Walking The Line: Facilitation And Frustration

A recent article in the New Yorker by Elizabeth Kolbert titled "Spoiled Rotten," got us thinking about the balance we strike between making things "easier" versus allowing some amount of frustration in mastering new material when working with our students.  We all want our students to develop the ability to persevere when faced with novel and challenging tasks and to cultivate a sense of self that allows them to meet difficult tasks with confidence and independence.  We also want them to know that asking for help is at times not only completely appropriate, but that many circumstances in school and in the broader theater of life necessitate it.  How we go about accomplishing that speaks to the very heart of our philosophy.

Our work in a one-on-one setting with students is characterized by a conscious effort to assess each student's differing needs.  That level of sensitivity reaches into a session-by-session (and often finer gradation) adjustment with an individual student.  In other words, we recognize that "what worked last time" may or may not be effective the next time and we change accordingly.  

We believe strongly in the notion of "successive approximations" in trying to equip our students with a combination of skills and confidence that facilitates progress.  That means for example that when we are teaching a student whose writing creativity may be outstanding but whose organization is not, that we must determine the proper balance between facilitating the immediate and allowing a bit of struggle to promote long-term gain.  That might manifest itself in the form of what we like to call a "give away."  If the aforementioned student has less than adequate paragraph organization in a composition, we may organize a single paragraph for her and then say, "You now have a model of how to organize.  Why don't you try it on paragraph two?"  This kind of strategy balances the competing exigencies of needing to finish the work and feel good about doing it, with the longer-term goals of independence and facility.  The "successive apporoximations" part comes in when the next time that same student comes to us with a writing assignment, we remind her that she knows how to organize a paragraph, so this time we're going to work a bit on improving her topic sentences.  All the while we are keeping an eye on the goal of becoming a competent writer while still administering "boosts" of confidence with each component of the process.

Do you have any tips/techniques that you use in helping your student to "walk the line" between long and short-term goals?  We'd love to hear them!

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