Do I Need to Spoon Feed Them?

No, but you do need to help them learn.

A common complaint I hear from students is that their teacher doesn’t explain things well. It may be that the instructor actually explains things extremely well. However, students learn by more than hearing. They want to see how problems are solved, and they need practice solving problems themselves. These represent the three primary ways in which students (or anyone, you and me included) learn. Read on.

You may already know about the VAK system. VAK stands for visual, auditory and kinesthetic. If you are not appealing to all three of these learning styles, then you are leaving a gap. No, make that a precipice, into which some of your students will fall. This is especially true if you are teaching freshman level courses.

Okay, let me digress for a second. If you are not appealing to all three VAK learning modalities, maybe you are actually leaving a VAKuum? 🙂 (Hey, did I hear a groan? 🙁 )

You owe it to your students to deliver information (a.k.a. teach) to all three styles of learning. This is true in problem solving courses like chemistry and math. It is especially true in career and technical education (CTE) courses. Students study automotive technology and heating, ventilation and air condition because they are good with their hands. Once they do something, they have learned it. Based on my experience, a significant percentage of CTE students struggle to learn from the book and often don’t understand the details of what their instructor tells them.

An adjunct of mine, a wonderfully kindhearted CTE instructor, commented to me today that his students wanted to be spoon fed, and he wasn’t going to do that. I will be meeting him soon to discuss the complaints his students voiced to me. I was convinced that these respectful and articulate students were putting in the time and effort, but they need to see more examples. They like him as a person, but they don’t feel he is helping them learn. They need to watch him work problems and then work examples in class themselves. I will be explaining to my adjunct that accommodating these needs is not spoon feeding. He is an intelligent and caring person. He is capable of taking my advice to heart. However, if he doesn’t, I will not be able to hire him back, at least not to teach this particular course.

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

Posted March 9, 2010

About Dr. Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

My name is Paul Hummel, and I often introduce myself to others as a recovering engineer. If you are familiar with the Dilbert cartoons, let me simply say that I lived all of that. I started my college saga at Illinois Institute of Technology. Eventually, I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management. I worked for many years in industry, and during this time I did some college adjunct teaching. During my career I held several managerial positions in industry, the last as Director of Technology of a division of a Fortune 500 corporation. Then, in 1996, with minimal planning or forethought, I found myself working as a manufacturing consultant on behalf of Elgin Community College (ECC). My career in higher education began to take shape. I fell in love with ECC and with the mission of community colleges in general. I worked fulltime and occasionally taught college courses for my institution and two other colleges. After a couple years I set a goal to move over to the “credit side of the college” and eventually become a college administrator. In 2006, having earned my doctorate in education, I achieved that goal. I was hired by Waubonsee Community College as Dean for Technology, Mathematics and Physical Sciences. I have had the great fortune of working at two excellent colleges. The insights I want to share are drawn from the various college positions I have held. At ECC, in addition to my consulting role, I coordinated non-credit professional development training programs for three years and spent four years advising students in the TRiO Student Support Services program. That position helped me understand college education from the perspective of today’s college students. After seven years at Waubonsee, I retired April 30, 2013. I now devote my knowledge and skills to upgrading and expanding the websites I created beginning with Adjunct Assistance. I have three other websites: College Teaching Tips, Keys for College Success and Lighthouse for Learning. A lot of work lies ahead for me in terms of upgrading and expanding each of these websites, but I could not be more excited about fulfilling the vision I have for helping college instructors and their students succeed.

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