The fine line between teaching and enabling

The fine line between teaching and enabling
Courtesy of

This week I introduced an activity that teaches seniors how to cite research articles they will use in their research papers. I broke this lesson down into very manageable parts, but you would have thought I asked the students to write a 10-page essay in 10 minutes.

I was met with responses such as this: isn’t there a program that makes the citation for me? This is too much work. I cannot find the information I need (translation: I do not want to read the information in front of me).

I know first hand how tempting it can be to step in and make everything better when students put on their best helpless faces. It is tempting to coddle, especially when the whining ensues.

After many years teaching and often teaching students who have been left behind either emotionally, academically or both, some extra guidance is necessary at times; however, all students benefit when the adults in their lives help them learn how to endure through a process.

The majority of teenage students need the chance to show us what they can do without us. I respect that the learning process can be a struggle. I also know we can be tempted to complete tasks for our young people because they happen to be a part of a generation that makes their struggles as loud as possible.

Students nowadays often do not have qualms about voicing their every emotion. Why should they considering high-ranking individuals in this country do it all the time without nary a thought or self edit? 

What has really captured my mind lately is hearing colleagues talk about technology and online education applications as a way to quiet the frustration our students often have when faced with tasks that require them to focus on more than their phones. I am not opposed to online applications that assist the learning process.

I do not, however, buy in to the notion that we must find ways to better engage students or “make the learning process more fun and entertaining,” as one colleague said in a meeting the other day. I do not think focusing on an app for this and an app for that equates to effective teaching or learning. 

The discussion about how to engage student learning should center around how we can work to have students become personally invested in the learning process as opposed to keeping them reliant on apps.

Learning can be a struggle. It can be uncomfortable, but the “fun” part can be when a student realizes he or she can be productive without technology.  

How much of a disservice is it when we do not teach students the how and the why of an application as opposed to making the app the whole lesson. Applications are tools not lessons. Applications should aid in learning not be the learning.

If students do not own the learning process, then the app becomes their go to as opposed to them choosing their minds first. I see firsthand how students struggle when they have to take initiative without the aid of technology.  

This week my students struggled to learn how to write their own citations on a works cited page. I taught them how to do it, and they were resistant at first. I sat back and let them become self sufficient even though all they wanted was for me to let them just use an app that would take away their pain, so to speak.

And guess what? All of the students finished the task, learned that they could do it, and perhaps learned that that process was not one that got the better of them.

I do think learning can be fun, but I guess it is the teaching process that we also have to pay attention to and be very careful not to take away the opportunity for students to learn how to become resilient in the face of struggle.

Students need to learn how to endure even when a process at first looks insurmountable. My students endured and were resilient this week. I’m fairly certain there is no app that can teach that.

Follow me on Facebook @modelingcuriosity and/or on Twitter @modelcuriosity. You can also subscribe to this ChicagoNow blog to receive future posts right to your email inbox:

Type your email address in the box and click the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.

Filed under: Education, Parenting

Leave a comment