I. Arguments for Spoon- Feeding
- Spoon-feeding is not necessarily bad. In terms of skill
acquisition, there is a need to go through the hard work
and routine before one advances to a higher level.
- Students expect to be spoon-fed and our teaching evaluations
depend on their perception. We also have to be concerned
with keeping our jobs.
- There is a wide range of abilities among the students
and we do not have a sufficiently comfortable student-teacher
ratio for coaching them individually.
- The time given to complete each module is limited. We
do not have enough time to try out alternative techniques.
- People just have to be spoon-fed. Even in executive management
courses, 50–60-year-old senior level officials of
private companies, vice-presidents, and chief accountants
are waiting to be spoon-fed. So you cannot blame a third
year student who has only one or two more classes to finish
to expect it.
II. Arguments against Spoon- Feeding
- If we define spoon-feeding as ‘providing help or
information that would inhibit learning’, then spoon-feeding
is bad. There is confusion between spoon-feeding and the
giving of help or information. If certain information is
crucial for the students to develop further, then giving
that information is necessary.
Another issue is whether it is necessary to provide the
basic information first and then at a later stage focus
on the thinking ability. You can help learners construct
a body of knowledge rather than tell it to them. So there
is no basic knowledge that we have to give them first such
that they can think or process things later. The entire
acquisition of knowledge can be done through discovery or
knowledge- construction. We should not assume that spoon-feeding
addresses lower level learning and non-spoon-feeding techniques
cover advanced things.
- The argument based on the variability of students’
ability is a problem for ANY mode of teaching. For instance
in lecturing, we have to recognise that some students are
extremely good and some extremely bad. So if we try to address
the higher-level group, we lose the lower-level one; if
we try to address the lower group, the higher group will
get bored and disinterested. So we look at the mid-range,
ignoring the extremes, and then give some special consideration
outside the general scheme for the extremely poor ones and
the extremely bright ones. But we have to address the general
bulk of the students in the middle, and that goes for alternative
modes of teaching as well. So that is not an argument for
spoonfeeding, but for the need to address the mid-range
- If we use active or interactive modes of teaching, it
is true that the first few weeks are slow, but speed picks
up incredibly fast. In certain courses, using these alternative
modes of teaching, students are able to construct principles
that they would not have even been able to understand as
third year students if they were to be spoonfed. So the
speed is much faster, rather than slower.
- If teachers continue to practise spoon-feeding, it is
very difficult for those who are trying to break away from
it to succeed.
III. Alternatives to Spoon- Feeding
- In 1999, the Faculty of Medicine introduced a new pedagogical
method, Problem-Based Learning (PBL), which is a way of
getting away from spoon-feeding. PBL is conducted in small
groups: students have to discuss a given problem and what
sort of basic knowledge they require to understand the problem
or try to solve the problem, and they go off for a few days
or a week and return with whatever knowledge they have gathered
on their own to discuss it again. The students have responded
well and the staff have told us that they actually had to
restrain themselves from giving the answers. We have found
this method very useful.
- Some universities in the U.S. do not assign any grades
to students in their first year. They just go through the
learning process, and cultivate a new thinking process.
Serious examination grading starts only from the second
year onwards. In this way, students go through the different
and tough environment in university and get used to it first.
- It has to do with high and low challenges, and high and
low support. If there is low challenge and low support,
there is no learning; high challenge and low support, students
give up. If you have low challenge and high support, then
you have spoon-feeding; but high challenge and high support
will lead to meaningful learning.
From the student’s side, there are high and low participation,
and high and low cognition. High participation and cognition
will lead to meaningful learning. If you have high cognition,
low support (i.e. you demand them to think a lot, but provide
little support and guidance), students will not participate;
they will give up. If you have low cognition> and low participation,
you have no learning. If you have high participation, and
low cognition, it leads to rote learning. And rote learning
and spoon-feeding are actually related.
Many of us still regard learning as acquisition of knowledge.
So that is why we talk a lot about assessment and grades,
because we think that if students can answer questions in
a test, they have the necessary knowledge, and deserve an
‘A’. But learning should be regarded as the
construction of knowledge.
IV. Responsibility to Introduce Change
- Singaporean students who study abroad are able to change.
Based on this evidence, we have the responsibility to implement
necessary changes. Not all colleagues would do so because
there is the teaching evaluation to consider. Students have
their strategies; they want the easy way. However, we should
not fall into their trap.
- If the students face the same level of challenge in all
courses, they will change their mindsets. They can be good.
I think it is because so many of our colleagues take the
easy way out. In the first and second years, students should
have gone through enough to snap out of the spoonfeeding
- We have to change our style of assessment. The motivation
for students in Singapore is the exams. If questions are
of the ‘write a brief account of…’ or
‘give a brief description of…’ type, students
will all go for rote learning—why should they bother
with other methods? But if the exam style changes, they