Leaving Room for Discovery

Brian picDon’t help students any more than you have to. Oops, that should read, “Don’t help students any more than they need you to.” It is tempting occasionally to make learning a rote exercise of telling the student every fact and every process. Little is left to the imagination or for exploration. Although this reduces learner discomfort, it also reduces a student’s self-esteem, whether the student consciously realizes it or not.

Learner discomfort isn’t inflicted by the instructor but gloriously acknowledged as a side effect of doing interesting assignments. Then the instructor has to live with the discomfort of allowing discomfort in others. Every class I’m tempted to tell a student too much. No rubric exists for knowing every situation, which means flying in the moment by the inner radar.mind-maze

I had an instructor once who sometimes told a lot and sometimes a little. Either way, this instructor would give informal, ungraded quizzes with questions that the assigned text didn’t quite make clear. Wanting to know the answer, I would give up too soon and ask. Silence ensued; the shroud of laziness was becoming apparent. However, when the instructor sensed that a student was interminably going around in circles, a clue would be forthcoming, and if that didn’t work, the instructor revealed full solutions.

As uncomfortable as this process was, it was immensely beneficial. Digging more and wanting less help on the front end became a way of life. Fragile students are not ready for too much of this; the shock might be too great. However, instructors grow in their ability to sense how much to reveal and how much to hide when it comes to being a catalyst for growth of knowledge in others.

no-helpThere is one particular short story, “The Coggios,” by Sharyn Layfield, that is told by an unidentified narrator. Students are assigned to give an identity to this narrator, and they frequently ask me, “What is the answer?” I tell them, “I don’t go there.” For one thing, no one knows, or at least, as far as I know, the author has never revealed that. I add, “If I wrote a story like that, I would never tell.”

One student, very frustrated at the assignment, protested, “That’s not fair!” I just looked at her and smiled.

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