Holding hands and helping students study right

There’s a difference between helping a student and holding their hand.

A big difference.

photo by gfpeck

photo by gfpeck

As a student, there were many areas in which I needed more guidance and help than I actually received.  Help may have been around, but I wasn’t always made aware of it.

Some people argue that students have their hands held and should learn to be more independent.  They say things like, “You can’t act like a child your whole life.  Learn to deal with your own problems, don’t get other people to sort them out for you.”

This argument is misguided nonsense, but I’ve heard variations of it many times.  C. A. Mace explores this mistaken argument through the question of what a student should read:

“The college student is guided by his teacher.  Some teachers rattle off a reading list in what might seem a very irresponsible way.  If the student attempted to read all the books on the list it would take him several years to get through them.  If the complaint is made that the teacher does not indicate which books, which parts of each book are essential the teacher replies, ‘Good heavens, my students do not expect to be spoonfed.  That are mature enough to exercise their own judgement.’  This is perhaps a rather heavy responsibility to fasten on young shoulders.” [C. A. Mace – The Psychology of Study]

Using this example, an academic needn’t hold a student’s hand.  They can help students find a suitable direction by suggesting major introductory textbooks, or titles specific to an essay the student is working on, or works seen as crucial in the field.  Some reading lists are more helpful than others!

The aim is to help students think independently by offering a platform to work from or a specific area to begin with.  All books on a reading list should be relevant, but a list alone is often daunting.  How can a student make suitable choices for study without understanding why a book is on a list?  It will become clear as time goes on, but what’s the point in any student making this revelation just as they’re about to graduate!?  Much better to be helped toward realising this as soon as possible.

Therefore, in order to move forward, it’s necessary to outline why and how particular options would benefit a student.

You make your own decisions, but you need to understand the implications to make them wisely. You can’t tell the future, but neither do you need to make a bunch of random choices:

“To exhort others to think is like telling them to be clever, or to love their enemies…If the student is to be told to think about his work he must be shown how to do it.” [Mace]

Being told what to do in isolation won’t get you closer to working anything out on your own.  That is merely a hand holding exercise.

Something which allows you to continue independent study with greater understanding and/or a more specific focus, is helpful.

See?  Big difference.

We don’t need our hands held. We just need a basis from which to explore.  As Mace quite rightly says, “We are more likely to find the needle in the haystack if we know that we are looking for it”.

It’s wonderful to stumble upon something by accident, but undergraduate study shouldn’t be a series of forced stumbles.  You should be jumping visible hurdles, not tackling major blind spots.  Hurdles aren’t always easy to jump, but at least you have an idea what you’re trying to clear!

Have you been given enough help throughout your studies?  Do you feel like tutors are holding your hand, or even ignoring you completely?