I always share my enthusiasm with my colleagues about my teaching approaches and very often one of the issues raised during our discussion is “spoon-feeding” or “over teaching”. “Don’t you think you are spoon-feeding your students by putting your hand-outs, notes, PowerPoints slides, etc. for them to freely download?” “Don’t you think we over teach our students?” – These are the questions commonly asked by my colleagues and also when I give a presentation related to teaching-learning issues. Hmm....actually these are difficult questions to answer because to me there is no fine line or clear demarcation as to what constitutes spoon-feeding or over teaching and what is not.
Well, this is what the dictionary says about spoon feeding in the context of teaching-learning:
"If you spoon-feed someone, you do everything for them or tell them everything that they need to know, thus preventing them from having to think or act for themselves. There is a tendency to spoon-feed your pupils when you’re teaching because it is quicker and easier" (Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary). So apparently the result of spoon-feeding in the academic context is the inhibition of the development of the capacity for independent thinking and learning.
I posted a question about this issue in my e-learning portal (title: Spoon-feeding: Are you being pampered?) and asked the students to give their response. Here is one of the responses (verbatim):
“Here is my two cents' worth. Honestly, it is not only me that has been spoon-fed, in fact "all" of us will have to raise up our hands and own up! (Please don't sue me for defamation because I think that this is true) Ha ha.... From young, we have been fed with a silver spoon by our biological parents and in school, the same goes with our dedicated "second-parents". The spoon feeding practice is part of our Malaysian education culture which has long built its warm nest and is still very much alive and breathing. That is why we turn out to be pampered passive learners...” (Chan Lai Ean).
I think providing our students with basic learning resources (within reasonable limit) do not mean we spoon feed the students. What’s important is how we design the learning activities - it should be designed carefully in such a manner that it would require the students to construct and scaffold the knowledge, individually or as part of their group assignment. In doing such activities they will acquire the essential skills such as using databases to search the literature and summarizing the information. After all, in this information era students can easily access and download various learning resources related to the subject, sometimes with better quality than those supplied by their teachers. For my course, I do provide students with basic hand-out and all my PowerPoint slides but they know that they cannot find the answer for the assignment without doing further reading and find more learning resources on their own.
What about “over teaching”? Is it possible to over teach? This issue is perhaps relevant and could happen in a traditional teacher-centered classroom when teachers try to deliver and transmit subject content to their students as much as possible. Enthusiastic teachers prone to do too much (rather than too little) during the 50 minutes lecture – very often they talk more than students do. According to Paula  this happens for several reasons: teachers are so anxious for students to learn that they try to shove as much information during the set time period, more than the students could effectively comprehend. It boils down to teachers making themselves feel good, thinking that they have covered the essential information on the topic/subject without much thought as to what the students are actually learning.
In student-centered learning paradigm, the role of teacher is shifted from merely transmitting the knowledge passively to students to one involving more students’ participation and responsibility in a classroom. However, one of the teachers’ concerns about student-centered approach is the notion that more time need to be allocated in a classroom for student-centered activities, taking away precious lecture time to cover the syllabus. Obviously in order to create a successful student-centered environment, teachers should change their mindset from “more is better” to “less is more” approach to classroom teaching. Instead of trying to cover everything in the subject, concentrate on fewer major (core) topics and spend more time on those. This approach would promote deep conceptual understanding rather than just a superficial or cursory knowledge of the subject. To facilitate learning and discussion, relevant learning resources can be uploaded in advanced on the learning portal and students can be instructed to read the materials before the lecture. Using this approach, class time can be used more productively to cover conceptually difficult material, leaving the students to cover the rest for themselves.
References and further readings:
- Evans, C., Gibbons, N.J., Shah, K. and Griffin, D.K. (2004) Virtual learning in the biological sciences: pitfalls of simply "putting notes on the web" Computers & Education, 43, 49-61.
- Felder, R.M. and Brent, R. Navigating the bumpy road to student-centered instruction.
- Paula, E. (2009). Be a more effective teacher: How to avoid over teaching in the collegiate business classroom. Proceedings of ASBBS, 16(1),