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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
Issues Discussed at the Q-&-A Session
(at the 30 October 1999 CDTL Workshop)

I. Arguments for Spoon- Feeding

  1. 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.

  2. Students expect to be spoon-fed and our teaching evaluations depend on their perception. We also have to be concerned with keeping our jobs.

  3. 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.

  4. The time given to complete each module is limited. We do not have enough time to try out alternative techniques.

  5. 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

  1. 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.

  2. 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 group.

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  1. 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.

  2. 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 system.

  3. 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 will change.
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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)