ART BY ESTELLE ZHOU
By JENIBELLE HSU
“Read Chapter 3. We will have a test on Monday.”
We all have heard teachers say this, and all have criticized that “some teachers do not teach.” With teachers not focusing on relevant skills and forcing students to learn the material themselves, students resort to the infamous practice of “self-studying,” a learning method where students learn without teacher instruction. This technique is frequently seen used by high school students, especially in easygoing yet labor-intensive classes, such as Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Students choose to buy and read textbooks or preparatory books, because following a teacher’s lectures or doing assigned homework may not always ensure a passing grade on difficult exams.
While autodidactic, or self-taught, students are independent learners, many of them will not reach their fullest potential. “Self-studying” thwarts students from apprehending core ideas and acquiring practical skills, two aspects that the traditional classroom emphasizes.
The importance of an instructor’s role in a student’s education is most imminent when students encounter teachers who “do not teach.” In that case, students realize the huge disadvantage that they have in developing their abilities. For one, productivity may decrease because they no longer have the encouragement to excel above and beyond.
When students rely on “self-studying” to learn key concepts, they are suddenly left to ride a bike without training wheels. In other words, young, autodidactic students who simply read textbooks and surf through internet articles may be lost, as they may encounter difficulties developing a consistent work habit and recognizing what information is important.
Without an adult’s continuous support, students may lose enthusiasm to learn, especially when they make mistakes or deem the material is too hard. Consequently, students often give up before grasping the whole concept.
Furthermore, it is the teacher’s responsibility to highlight rudimentary ideas, which helps students fathom more complex concepts. When teachers fail to execute their job, students may assume they must know every detail in a 300-page textbook to fully comprehend a subject. However, big ideas often summarize smaller details. When students absorb all the text, they use more time to learn less.
Of course, the traditional classroom includes more than the teacher. In general, students learn better with peers in a classroom than alone with a Princeton preparatory book. Especially at the elementary and middle school levels, a student’s academic success is largely influenced by his or her experience in the classroom. Teachers often adjust their teaching styles to tailor to younger students and explain basic concepts with engaging techniques, such as colorful narratives, analogies or gut-wrenching puns. Therefore, teachers allow students to learn effectively by fostering an environment where students themselves want to learn and improve. This is a priceless aspect of in-class learning, as each student deserves an outstanding and enjoyable education.
Moreover, a classroom atmosphere cultivates other skills essential for students’ careers. For example, public-speaking, technological skills and teamwork inherently improve with practice, not textbooks, thus revealing a notable setback with self-studying for major subjects in schools.
Nevertheless, many assert that self-studying can foster discipline and independence in students. Hence, there is the existence of high school clubs such as Future Business Leaders of America and Science Olympiad, which challenge students to learn collegiate-level material in a college-like environment, one where students do not have much guidance from a teacher. Although these clubs offer a head-start for aspiring businessmen and scientists, self-studying does have its limits.
The main problem is that autodidactic students may fail to apply their knowledge to unfamiliar or real-life problems and overall have difficulty seeing the big ideas. These students, when preparing for a test, often memorize the information presented in the recommended preparation book or textbook, as opposed to understanding underlying themes.
While autodidactism has increased popularity particularly in high school, the teacher and the classroom dynamic remains irreplaceable. As the demand and workload on high school students soar, teachers are instrumental for pushing students to accomplish beyond their potential and getting discouraged teens back on their feet.
Self-studying, in a sense, is like leaving students to find the exit to a maze by themselves: within the first few minutes, they will be lost. Though they will find their way out, there is no guarantee they will remember the way back to the entrance. Ultimately, everyone needs a guide to direct the way to the end of the tunnel, so they can see the light as they turn back.