SSDL — More on Stage 1 Learners

A Different Idea about Teaching Stage 1 Learners

Hersey and Blanchard handle Stage 1 learners (low self-direction) in a detached, objective, efficient manner, with little personal interaction. It is almost a behaviorist mode.

When Ames and Ames adapted the Situational Leadership model, they advocated treating Stage 1 learners differently–with warmth, encouragement, and support. Ames and Ames seem to be saying that students at the bottom of this ladder need the most encouragement, the most motivating, the most enthusiasm from their teachers.

I don’t know if one approach is best. Teaching at a historically Black university has exposed me to many teachers, and students, who agree more with Ames than with Hersey and Blanchard. It seems natural for many of my African American colleagues to teach with great personal warmth. And many of my least-independent students seem to expect that kind of warmth. Some are so accustomed to being encouraged that they actually seem to suffer, in a manner of speaking, from too much self-esteem–or at least from a self-esteem that is unconnected with personal achievement. I have had students who showed no shame at failing to perform, but took this cheerfully as if it was just another minor intrusion of an irrelevant world.

At this point, I can only identify one problem that arises when you try to replace the strict, objective Stage 1 teaching style with a warm and encouraging tone: Many students who have been accustomed to warmth, encouragement, and support appear to have become rather addicted to it. They expect it. They demand it. They demand that teachers bend over backwards for them, meet them 90% of the way, do work for them, forgive their slackness, and promote them whether they passed or not.

It is in this situation that a Stage 1 teacher can be effective, requiring immediate, definite performance by the student and evaluating it frequently. Awarding grades strictly on the basis of objective, measurable progress. Requiring that students accomplish clearly defined tasks that are within their ability, and holding them to the timeline and the standards of performance. Letting students know exactly where they stand at all times, in terms of what they have done and what they need to do.

Now this strictness can be combined with encouragement and motivation, but in Stage 1, everything depends upon the student actually doing the work. That is why so much Stage 1 learning takes place in the classroom, on the spot, under close supervision, step by step by step, until students are ready to move to material that demands greater self-direction.

There is a delicate balance between encouraging and requiring, motivating and demanding performance. The Stage 1 teacher must always stay on her side of the line and insist that students perform. Real achievement is essential to self-esteem.

Naturally, this can lead to problems of student resistance and subversion mentioned in the article. The best antidote I know to this is to give Stage 1 students things to do that are clearly meaningful, and which enable them to make a clear chart of their progress.


Articles and Creative Work