Last week a student walked by while I was at the circulation desk. “Hello, my angel,” she said. She calls me this every time she comes by. What did I do to deserve this? Did I save her life? No, I showed her how to attach her document to an email. Well, actually, the first time I did it for her.
Aha! I hear you saying. You’re spoon-feeding students over there in the library.
And I say, “Yep, sure am. And proud of it.”
You see, the student was scared to death. She didn’t remember how to get in her course shell, let alone send an email or attach something to it. And her paper was due. She was already stressed, so I did it while saying each step out loud.
The next time she came in the library, she was able to get in the course’s email before needing my help. And not being so rushed this time, she took notes on the rest of the steps. Now she sends emails like a pro. And when she needs help, she asks. But most of the time, she walks by the desk, says hello, and goes to do her assignment.
We may get angry at students who want us to do things for them, things that we remember having to learn and do on our own in college. But what we mistake for learned helplessness may be just a paralyzing fear of getting started, and once students are shown how to do something in a nonthreatening way, they’re willing to give it a try.
Last year, we had a student who seemed to be the textbook case of someone who wanted spoon-feeding. Her first encounter with one staff member was to demand that he make copies for her. If she had an assignment, she would ask the librarians to find her books and article titles, and then to get the actual books and articles for her.
When she’d put titles on the circulation desk on her way to class and say, “I’ll be by to pick this up tomorrow,” we had a discussion of whether we were helping too much. But then someone noticed something. She had started making her own copies. And while she wanted us to get books for her, she had started looking them up in the catalog on her own. What we realized is that she wanted to be as independent as we wanted her to be, but it was going to be a process.
We all have the same goal–to make our students independent and life-long learners. But we have to realize they don’t all start at the same place. Older students are facing a classroom that looks radically different from what they remember. “A paperless classroom” can sound as foreign as a calculus problem. And while we’d like to believe our younger students are more tech savvy than we are, the digital divide is very real and has the potential to keep students from being successful. For these students, the sink-or-swim approach is going to result in more sinking than swimming. They need a little more hand-holding in the beginning.
So go ahead. Call me a spoon feeder. It’s a badge I wear with pride.