College professor Robert over at brightMystery has an enthralling exchange of emails all centered around a certain hapless, and flunking, student:
Let's call this student "Pat". Pat was in my calculus class; Pat was a nice person, easy to talk to and we enjoyed a good rapport personally. But Pat was not doing well in the course, and Pat's visits to office hours showed me why. If I told Pat what to do on a problem, Pat could do it most of the time with a little prompting. But in terms of working problems alone, Pat would get hopelessly stuck every time...So the problem wasn't Pat's skill with the material so much -- the processing skill was the problem.
Accordingly, when Pat would ask me a question such as, "Can you tell me how to do problem 7?", I would say: Let's start by asking the right questions. What are you being asked to do in this problem? What information is given to you in the problem statement? And what do you know from the course, your reading, or your work on other exercises that will help get you to the goal? I made it a point to NEVER give Pat explicit help on content unless it was a last resort...
Sounds like an excellent calculus teacher, right? One-on-one tutoring with emphasis on the process, not just memorizing facts; many college profs wouldn't have gone this far. Despite this, Pat didn't do well as the course progressed, and sent an email with his interpretation of his poor grades:
Pat sent me an email just after midterms that said something like: I now understand why I am not doing well in your class. My learning style is such that you have to show me exactly what to do, or else I can't do it. But you always answer my questions with more questions, which isn't showing me exactly what to do. So from now on, please show me exactly what to do first, and then I should be able to do it.
I would have had trouble controlling my blood pressure at that point, and would have been unable to resist - though Robert did - sending an reply taking a few hard swats at Pat with a clue bat. But it gets better. Pat's mom starts sending emails accusing the professor of ignoring poor Pat and his "disability":
...I know [Pat] tried to explain to you that when [Pat] asks questions [Pat] needs answers not another question. We had [Pat] tested at [a local university] in January through the suggestion of [an academic counselor at my college]. During this testing we found out [Pat] has a learning disability. [Pat] does better with visual explanations then being asked another question. [Pat] needs to see how to physically work a problem so he can comprehend it....
I know this takes up more of your time but all people learn differently. This was one of the reasons we choose a small college because of the special attention a student gets. I would appreciate it if when [Pat] asks a question if you could show [Pat] how to do it and explain it then answer it with another question.
The ensuing emails are highly entertaining, not least because Robert has extensive experience in tutoring students with disabilities. Read it all. Can I just say that Robert has much more self-control than I do? And can I also say that the blogosphere is a godsend for those who have to deal with this kind of nonsense?Posted by kswygert at June 15, 2005 04:50 PM