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Much debate has generated over the issue of Spoon-Feeding. What is spoon-feeding? Are we spoon-feeding our students? Do they expect us to do so? Is spoon-feeding necessarily harmful? Can we break away from it? These are some of the issues discussed at the CDTL workshop on spoon-feeding held on 30 October 1999. In this issue of CDTL Brief, we present several viewpoints on this topic and the concerns raised at the workshop.

May 2000, Vol. 3 No. 2 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Professor K.P. Mohanan
Department of English Language & Literature/
Deputy Director, CDTL

The Concept of Spoon-Feeding

What is spoon-feeding? It might be useful to begin with dictionary definitions of spoon-feeding as the first step towards an answer.

Spoon-fed: 1. Fed with a spoon.
  2. Treated with excessive solicitude; pampered.
  3. Given no opportunity to act or think for oneself: Having always been spoon-fed, she couldn’t meet the challenge of college.
Spoon-feed: To cause to be spoon-fed.
(Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language)
Spoon-feed: 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. e.g. There is a tendency to spoon-feed your pupils when you’re teaching because it is quicker and easier.
(Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary)

In the literal sense of the term, ‘spoon-feeding’ refers to performing a physical action for children that they can do on their own, or which they are ready to learn to do with some effort. The result of spoon-feeding in the context of eating is the inhibition of the development of the capacity to feed oneself. Translating this into the pedagogical domain, we may say that if students are capable of doing X, or are at a stage that they can learn to do X with some struggle on their part and help from the teacher, the teacher’s doing X for the learner constitutes spoon-feeding. The result of spoon-feeding in the academic context is the inhibition of the development of the capacity for independent thinking and learning. Hence, spoon-feeding in pedagogy would be the activity of preventing possible mental development by doing for the learner what the learner could have done for himself/herself. To appreciate this concept of spoon-feeding, we need to understand what spoon-feeding impedes, namely, the capacity to learn independently and the capacity to think independently.

Independent Learning and Independent Thinking

What do we mean by ‘independent learning’? Suppose we say that dependent learning is characterised by the need to depend upon educational institutions and teachers to learn something, it would then follow that independent learning is characterised by the capacity to learn without depending upon educational institutions and teachers.

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Inside this issue
Spoon-Feeding in 'Do' Disciplines
Spoon-Feeding in Higher Education
Avoiding Spoon-Feeding: The Creative Teaching of Geography
Issues Discussed at the Q-&-A Session (at the 30 October 1999 CDTL Workshop)