Sunday, December 11, 2016

Is It Possible to Help Students Too Much?

       How much is too much?

       Can you care too much?  Can you love too much?  Can you help too much?  When it comes to students and learning, sometimes teachers and parents help too much.

       Their hearts in the right place, but goals are short sighted.  Teachers and parents help too much when they tell students the answers in an effort for them to complete the classwork or the homework.  They seek the short-term goal of compliance with an assignment.  But they don't see the longer-term goal of helping students to learn how to learn.

       Educators have an expression for the results of too much help.  We call it, "Learned Helplessness".  It's when students learn to purposefully not try too hard because they know that a parent or a teacher or someone will eventually give them the answer or do the work for them.

       Since most students (and some adults) don't see or understand the benefits of learning, they believe that school is only a series of assignments that they have to complete because they are told to do so; or because they get a grade for completing it.  Therefore, they don't see the need to try hard and fail sometimes and learn from these failings and try again.  "Learning" isn't their goal; compliance is their goal.  Therefore they only seek to complete the worksheet, or answer the questions, or write the paper; because they only seek to get the grade.  And if the student can find someone else to do this--and the students basically gets the same reward (the same grade) either way--then the easy route is to let someone else do it.

       Of course teachers and parents want their students (and children) to succeed, so sometimes they provide this help in an effort to help them to get success.  But there is a terrible downside to too much help.  When the parent isn't there and the too-much-helping teacher isn't there, the child (maybe now a young adult) isn't able to solve problems on their own.  Since there was always someone there to do the hard stuff, the young adult is now either helpless or forced to learn how to learn new things at point in life when mistakes are more costly.  One area where this is often seen is the first year of college.  Students who haven't learned how to struggle to learn something new and expect someone else to do all of the hard stuff for them, fail and drop out of college.

       School is about learning; and it's about learning how to learn.  We aren't helping our kids by doing the work for them.  As teachers and as parents, we have to try to worry less about "the grade" and much, much more about the learning.  There is no benefit to children who graduate from high school but aren't able to think for themselves and make decisions by themselves and solve their own problems.

       Yes, you can help too much.

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