George Lucas Educational Foundation

How much help, is too much help

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Last year due to budget cuts, I was given my first co-taught high school english class (regular students mixed with ESE). I am teaching another this year. I have always allowed my kids to come before school and at lunch to make up assignments and get help. While my regular students take advantage of this opportunity regularly, many of my ESE students do not. Then, when I do help them with assignments most refuse to think for themselves and want me to do the work for them. I have made parent contact and truly am an optomist, but I feel like these students are tyimng my hands behind my back. Am I helping too much?

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April's picture

I often have this same question myself. I have one student, on an IEP, who has extreme self-confidence issues when it comes to academics. She is constantly wanting to help to the point that I sometimes feel like I'm doing her work for her. This situation was really bad at the beginning of the year, but she is getting better. For a while it was so frustrating because she would ask for help on EVERY question. I've finally got her to the place now where she has to read each question three times before coming up for help. When she does come up for help I have her read the question and then rephrase back to me what the question is asking. This technique does seem to be helping her and she is gaining much more confidence in herself. I do definately feel the same frustrations that many of you feel.

Teri's picture

April what a wonderful and patient teacher you are. What a good idea of having her read the question 3 times. One strategy I use is similar to yours, only I tell the kids they can only ask me 3 questions. Each time they raise their hand or come to my desk for help I put an X on the top of their paper. I have found they are more selective of what questions they ask and work harder at answering more on their own. This strategy encourages them to use their notes/and or other resources to help them and by them looking it up on their own they seem to retain it much better. Ironically I had started this in my honors classes as these students are so concerned about their grade. It has definitely increased their self confidence in math.

Jacqueline De long's picture

I feel the same way with my 5th graders. They are all reading below grade level, and they have seemed to have developed a learned helplessness. They know that they are struggling, and immediately turn to me for help before they try the assignment themselves. I sometimes wonder if they are really needing the help or if they have just learned that it is easier to have a teacher right there with you. I have been trying to implement a "Failure Is Not An Option" policy, but this can be hard with elementary students who are required to have some recess time each day. (even if it is walking laps for behavior. Many of my students do not have a lot of parental involvement at home and therefore, it is hard to get students to finish work at home. Any elementary teachers out there have suggestions as to how to help those students who don't want to do their work, get their work turned in on time?

Jennifer Powers's picture

I like that phrase "failure is not an option" I should put that up in my class. I teach third grade and I do not accept failure either. If a student receives a failing grade on a paper, I remediate with them and have them do the paper again. I then take that grade and I either average the two out or I put the new grade in my gradebook. I tell my students that I am not there to fail them or pass them, but to assist them with their learning. Therefore, I believe that remediating them I am ensureing that they understand the concept. It has also slowed down them rushing through assignments. Because they do not want to lose their special time to sit with me and be remediated.

Lindsay Banks's picture

Jaqueline, I have the same problem, but in my fifth grade math class. I have those students who go above and beyond what they are supposed to do, and some who make no effort at all. Because of an unspoken "no zero" policy at my school, some of my students do not even try, because they know that they will receive a 50 for showing up to class. I have tried rewards geared toward my whole class, that seem to make the students want to finish their work. The most effective reward that I entice the students with is, if they do all of the assigned work for the week, the following Monday, the students who did what they were supposed to do get to eat their lunches in the classroom with me and watch a short movie. They love it and I have less of a problem getting work turned in.

Traci's picture

[quote]I have started making them work for my help. They have to prove that they have read something before I will help them, I am not just going to give them anwsers anymore. [/quote]

I love the idea of making students work for your help! What I have found in my classroom is that the students who really need the help try to do it by themselves, and other students see an aide who is willing to help, and prey upon her for answers. Unfortunately, this has lead to the students who don't need the help seeing lower test scores because they do not take the time to study the content.

On the flip side, when there is a lower functioning student who does accept help, I worry that I am setting him up for failure in the next grade. Our 7th grade students do not seem to receive as much support as our 6th grade students, and I worry that by giving modified work that includes a word bank or the first and last letter of a word, I am setting expectations for modified work that they may or may not get in 7th grade.

I have considered the "failure is not an option" philosophy, but I also think that there needs to be a consequence for performing poorly on work. It's a catch-22. Some may say redoing it is punishment, but if a student redoes an assignment and gradually does better through trial and error ten times and manages to pull an A or B in the course, have they really been punished or learned anything at all?

Prem Gandhi's picture

Prem Gandhi
Grade 7 Math Teacher

I agree with your idea about making our students responsible than spoon-feeding them. Too much of help or guidance simply kills their skills, specially in a subject area like mathematics. To work independently is the sole way to learn this subject and students usually don't like it. As a way out to this problem, my daily grading policy is totally student response oriented. No participation in developing the ongoing topic carries them a D, most of the time. They simply hate D's, so get more involved.

Prem Gandhi's picture

I agree with your idea on making out students more responsible than spoon-feeding them. Too much help or guidance simply kills their learning skills, specially in a subject area like Mathematics. They cannot learn the content unless they work independently. To motivate them, my daily grading policy is basically student response oriented. The more they get involved to build up the topic, the better the grade. No participation simply gets them a D. No one likes a D, so it results in better student participation.

Jacqueline De long's picture


The idea that you had about lunch in the classroom seems like a great incentive. My school also has that same, unspoken, "no zero" policy. Thanks for your idea! I may just run that by my principal tomorrow!


Martha Elliot-Sansavior's picture

I believe when you give a child all the answers and do not allow them to use their knowledge that is too much help. I have been teaching for the past seventeen years, when my students are stumped with a problem in anything, we always walk it thorough. I let them tell me what they know and what it is they want to know. I would then ask questions that would lead them to the answer. My final question would be " What do you think you have to do?" The students always smile or as you would say you "see a light come on". Sometimes, all we need to do is help the students apply the knowledge they know. Many students do not have the critical thinking skills, we as educators need to develop that aspect into their studies.

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