We try to avoid spoon-feeding our students. Unfortunately, there are all kinds of spoons in the classroom. Some we favour. And some we don’t favour. However, there are probably some that we don’t even realize are spoons.
Spoon-feeding by teaching from the textbook has for a long time been out of favour within educational circles. And quite rightly, too.
However, as I sat in my classroom carefully tailoring my grade 10’s unit website it struck me. It struck me as I carefully selected key questions that would challenge the students based on the previous website URL that I had linked them to. It struck me as I then opened up a new tab and sent them off to another part of the internet to gather content for the next quiz. And as it struck me, it was a bitter realization to swallow. As fantastical as it looked, all I was in fact doing was having my students go through content, before answering questions, to go through the next batch of content, to answer more questions. Just like a textbook.
I had created a digital spoon with which to feed my students content through a linear course.
As I started to really think about it, most educational structures follow the same pattern. We give, lead or show something to our students for digestion, and then we question them on it. Whether it’s fact packs, PowerPoint presentations, websites or videos, we are feeding our students pre-prepared content on a variety of spoons when in fact, we should be showing them how to cook.
Recipes, not Ready Meals
The key trick when it comes to putting down the proverbial spoon is to simply only tell our students what the rough ingredients for the lesson will be. As an example, my grade 10 students now only receive two pre-packaged things – the core learning objectives (The “Ingredients” for the topic) and some practice assessments throughout the topic (Or “Taste tests” to make sure they’re cooking the right meal).
For those that might mistake the lower requirement for content preparation with lazy teaching, I advise you try it. The cooking model comes in useful here again – what you have been doing up to this point is cooking a meal in your free lessons, or evenings, and spoon feeding it to your students as they sit there for an hour. Sure, some of them might spit it back out or turn their heads, but overall it’s not too harrowing an experience.
Now imagine these adolescents in a kitchen for the first time trying to make the meal themselves. Questions come from all angles;
“How do I work the oven?”
“I can’t find the salt!”
“The batter’s too thick!”
It is simply a change in role. Your job is no longer to cook a nice meal for your kids. It’s to provide them with simple guidelines for making their own meal, exactly to their tastes so that they can digest it.
Can’t cook. Won’t cook.
Aversion towards this style of learning runs deep in teachers who simply “love to cook”. But even more so in students who are used to simply sitting down and being fed. Initially, you will be bombarded with passive aggressive statements about your decision to teach this way. But rest assured, as time passes you will be automatic in your reassurances.
“I don’t understand it” “You only read the first search result. Try a couple more websites or search for simpler websites”
“I don’t get the question” “Which word is throwing you off? Search for the definition”
“I can’t learn this way, I need somebody to explain it” “Search for videos on the topic”
“I can’t figure out how to open X” “Two people on your desk have it open right now, why don’t you ask them how they did it?”
Eventually, independence will come. Eventually, you will almost miss your students never-ending pleas for the answers. But then, you will know that you have done them a great justice. You have taught them how to cook.