TITLE: An Advantage To Needing to Ask For Help AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: September 16, 2012 9:17 AM DESC: ----- BODY: A week or so ago I tweeted about a student who came by the office for some help with a programming assignment. When told that he'd be hearing this explanation again in class later in the day, he said, that's okay, "that way I get to learn it better". This episode came to mind again when I wrote this paragraph in my entry yesterday about learning to talk about their programs, the ideas they embody, and the reasons they wrote the code they did:
To learn learn such skills, students need practice. The professor needs to ask open-ended questions in class and out. Asking good questions outside of class is especially important because it's in the hallway, the lab, and office hours where students find themselves one on one with the professor and have to answer the questions themselves. They can't fall back on the relative anonymity of even a small class to avoid the hard work of forming a thought and trying to say it out loud.
This is another good reason for students to go to office hours and otherwise to engage with the professor outside of class: Not only do they get answers to the questions. they also get more and better practice talking about problems and solutions than students who don't. This offers an unexpected advantage to the student who doesn't quite "get it" yet over the student who just barely gets it: The former might well come in to get help. The latter probably won't. The former gets more interaction and more individualized practice. The latter gets neither. A lot of professors encourage all students to talk to them about their programs. Obviously, students doing poorly obviously can benefit from help. Students at the top of the curve are ones who often can benefit from going beyond what they see in class, going farther or deeper. But perhaps we should work even harder to encourage an unlikely group of students to come see us: the ones who are doing just well enough. They don't stand out in any way that makes the prof seek them out, and that may place them at risk of losing ground to other students. That's a tough sell, though. It's human nature not to seek help when we don't think we need it. If we seem to understand the material and are doing okay on the assignments, do we really need help? There are also pragmatic issues like time management. Student who are doing okay in my course are likely to focus their efforts on other courses, where they feel like they need more work and help. So, it becomes even more important for the professor to engage all of the students in a course, both as a group and as individuals, in reflective thinking, speaking, and writing. Otherwise, some students who need practice with these skills might not seek it out on their own. Most of us know that there was an advantage to being willing to ask questions. Rarely do we think about how there might be an advantage to needing to ask questions. -----