information. However, as the students begin to discover the secrets of learning that is now revealed to them, they appreciate the new information that they discovered and find learning to be enjoyable. Then at the end of the class, the roles seem to change, now the students are ready to teach the new information that they gained over the semester. In my case, these are adult learners who have been out of school for fifteen or twenty years. I discovered that it is important that these adults learn to become self-directed learners who are transformed through the teaching. Thanks

  • Karen

    My son was in the 7th grade when his teacher "attempted" this – it was a science class. The teacher told the students he was upset because he wanted to retire and his wife wouldn't let him, so they were going to have to figure things out for themselves. This is also the teacher that sent out "incomplete/failing" slips because he had been gone to so many conferences, he hadn't graded the student papers, homework or tests for 6 weeks. This wasn't just me – ALL of his students received incomplete mid-term slips. Both the teacher and the administrator received lots of parental calls and visits. While some teachers may be using this legitimately, some of them are simply lazy. And yes, I work in the public school system.

  • Maria Medina

    Yes as instructors we do receive a lot of these types of comments. What I've informed my students is that I do want them to learn to pick up the book and look for answers. It's very easy for me to tell them the answer but my job is to teach them how to learn on their own. I also tell them if I give you the answer will you really learn it? Probably so, but just for the moment. But do you think you will learn and keep it longer for yourself if you do the task of looking it up in the book and finding the answer? This teaches them life long learning skills, READING. Most students still do not like it when you explain it to them, but I do know for a fact they do learn better looking up the information for themselves.

  • Dave

    Great debate here for this issue. In 17 years I have been able to develop into a teacher who teaches students to use the controller on the PlayStation instead of teaching them the game. When one knows how to walk the students through the controller parts the student can pick up any game and play it on that system. School and teaching is no different. The space needed to explain this process is too large for this venue. However, I and other teachers have helped grade levels at different schools double and even triple test scores using the methods, the very methods described in this article.

    • June

      Yep. Teach the process and the student will master any content. Just like coaches and the military build students up by drilling again and again to build up muscle memory and instant reflex in a crunchtime situation.

      I spend a lot of time teaching how to solve physics problems, but I have to sacrifice certain content. Since most of my students were engineering students – and I knew from personal experience what content would be introduced again in their engineering courses – I had no qualms about cutting certain topics from my Physics I classes. I also learned the hard way what I did NOT get as a student (and repeated 9 classes because of it) and sought for my students not to have to suffer the same fate. Unfortunately, the Department Chair never understood that strategy… but the students who stuck with it could solve anything I threw at them – and in subsequent courses, too.

  • Don

    For the longest time students were just taught facts to pass a test. It is about time they were taught to think. When they get out in the world thinking out solutions is going to get them a lot farther then a head full of facts learned to pass a test.

  • A Wright

    Hi –

    I too have received this comment. In my courses, now on the first day I explain to them my strategy for laying out a trail of breadcrumbs toward their self-discovery. They will need to think, analyze, reason, and draw their own conclusions. It takes a while for many of them to come around (and sadly, some never do). Since my discipline is Computer Science, which is 95% about problem solving, I really think it is the best way for them to hone their skills.

  • goody

    So, in this day and age of technology where information is at a seconds notice, people still have to think for themselves? What a shame. I had a flat tire, thank goodness my smartphone changed it for me. Make your own damn thought and support it.

  • Peggy Perry

    I have taught children, teens, and adults. None of it was as a professional teacher. I taught Bible studies to the children and teens and my goal was always to get them to think for themselves. As I told them, until they learned to use their own mind, they were ripe for the plucking for cultists. I got them to think by giving them examples of how their personal modern lives were much the same as the Biblical characters. Some got it, some didn't. My adult classes were on the job, learning about new kinds of problem cases they would be required to work. I wrote the training material and taught the classes. I had to give them content, teach them the method, and then give them examples to practice on, and then give detailed review of their work to show what they did right and wrong. Nobody taught me how to do this. I figured out what they needed and figured out how to give it to them. Everybody learns differently, and as I told my adult students, with the kind of work we did, either you got it or you didn't. I only wanted them to try, and many of them did. For some of them it was too complex, and they never got it. Others found it as obvious as I did and wondered what the fuss was about. The rest had to struggle a bit and needed a good bit of repetition to get it right, but they finally got it. I learned from observation and practice that no class of students is uniform. No one method of instruction works on everybody. But I found that if I gave them content whether by lecture or visual, then taught them the method of how to do the work by letting them follow along as I went through a typical case talking as I demonstrated, then gave them a chance to practice the method by giving them detailed examples, they picked it up most easily.

    • ctaylor

      That's the most sensible comment I've seen here and you're not even a teacher!

  • Robert

    How about providing basic concepts followed by age and level appropriate practice in knowing, understanding, using them, etc.? Does anyone read Bloom, et al.'Taxonomy of Learning Objectives' any more?

  • Molly

    I don't know. As a professor, my first question is, well, what did this teacher do? The writer doesn't seem to answer that question. I remember being in college and having quiet a few teachers in history classes assign everyone a topic the first day of class and the second class, people had to start presenting lessons. When I say they had to start presenting, I don't mean a 20 minute presentation to kick off a discussion of reading, I mean, they had the entire hour+ of class time. The class was largely useless. Even looking back now, it was not something to help us think and learn, it was a lazy way of "teaching". Some people were FAR better than others so entire sections of the classes were pretty much useless.

  • Joy Tio

    Unfortunately, many students and school administrators still cling to the old paradigm about teaching as telling and supplying every fact the student needs to know . Many still subscribe to the 'tabula rasa" philosophy. Probably this is also reinforced by the faculty evaluation tools used. There is always that portion about : mastery of the subject matter; ability to deliver lectures; ability to answer questions. Such items reinforce the students' beliefs about what teachers should do in the classroom.

  • Molly

    I'm sorry, I am a university level professor and I have a serious question. You made a CD and then never interacted with the students, just your TAs did? How did you get away with this? Frankly, I'd love to spend a couple weeks dumping everything to a disc, probably making them pay for said disc and then never showing up to interact with them. Really? I would have demanded my money back. As a colleague, I would have been outraged. I'm guessing that's why it only lasted 3 years? My hat off to you to anyone who could make that scheme work for so long.

  • wy1ieg1rl

    As someone whose livelihood is centred on assisting academic teachers to understand effective teaching and learning, I think this article is wonderful! Literally DECADES of research into how people learn, especially adults, has shown over and over again that passive learning, for example having a teacher lecture you from the front of the class, is the LEAST effective way of learning. As the comments in this blog show, it is not only within the Universities that we fight the battle of getting people to give up on this way of teaching! As J Mead commented, having a teacher just state the facts is not learning (nor is it teaching) it is just memory. In fact, THAT is what is "laziness". This technique exemplifies active learning. Besides, how many times have you said or thought, "Yeah I listened to the explanation/instructions, but it wasn't until I had a go and really worked it out for myself that I really got it?"

  • MZimmerman

    Kids need to learn to think critically. They really don't know how and the real world requires it for everything from buying a house to finding a job. Kids need to learn to read directions because an employer won't like it if a graduate comes to them and says, "How do I fill out the job application?" Kids need to learn to do stuff for themselves because there won't always be someone there to do it for them (and because it's part of being an adult anyway). Kids need to learn to be more independent and make better choices or suffer the consequences of their bad choices. I agree with flipping the classroom. If it's really hard, I'll walk them through it until they can do it on their own, but I won't answer questions they could easily find the answers to by reading directions, looking for the answer online until they find it, reading the text, and thinking for themselves. It's part of growing up, people. Think about it: Do you want kids who can't/won't do anything without being told? Or do you want kids who see something needs to be done and can figure out how to do it without you, parents or teachers or employers, doing most of it for them?

    • ctaylor

      Much of what you say is good but it all falls apart when you say, 'reading directions, looking it up on line, reading the text.' Did you seriously not notice that ALL of those entail reading? Are you unaware of the different methods of learning and how important it is for someone to receive learning in a way that they can actually understand? You are a one dimensional teacher, and that's not good.

      • MZimmerman

        I teach English. Most of what I do is reading. Getting students to read today is like pulling teeth. They don't want to and they don't understand it, can't infer greater meaning, and don't care. The things I cited were examples of things that have happened in class and only require a little bit of critical thinking to take care of, but are somehow still bigger deals than need be.
        If you would like other examples, they include: discussions that I'm usually carrying because the students don't want to try, projects they don't want to complete, watching videos and trying to infer greater meaning from them, discussions about theme, small group activities that maybe get done, and reading aloud. I'm not one dimensional. I've always tried not to be.
        But if you think you know what I should do, please, by all means, enlighten me.

  • millb

    A good portion of the students in English classes have no interest in being better writers; they just want the "right" answers. In conference after conference, students bring C and D papers and ask me to correct everything so it "turns into" an A paper. It is a mentality they have picked up in other courses and past experience taking multiple choice exams.

  • Steve Donnison

    Several years ago in a class I suddenly realised I was fielding questions from a group of students by providing instant answers to their questions, I was completing their assignment task. (I may have even been the precursor to GOOGLE).
    Later I asked the students some of the same questions they had asked me earlier and low and behold they did not know the answers – they could not recall.
    It was then I switched to the "no answers strategy". To help the students understand my stance on questions I fully and clearly explain how I intend to use it, the whys and for what aim. I find most are then okay with the strategy and come to realise that it's harder for me as a teacher to use this method but better for their learning and understanding in the long term. I still get the odd phrase "just tell us the answer" – "my brain hurts – just tell me" but sticking at it is best option.

  • ETA

    YOU'RE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT! I'M RETIRED; BUT I STARTED WITH TWO YEAR OLDS. THIS WAS MY FIRST TEACHING JOB IN AN PRIVATE SCHOOL, PARENTS PAYING 450.00 DOLLARS A MONTH, WANED ACADEMIC SUCESS!; SO I STARTED WITH A LESSON PLAN THAT DEALTH WITH NOTHING BUT HANDS -ON – ACTIVITIES ( FOR EX. THE LETTER A WOULD HAVE THREE CHILDREN ON THE MAT WITH THE OTHER CHILDREN TAKING A SOLF TIP RULER TO TRACE THE OUTLINE OF THE CHILDRENS` BODY}, PARENTS WE'RE ECTASTIC. THAT IS HOW I ENCOURAGED MY STUDENTS INTO CRITICAL THINKING. IT WAS FUN, IT INCLUDED. SENSORY MOTOR SKILLS. THAT TEACHER THAT PROMOTES CRITICAL THINKING IS A GENIUS! KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!

  • Kwena Matjekana

    Teaching students is a process that should be engaged with enthusiasm and absolute care. To avoid loosing my students one use one's teaching philosophy as an anchor to remind one what one wants to achieve. Always thinking of one's approach to teaching can be helpful and enables one to change one's strategy when circumstances warrant. Patience and perseverance on the part of the teacher yield positive results. However, one at all times, should not lose sight of the importance of learning facilitation. So students must be nudged to think.

  • RChan

    As a teacher taking an online class in curriculum and instruction from a purportedly highly ranked online university, I am furious that not only does the professor not "teach" the class, he provides a model for curriculum (if you call a syllabus a curriculum, which his assigned textbook says it is not) that is based on a 20th century–not 21st century– model. In addition, though halfway through the class, there has been no instruction whatsoever–not even feedback of a helpful nature– to let us know that we are on track in our online discussions. My fellow classmates and I could complain if this were a course where we physically attended class–if we did, it would look like this: the professor sat there the whole class period with his mouth shut while we attempted to discuss some pathetic questions he had designed to go with the readings out of one biased textbook. If you are trying to tell me that this typed of teaching is now sanctioned, I tell you I think that is sanctioning laziness, and perhaps something more sinister. The person who is "teaching" this course is providing website management and little else, as I see it. I'm paying thousands of dollars not only to teach myself, but remind myself never to follow this guy's example.

    • Totrn

      I have experienced the exact same situation with the on-line courses I have taken- very little feedback from the instructor and no additional information provided.

  • GeoBonsai

    Maybe some college instructors have a financial interest in forcing students to buy teach-yourself books. In some of my college classes, I had to purchase teach-yourself books such as the "DeMystified" and "For Dummy" instruction manuals and I had to take "Lynda.com" online courses to fill in the huge information gaps that inept (or lazy) teachers wouldn't (or couldn't) provide. Teachers are subject-matter experts paid to impart knowledge. After college, in the work place, there are plenty of opportunities for college grads to figure things out on their own based on what they learned.

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  • tjkoller

    The role of the teacher is to deliver the content to the student in the manner the student can best receive it; it most certainly is not the role of the teacher to answer student questions immediately. The process of learning is long and sometimes difficult, but if the student will learn the content best by wrestling through a longer, more difficult journey, then the teacher must allow the student the time it takes to journey. It would be inappropriate to short-change the process by immediately answering all student inquiries.

    However, I do think it is good for a teacher to assure the student that the teacher is journeying with the student, not simply ignoring their inquiry or disrespecting the question. If the teacher can journey with the student, the student will have confidence to (with guidance) learn the material "on their own".

  • Mike

    I think if a teacher wants to be good at their profession they ought try several types of learning styles in their lessons. Several styles would be direct lesson, cooperative lesson, and inquiry lesson. All of these could be put in Madelin Hunter Seven Step Format of lesson planning and presenting. Students should be accountable for knowing Terminal Learning Objective (Standard or Ultimate Goal of the Lesson) and then the Instructional Objectives ( Tasks to Accomplish the Lesson) and the teacher should be responsible for presenting these to their students. From reading this article it sounds like the teacher was using a inquiry format, but was not giving the students the "Instructional Objective" and helping the students to develop the " Terminal Learning Objective" or vice verse.

  • Katrina

    I'm now in 7th grade. The math teacher I had last year was by far the worst teacher I've ever had. SHE did not deserve to get paid at all: she did not teach anyone anything, no not like "She made me think" but as in flat out refusing to even tell us what the lesson was because "We should know what it is" on the second day of school. Me and many others tried to talk to her but this would happen:

    Teacher(T)-SHUDUP
    Me(M)- whats the lesson? what are we supposed to do?
    T- ask your groupmates
    M- they don't know
    T-ask your classmates
    M they don't know. No one knows.
    T did you ask your classmates?
    M- …no; all of us don't know what to do.
    T-I CANT HELP YOU! ASK YOUR TEAMATES! DONT TALK TO ME
    m- But
    T-SHUDUP OR ILL GIVE YOU DETENTION

    that was basicly the whole year. Honestly, absulutly nothing was taught at all. later she would even lie to my mom saying that I would cuss her out and refuse to do work. she didn't even know my name. Im a principal's honor roll student and she seemed a bit off her rocker…

  • Guest

    My best teachers made learning fun and easy, so I learned the material they were trying to teach. I did not learn from them "how to learn", but I often learned from them to be curious enough about the subject they taught to independently go learn more about it, on my own. These teachers still challenged me on exams, asking some questions that made me have to figure things out, but using the material we had covered in class. Sometimes they would ask the class questions that made us have to think, but the student who figured out the answer only got pride from this accomplishment. If nobody figured it out, the teacher dropped hints and, if necessary, explained the answer. My worst teachers not only made me do all the work, but demanded I do it at their pace and humiliated me in front of the class if I didn't keep up with them at this pace. My very worst professor had tenure, and his name was Lawrence Berger. He taught law at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. He was simply lazy, jealous of his students and territorial about his profession, wanting us to leave his class thinking he had overcome serious obstacles to learn Property Law, but he was merely trying to prevent us from learning it. Universities need to settle this question once and for all: are you there to teach a subject, such as chemistry, or are you there to teach kids how to teach themselves? What exactly is the job description? Does anyone call a plumber over so he can make them figure out how to fix their own sink? Does anyone hire an auto mechanic to make them figure out how to fix their own car? No. And if you were hired to teach chemistry, then your job is to teach chemistry, not to teach students how to teach themselves chemistry. I can see hiding the ball a bit for fun, in the beginning, to see if students can figure it out, but if you're flunking students because they didn't teach themselves chemistry, then you deserve the criticism that you didn't do your job. That was your job. If you never explain to your students what the answer is, then some of them will leave having not figured it out, and then you haven't taught them squat, now have you? Given my experience with Berger, I do suspect that teachers who refuse to answer questions or give examples often aren't even trying to teach. They are simply trying to stress and frustrate their students, because they are worried their students might learn what they were hired to teach, which actually creates more competition in their field. This highly competitive spirit makes them the opposite of teachers. A teacher, by design, has to be less competitive than that, and therefore willing to help his students learn the subject matter.

  • Anja Morris-Paxton

    I facilitate foundational learning in an African university that accommodates students from disadvantaged backgrounds. They come from schools where the focus is on 'learning enough to pass'; what they really mean is 'remembering enough to answer the main questions on a paper', with little or no understanding. These students come to university with pretty much the same intention of rote learning the answers to examination papers. Slowly we are incorporating assignments which have to be referenced and continuous assessment. This is proving extremely challenging for those who have not even had to write for themselves let alone think for themselves. I generally suggest to foundation provision lecturers that they begin the year with an introductory lecture that explains the difference between 'instruction'; 'teaching', 'lecturing' and 'facilitation' and that the expectation is that learning will have a 60:40 component in the foundation phase. This is 60% of the work is done in class and 40% of the work is self-directed learning. Students are usually shocked to hear this but we have an approximate 80% pass rate.

  • Sooz

    I didn't have the luxury of learning the piano from a teacher, but I had a desire, and I taught myself to play. I'm pretty good. I have the basics and can easily sight read music. I can't help but wonder how much better I could have become, under the guidance of a great piano teacher. Inquiry based learning can only go so far for most students, but it's a fad that may very well be robbing our students of quality instruction by master. Are we breeding mediocrity? Students take music lessons and practice those lessons for a reason.

  • Just do your job

    I myself, am a student at the local two-year college. Some of the instructors just spoon feed the stuff and honestly, I didn't learn a thing from them. However, I've had several instructors who lecture about little more than football news or what their child did with their play-duh last weekend. In my near two years here, I've had three excellent instructors.

    You can always tell which instructors are going to be a waste of time. If you get a class project and the instructions change as problems arise, you're in for a crappy semester. If there won't be a final, you're screwed. If the instructor demands that you use online software, you wasted opportunity costs by signing up for an in class course.

    One of the worst things that I find is those that enforce the use of software. Why in gods name am I going to a classroom to hear about the latest football highlights if I'll be doing the learning on my own? I could have just paid for the books and taught myself. We, as students, shouldn't be charge tuition if the instructor does not instruct. A five year old can "facilitate" for a much lower price.

    Look, if you're going to call yourselves instructors, do some instructing. Stop throwing pamphlets, answers, software, and unguided projects at students. Do what you're hired to do. Share those experiences and lessons that got you your title. Claim the learn to learn mess all you want. Just stop letting us learn the wrong way. There's a saying, "It doesn't matter how many times you've done something or how long you've been doing it, if you never did it right in the first place." Instruct students to do it right. They can do the research without paying for a facilitator.

    • WTB real Instructors

      Ultimately, I'll be one of the millions of students leaving campus with a degree and no education because of the self proclaimed "instructors" of today who are no more than the lunch lady keeping students from getting too loud.

      • GeoBonsai

        Too true. In roughly 75 percent of my college courses, I had to teach myself the subject matter (using those commercially published self-learning books) because the instructors were inept, lazy, or they practiced the "self-directed-learning" methods mentioned in many of the comments in this thread. From the majority of comments here, seems like these so-called "educators" would tell a four-year-old child to change a light bulb and tell the youngster to "figure it out for yourself," which is shocking (yeah … play on words 🙂

  • Tim Ong

    As an advocate of 'guide on the side' rather than 'sage on the stage' I always find this debate interesting and have two comments:
    1. The approach does require some courage to 'let go' and this does not happen overnight, so make the transition gradually
    2. Some students, in particular more mature students and those from certain ethnic groups have a very clear image of what education is and may take some time to get comfortable with a flipping of the classroom.

  • Tara

    This type of teaching is highly ineffectual. It nearly encourages cheated. Our chemistry teacher would refuse to instruct us in class. He liked to give is our tests and homework before we went over the material. It frustrated everyone, especially me. I truly wanted to understand the subject. Because no actual teaching was provided, we would all just huddle around the genius student in the class and he would teach us what was happening in the bunson burner and he would explain how he got an answer to the test question. I learn very well by rote. Spending an hour figuring out where to even start on a problem is a waste of precious time. If properly instructed by the teacher we could have learned the material at a much faster pace._

  • Dee

    Thank you, I tell my students I am here to teach you how to find answers, not to give them to you. They still insist on asking for the answers, and as young people I understand that they are resistant to doing the work. They are always looking to cut corners, whenever and wherever they can. Once they realize that they will have to figure things out for themselves, then they get it. But where I teach, that process usually does not occur until after graduation from high school. I just hope they did learn something from the experience, because what they were able to acquire in high school will have to carry them through life.

  • Sherrie

    I had a hard time reading through this article– not due to literacy factors(mine), but rather due to understandable impatience with a topic that resurfaces constantly.
    More to the point, ..impatience the treatment of this topic by folks who h a v e n o i d e a about: education, teaching, learning, classroom dynamics and a current system that drives illogical interactions and outcomes.

    Bottom line: Those who don't understand the concept of having students actually figure things out won't understand any of this anyway. Following their skewed, uninformed reasoning would have teachers(including childrens' FIRST TEACHERS, who SHOULD BE THEIR PARENTS) crawl inside students' brains to think for them. If that sounds ridiculous, understand that the ignorance-based outcry blaming schools for children refusing to be students sounds and is ridiculous to those who know better.

    Finally, for those among you who haven't been aware, getting students to "figure things out" for themselves might be, at the face of it, a misleading phrase. Activities designed to do just that take AT LEAST as much planning as so-called spoon-feeding lessons. Engaging them in discovery learning, wherein, for example, a process known as scaffolding is used, guides them through levels that purposefully(and yes, purposely as well) promote that apparently undervalued phenomenon hailed as FIGURING THINGS OUT.

  • Zeus

    And, let's not forget, that sometimes the student IS correct: Some teachers–not matter how many "years" of "experience" they have–can't teach. Period. And should be removed from the system.

    Let's not rationalize our poor teaching by "claiming" to use flipped classrooms, Socratic methods, etc., when in reality, there are simply some teachers who lack the education, social skills, charisma, etc., to convey a concept, idea, or teach a difficult concept. Some of us simply are bad teachers.

    • GeoBonsai

      Agree!

  • Governor

    Yes. I'd be pretty upset if I paid thousands of dollars to sit in your class, and all you did was tell me to "go figure it out." Don't need a tenured pH D to do that job.

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  • IPFW student

    here's the problem when you play a sport you don't know how to play and the coach teaches you how to play and the rules for playing it should be the same for teachers they should be teaching us where to look for the answers and how to decipher the information that we find not sit back and wait for us to find answers and then tell us those answers are wrong and we have to look again this is such a waste of time in a day and age when students have jobs(sometimes multiples) and alot of students have children or wives or husbands at home to still manage along with school.

  • Dr. Adjunct

    The article reveals worms crawling under the rock. Clearly, for the students' long term benefit, it is best to do fewer frontal presentations and have students do this "messy work." The better students, who truly want to master the material, generally appreciate. Those who just want to do well on tests and get their 3 credits get angry. They get their revenge on the Prof.'s evaluation. Tenured full timers may have wounded egos reading these rants, but are invulnerable in every real sense. Those who in the ranks for the vast army, indeed now the majority of college instructors who are mere adjuncts, are quite vulnerable and will teach they way they know students will rank them nicely. The only way the "messy learning" model works is if administrators examine the nasty comments such very good instructors get and blow these comments off.

  • Kevin Sparenberg

    When I was in high school in the 1960's my Agriculture teacher used the "problem solving" approach to teaching. It was so much more interesting to learn that way that it made it difficult for me to sit through the boring lectures in my other classes. This teaching method had been called different names by different groups and I believe the science community is currently calling it "Inquiry-based" teaching. I am currently taking my final class to finish the Masters in Instructional Design from Purdue Calumet and am working on creating an online course in middle school agriculture using the problem-solving design. Additional resources on the topic are…

    Crunkilton, J. R., & Krebs, A. H. (1982). Teaching agriculture through problem solving (3rd ed.). Danville, IL: The Interstate Printers and Publishers, Inc.

    Phipps, L. J., & Osborne, E. W. (1988). Handbook on agricultural education in public schools (5th ed.). Danville, IL: The Interstate Printers and Publishers, Inc

    INQUIRY-BASED INSTRUCTION http://pubs.aged.tamu.edu/jae/pdf/Vol45/45-04-106

  • goodsensecynic

    An old Taoist saying might help. It concerned political leadership but may still be pertinent.

    The worst ruler is the one the people fear.
    The next worst is the one the people respect.
    A better ruler leads by example.
    The best is the one who makes the people say: "We did it ourselves."

  • Dr. Ryan James

    Once again, I feel validated. I started teaching university level American Studies in Budapest, Hungary in 2002. Although students had to be fluent in English to enter the degree track, they were still years behind in pedagogy.

    I started each semester giving out and discussing information on Constructivism. I explained how my style of teaching may be different then they were used to, but I guaranteed I would provide all the resources they needed to be successful. This was a personal challenge, because resources in English at the time were scarce.

    For years I heard nasty things said behind my back about how lazy I was and not a good teacher. It was not until years after the first groups of students graduated that I received letters of apology and praise. What they discovered was they are better prepared to work in the real world than those who just sat through passive learning situations.

  • Dr. Sab Thomas

    Well, as an educator, I do understand both sides of the coin. Although adults are self-directed learners, and all students learn differently, it is my belief that the instructor take into consideration these factors. The learning style of each students varies must be taken into consideration during the instructional delivery process. One cannot assume that all learners are self-directed and motivated, therefore choosing the appropriate learning exercises and activities should be tailored in a manner consistent with the learning style of the students in the class. In my introductory lesson, I often ask my students to tell me about their best way of learning and retaining information. This helps me to plan accordingly rather that assuming that all students learn the same way, whether they are secondary or elementary students.

  • Alfredo Holguín

    You can not expect someone to do something you do not know what they have to achieve. The instructors are not only to give information but to share the goal, to accompany the discovery, learning to enjoy oneself and students.

    ————————————–

    No se puede esperar que alguién haga algo si no sabe que es lo que tiene que lograr. Los instructores no solo estamos para dar indicaciones sino para compartir el objetivo, para acompañar en el descubrimiento, para disfrutar el aprender de uno mismo y de los estudiantes.

  • Teacher

    I teach college English, and each semester the department has a Final Exam where students need to write an In-Class Essay based on a prompt. One of the prompts last semester was about Teacher Tenure, and reading the student essays was very enlightening. Just like this post mentions, students think that if teachers do not lecture the entire class time–verbally explaining concepts, reading out loud what was in the textbooks they should have read, and "telling them the answers"–that the teachers were "bad." Reading hundreds of essays about what students understood to be bad teaching was depressing. Maybe an overview of "teaching" at the beginning of every class would be a good idea.

  • MBAStudent

    If a student is able to learn on their own, there is no purpose to having the teacher.

  • Brobut

    And how does this type of learning/teaching help all students in a classroom? For the student that has disabilities with organisation of schoolwork, working memory issues, auditory processing problems, expressive language problems, anxiety, the student that has difficulty asking questions because they are embarrassed – think about your students with ADHD/autism/aspergers. Some of these students are very intelligent and can learn very well but struggle with showing what the know when teachers don't understand how they learn or forget these students are in the classroom. Is your preferred teaching style being forced upon students?? Why does learning have to be hard especially if it is a subject they are not interested in. Teachers may be surprised what students can and do learn on their own that have nothing to do with the curriculum – because it is something the students want to learn and are interested in, are not forced to learn or given time frames. It is not always dependence on teachers that some students have, some have disabilities and need to learn differently.

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  • zenataraxia

    As a 49 year old returning to college, I found this article and the comments to be very interesting!

    Upfront, I'd like to make a suggestion to commenters — please, copy and paste a bit of what you're replying to, so that your readers know what you're replying to. It's often difficult to figure out without that as context.

    I love instructors who make me work for it and who have high expectations for me. It's thrilling! I can get frustrated for a minute when I don't understand the material just from what the instructor has said, but if they're a decent teacher, I always find the answers I need and am very aware that I learned it far better this way than if she had merely told me the answer. That being said, I am something of an autodidact, and most people are not. If the instructor doesn't ask them questions that lead them further in the right direction, it's not going to work.

    Even though I am always one of the top performers in any class I'm in (so far) I too need to be sorted out if I genuinely don't understand where I am, and need a hand figuring it out. That is not the time to ask the questions, but to give me a little push in the right direction.

    I think students are best able to figure out how to take steps in the direction of self-learning when the teacher truly cares about the student's learning the material, and that caring is apparent in their words and actions. If it's not, the student is likely to give up rather than reach higher. That caring can take many forms, one being the expectation that the students will do well, or at least, will learn something and do better than they thought they would. That positive expectation is a good motivator, and also helps the student feel more secure: "Well, if he thinks I can do it, then maybe I can!"

    I too have had the experience of thinking I was close to flunking out because the instructor didn't care to give feedback — it's very disconcerting, even at my age. For the youngsters, it's probably terrifying. To not yet understand the material is one thing — but to not even know if you're close to the right direction is just demoralising.

    There is more to the online story than just boosting enrollment to make more money — I go to Sacramento City College, and classes there are crammed to the rafters! Teachers often let in as many waitlisted students as they think they can conceivably teach and still be fair to them. The expansion of online instruction is the result of this — there are just *so* many more students than there are teachers and classrooms. Perhaps things are different outside of California — Prop 13 and stupidity are still strangling education here — but I'm betting most CCs are experiencing this phenomenon. What else can we expect, when one must have a baccalaureate just to be considered for a job at a gas station?

    CA just saw legislation signed to start allowing 15 of our CCs to award bachelor degrees, mainly in fields that are basically vocational — there is so little vocational instruction in America that bogus online and technical schools have sprung up to encourage students to take out large loans — and their tuition is (of course) the max that the Staffords will shell out — but leave the students high and dry when it comes to the actual instruction part… and on the hook for tens of thousands in loans. (These "colleges" are entirely scams and I don't understand why they're still eligible for Stafford loans.)

    I'm very curious what the teachers here think of that decision to offer bachelor degrees at CCs to make up for lack of actual vocational institutions.

    Last: I realise it must be incredibly difficult to teach today. I am always impressed by and grateful for the devotion of my teachers. Thank you all, and hang in there — be ready to take part in rebuilding American education, which will almost certainly take place on the local level, and not from the top down. This will be disconcerting, and definitely suboptimal in may ways, but I think it's inevitable.

  • Catrin

    Yes getting students to think is good but like everything it is best in moderation. My current psyche professor does nothing in class. We come in sit and wait for her to show up ten minutes late only to have her tell us to get in groups and read or just read alone. She acts bothered and confused by questions and if someone dares complain about the lack of feedback or instruction she spits out the tired this is college, you should learn to think for yourself line. Every class like clockwork about a half hour and sometimes a hour early she dismisses class. I have surveyed the class and I have the highest grade. I am barely holding onto a B and by the skin of my teeth at that. She takes weeks to grade papers and when we get our grade we don't get any feedback or explanation of our grade. It's not always about entitled students who just want to be spoon fed answers and grades. Sometimes the professor is crap and does not deserve to be an educator. Sometimes they very much deserve their poor ratings and negative feedback.

  • Kara

    So then basically, the "learn-it-yourself" teachers are no better than looking stuff up on the internet yourself to learn it, or finding a good book that details the subject you are trying to learn. Probably costs a lot less than these lazy teachers salaries too! If these type of teachers are not making sure the material is absorbed and understood, then in the greater scheme of things what is being accomplished?? They just churn students through their class and out without being the better for it while they collect a paycheck? How does that benefit anyone except the teachers ego?

  • Profengagedandteach

    I just want to comment on this. While I appreciate independent learning, if I am paying tuition, then the professor should do something other than just point me the direction of a book and an online powerpoint created by an outside source. The professor is not there just for appearances. The professor should be encouraging or even giving some basics fundamentals in the topic. Most students taking the course might not have any background in the information. Reading the book is nice, but it would be something that students could do in their own time. Class time should be dedicated to professors enhancing the students' learning. A professor who does not do any teaching at all is really wasting the tuition of students. The class does not have to be an easy A. Teaching is a two way street. If students are ready to learn but the professor is not doing their job… well there's a problem. And student loans are super expensive. Just saying.

  • Steve Davis

    We (educators) need "midagogy." We have pedagogy – how to teach children, and andragogy – adult learning theory, but the typical college student doesn't fall well into either category. As Maryellen suggests, it is incumbent upon us to education to explain this to our students and help them move from the former to the later with much more clarity about what's going on.

  • Jessica Hao

    As a chinese proverb goes:It's better to teach a man fishing than to give him fish. As for study, it's better to learn "how to learn" than to learn merely the content. I can understand the teacher's intention. He/she must wants student to give themselves an answer to their question, although he knows the answer. Student may make a vast of effort, spend a plenty of time, may even fail to find the answer. But the students will realize how much their pursuit values when they are eventually capable to find out a solution individually. An answer is temporary likewise being able to answer is permanent.
    In addition, I think it may be helpful if teachers have conversation with students about their teaching method.

  • Anonymous

    As expensive as school is nowadays, I demand to be given some sort of direction by the professors I'm supposed to be learning from. I don't want just answers, but if there isn't some sort of middle ground between the Socratic method and guided learning that can be reached, then I may as well save 36,000 dollars a year and fucking teach myself.

  • RogueGhost24

    Bottom line is you're now taking out loans paying for education so it needs to be taught to you in a form that you can understand it. Personally, I don't learn well when instructors are more concerned about getting through their power point presentation for the day than they are about if I understand it or not. Then they tend to throw whatever you just learned right out of the window for the next session.

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  • John Garot

    I think the Socrative method is very strong and successful. . .I use that in a lot of my classes and then try to lead the class to the correct answers (thru a series of hings and suggestions) as we progress through the discussion. . .They enjoy it and learn a bit more having to conduct research themselves to find the correct answer!

    John Garot

  • Nommedeguerra

    There is a difference between expecting students to learn, and purposefully frustrating them, and putting their grades at risk for a process when they are paying you. To say that it is for learning is fine, but many "teachers" choose to let the grades stand as students struggle and learn what they consider "critical thinking." One teacher may consider an analysis without standing on quotes from publications to be critical thinking, whereas another would consider this to be a failure to "support your assertions." The learning can be somewhat ambiguous but the desired product should never be.

  • anna

    Students want value in relation to the money they are shelling out for a good education. Self motivated learning is not inferior, in fact, self motivation and life long learning is far superior to spending time and money on an education in an educational institution where students are exploited by instructors and where their health is sometimes compromised from the undue stress caused by poor instruction and deaf administration.

  • chloe

    So let me get this straight…. you want students to teach themselves? The what the frick are teachers for then? Teachers are supposed to teach!

  • Oak

    I have a professor who teaches just like this article illustrates. He is the biggest fraud I have ever encountered. I am 42 going back to school. The 22 year olds have no idea what an absolute joke this man is. They hero worship him because he is the head of the department. Meanwhile, one of my classmates who is a favorite of the professor could not pass a basic entrance assessment for her first job. This whole notion of "keep things ambiguous" so the student can find out for themselves is the biggest bunch of bull I have ever encountered. It would never fly in the private sector because nobody wants to learn that way.

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  • Alex

    And who said that explaining material and making students think are two ortogonal concepts ? Professor, who does not explain new material, but only gives homework is simply SLACKING. Let's not look for some hidden value in his(her) style – there is none. The person simply is not doing the job and should not be paid. Period.

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  • Read_My_Feels991

    No, no, no. This is a horrible mindset to have. I’ve had professors like this. They’d give very difficult assignments and give small hints along the way. We were expected to figure out how to solve the problem. A good way to learn, perhaps, but that’s assuming you can get the answer in time. If not you end up with the solution, but now you have a failing grade on the assignment and all of that learning has set you numerically back. In a perfect world this wouldn’t matter but grade do matter. They matter as prerequisites to higher courses and they matter as prerequisites to jobs.
    Another point I’d hasten to remind you is that college students are paying out the nose in hopes of possibly getting a brighter future. I had to work a full time job while going to class full time. I didn’t have hours on end to ponder over a question just to find out I’d trudged down the wrong path.
    Newton took decades to put together calculus 1. Would you have students take that long too?
    Learning should be based on how well you know what you know, not how clever you are. You want to do that make a class that is just for fun.

    • Wanda L. Goleman

      I had several professors like this and had to work to support my family while in school too. This is a messy way of learning, but it is also the only way to learn and develop critical thinking skills. Failures lead to understanding, unless you just quit trying. There’s no telling how many times I threw my algebra text across the room and loudly proclaimed I was not going back to school! But I always picked the book up, usually to tape pages back together, and tried again, and was right back in classes the next day.
      From what I see with students there seems to be a lack of focus. Many just don’t seem to be able to put down their social media long enough to really engage with assignments and THINK about them. Sorry, but learning requires thinking.

      • Read_My_Feels991

        There is a difference between learning something that takes time to learn and discovery. I’m guessing (so feel free to correct) you’re talking about lower level course work or topics regarding social sciences. In most higher level courses of engineering, science, or math you are no longer being expected to learn a wide range of topics, but take what you’ve learned and apply much more narrow mindsets to it. Take the professor I mentioned above. He assigned us to write a program which could preform a rather complicated task. He then restricted what we were allowed to include in the program to make it even more challenging. This sounds like a good idea, until half the class couldn’t get it to work and the professor was forced to scrap the assignment.
        What I don’t like about the idea that professors should “force” their students to learn on their own is:
        1. There is no way to measure it. There are certain topics which people won’t come up with on there own. This is why they are taught. Your example about algebra requires that someone had taught you algebra, not asked you to write a proof having barely opened the book.
        2. It’s a giant waste of time. A professor that thinks making a student frustrated and angry is enhancing their critical thinking skills is lying to themselves about how lazy they’re being. Again, this is where hard topics and discovery don’t converge.
        I find that a good way see if a topic should have been outright told is the ratio of time it takes a student to understand something to the time it would take them to figure it out on their own. If I see a professor assigning something that takes weeks to figure out, but could have been explained in a few hours, their expecting way to much of their students. How much more could have been learned in those weeks?
        Assignments and thought discussions should try to emulate a natural way to arriving at a conclusion. If there are certain facts which make a larger fact more clear than work you way to it using those. I’ve met many professors who would rater have their students rediscover gravity.
        3. Finally and I say this the loudest. There is NO guarantee that they will get the answer without assistance. These types of professors are treating college as though it’s a type of salon. That’s a POV that’s best suited for graduate school. Again I’d state that many people are paying tens of thousands of dollars to be taught, not to be handed riddles.

        • Wanda L. Goleman

          I am talking about both undergrad and graduate school. And definitely not social sciences, but rather biology.

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