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When do we stop chewing their food?

Posted on January 23rd, 2012 by David Coffey

The birds have found the feeder. We moved it and a suet holder closer to the house this winter since the trees that used to shelter them were cut down over the summer. I was afraid that their proximity to the house might frighten the birds, but it has not been a problem. In fact, it has made it easier to watch the birds as they feed.

During the spring and summer, I watched as the adult birds fed the babies. The adults would grab food from the feeder and place it in the mouths of the babies waiting on nearby branches. I do not anticipate seeing much of this behavior over the winter. I could be wrong, but I think the birds that visit our feeder and suet cakes have outgrown the need to be beak-fed.

When does this happen in education? In other words: when do we quit feeding learners information and expect them to fend for themselves? This came up this past week as I talked with university colleagues about student evaluations. We have all had comments that our students want more lecture because that is how they “learn” best. I make up that these comments are from students who have come to expect that the teacher’s role is to gather and chew up educational information for students to consume. Is that too harsh?

For the sake of completing this post, let us assume that this learned helplessness is indeed the problem. What can we do about it? This is where I try to apply the Teaching-Learning Cycle and the Gradual Release of Responsibility. The Teaching-Learning Cycle provides a framework where I can identify the information and the processes learners need to make it on their own, monitor learners’ progress toward these goals, and plan and implement appropriate supports. The Gradual Release of Responsibility represents an instructional approach which helps learners to “fend for themselves” through a series of lessons that begin with demonstrations, move to collaboration, and eventually result in independent practice.

I am fortunate that my colleague, who teaches the prerequisite course for the one I am teaching now, uses these frameworks in his practice. Even after only a few days I have seen a difference in my learners. Not everyone of these learners had John’s section, but those who did are able to share with the rest what is expected of them in and out of class. I get the feeling that there will be a lot less gathering and chewing on my part this semester. And for that, I am grateful

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