16 Oct

Student Independence – Won’t Think For Himself

I am still unsure how to help him think more about the questions rather than depending on me. I have explained how to look for similar questions in his notebook and also with the worked examples in the notebook but even when I offer clues rather than just doing it for him he gives me blank looks and says “I don’t know” often.

The issue of having rule dependent or student dependent students is not an easy one to solve. Before anything else, you should prepare yourself to be patient and take your time working on this problem – you will not fix it over night.

Usually we might talk about the self questioning process and offering clues as you suggested. However, from your description is seems that the student is just not in the habit of thinking for themselves. It also seems as if they are not aware that they are not thinking for themselves and maybe cannot explicitly connect to the idea of thinking for themselves in the context of mathematics.

As their maths tutor it must be super tempting to answer their questions and cover content – that’s what you’re there for after all. However, this will never yield an independent student. Here are some ideas:

  • Make sure the student is aware of the problem. Like many students they assume they don’t know how to do the question if the process is not immediately obvious to them. They need to understand the simple truth that mathematics is about thinking not about knowing.
  • Model this on yourself. Find questions that you may not know immediately how to answer and talk aloud through your process of comprehension. Help develop the concept of “figuring stuff out”. This also demonstrates that it’s ok to be wrong or not know the answer, even for you.
  • This will take heaps of time so you can’t afford to do it all the time but – refuse to answer the question if you are 100% certain he is capable of doing it himself.
  • Show him another similar question then try to get him to cross contextualise it.
  • Break the question down into ridiculously easy bits, get him to find answers and connect the dots.
  • Show him similar questions in his textbook or workbook. (This is different to teaching him how to use his notes – be there with him while he’s using his notes to figure stuff out but only guide his usage). The purpose is to have him answer the question
  • Help him with the self questioning process.
  • Resist moving on until he himself has solved the problem. This may make you feel uncomfortable if he is really struggling that’s why it’s important to chose your battles wisely – only questions you know he can figure out. Once he’s gotten through the problem on his own, even if it took him 20min instead of 1min – make a big deal about it. Use this experience as a metaphor for proving your point about his capability to think independently and demonstrating what it means to do so.
  • You need to create experiences for this student where he figure out answers on his own – it seems like he currently has no frame of reference for doing so.
  • The more of these experiences you create the more of a map he will develop for going through the discovery/comprehension process. With enough time, he can and will think for himself.
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