Supervising Self-learning


Reference: Critical Thinking in Education


The purpose of supervision is to help students learn directly from study materials.



Given proper study material, the students should be able to self-learn. If a student is unable to focus, it is because he is unable to study the materials. The job of the supervisor is to quickly isolate the student’s confusion and give him the right materials to study. Sometimes it may require a bit of troubleshooting to set the student up properly.

Here is an actual example of a troubleshooting session.

SUPERVISOR:     “Is there something in math you don’t feel quite comfortable with?”

STUDENT:            “Yes… multiplication.”

SUPERVISOR:     “Alright.  What does the word MULTIPLY mean?”

STUDENT:            “Umm…”

(The SUPERVISOR explained the process of multiplication as “repeated addition.”)

SUPERVISOR:     “I am going to check you out on the multiplication of two single-digit numbers.  What is ‘three times two’?”

STUDENT:            “Six.”

SUPERVISOR:     “What is ‘four times three’?”

STUDENT:            “Twelve.”

SUPERVISOR:     “What is ‘six times six’?”

STUDENT:            “Oh, that’s a big number.”

(The student could multiply with very small numbers, but got nervous when larger numbers were asked.)

SUPERVISOR:     “Six times six would be adding six to itself six times.  Can you do this addition and tell me the sum?”

STUDENT:            (Pause) “Oh! I don’t like adding either.”

(The SUPERVISOR then demonstrated the process of addition as “counting together.”)

SUPERVISOR:     “Adding is counting numbers together. Are you comfortable with counting?”

STUDENT:            “Yes, I can count.  One, two, three, …”

SUPERVISOR:     (Stops her at the count of twenty) “Very good.  Now count for me starting from eight hundred ninety five.”

STUDENT:            (Taken aback) “Oh! That is a big number… (thinking) eight hundred ninety-six, eight hundred ninety-seven, eight hundred ninety-eight, eight hundred ninety-nine (long pause) two hundred, two hundred one…”

The student did not know what number followed eight hundred ninety-nine.  By this time it was evident that the student was shaky in her understanding of the numbering system itself.  The student was then assigned appropriate materials to study. She was then able to focus and make rapid progress.



In the normal course the supervisor applies the principle of gradient (as demonstrated below) to help the student overcome his difficulties. Here is an actual example of assisting a young child write numbers.

SUPERVISOR:     “Is it ok if I ask you to write some numbers for me?”

STUDENT:            “Yes.”

SUPERVISOR:     “Alright.  Can you write six thousand, seven hundred eighty-three?”

STUDENT:            “Umm…”

SUPERVISOR:     “That’s ok.  See if you can write seven hundred eighty-three?”

(The student thinks for a moment and writes “700 83”.  The SUPERVISOR noticed that she could write eighty-three correctly.)

SUPERVISOR:     “Ok.  Can you write eighty-three for me?”

(The student smiles and writes “83”.)

SUPERVISOR:     “Excellent.  Can you write one hundred?”

(The student writes “100” correctly.)

SUPERVISOR:     “Very good.  Now, can you write one hundred one?”

(The student writes “101” correctly.  The SUPERVISOR then asked the student to write “one hundred nine” and “one hundred ten”.  The student wrote them correctly.)

SUPERVISOR:     “Excellent.  Can you write one hundred eighty-three?”

(The student pauses then writes “183” correctly.)

SUPERVISOR:     “That is correct.  Now write seven hundred eighty-three for me?”

(The student feeling more confident writes “783”.)

And so on…

The general supervision is basically devoted to helping the students develop better study habits. The supervisor encourages the student not to go past any word he does not understand. He must get that word defined. Supervisor helps him with the definition of the word. Gradually, the student learns to look up such words himself from dictionary.

Sometimes the student cannot understand a sentence even after he has looked up the words in that sentence for their definitions. In this case the supervisor helps the student make examples of what that sentence is saying. If the student disagrees then he makes examples of how that sentence is incorrect, and how it could be correct. The student may find that he was using the wrong definition for a common, simple word in that sentence.


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