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Sunday, May 24, 2009

What do you mean You Don't Know??!?

I was just browsing through the most recent Carnival of Education and came across this fantastic post by Loony Hiker (Pat) of Successful Teaching. How often have you heard your students answer a relatively simple question with the words, "I don't know?"

Do they truly not know? Unlikely, most of the time.

Is it a stall for more time? Quite possibly, if you give them more time and they DO answer the question.

It is merely a defense mechanism that they are accustomed to using? Most probably yes.

So how do we get them out of this habit? Read Loony Hiker's post, but please leave your comments here as well, because we ALL have this problem I think, and we are ALL looking for ways to get our kids out of this rut.


teachin' said...

One teacher at my school responds with, "If you DID know, what would you say?" Which I kind of love but haven't incorporated into my own teaching lexicon yet. I tried it once and the student involved looked at me like I was a partially squashed bug that was still kicking feebly, not realizing how pointless the attempt was since my bug guts were already leaking out all over the place. So still working on that.

I tend to respond by rephrasing the question, or saying, "Well, try anyway." They kind of roll their eyes at the try anyway, but it makes them stop and think and realize that pretty often, hey, they do actually know!

I had a kid last year who answered every.single.question with a shrug and that I-don't-know sound that's not really a word at all - you know the one. When I pushed him to try and waited for him to think about it, about 90% of the time he DID know.

I also think it has to do with safety, as mentioned, because if kids don't feel safe trying and failing, they aren't going to try at all. And "I don't know" is the easiest way to not try.

Melissa B. said...

I give them about 30 seconds of "wait time" before I move on. I know...we high school teachers are just too impatient! BTW, if you have a chance, please stop by my Silly Sunday Sweepstakes. Featuring Flower Power today!

Mister Teacher said...

teachin, I HATE that shoulder shrug non-answer! They do that to me and I say, "That's NOT an answer!"

I'm usually pretty blunt with the "I don't know" reply. My response is, "Yes you do, try again."


Kate said...

There could be lots of interpretations of "I don't know"..."I wasn't listening", "I don't want to be wrong because it's embarrassing", "I don't want other kids to know I know anything because then I won't be cool"...etc.

I try not to ask a non-volunteer something out of the blue and expect an immediate response...rather give them time to think about it, direct them to write something down, discuss it with a neighbor, and then call on someone. I also warn them when they will be expected to share their ideas/results with the class. As much as I'd like to think they are hanging on my every word, I think it's a more fair opportunity to participate. Especially for students with learning disabilities.

HappyChyck said...

I remember California Teacher Guy talking about this same topic a few years ago, and I think his strategy was to encourage students to say something like: "I'm not sure, but I think..."

If a student uses the "I don't know," I usually give him a hint where to look or I'll say, "I'll come back to you in a minute" so they can get it together. If they have the audacity to still not be able to find an answer, then we wait for one.

One thing I have been more conscious about is how certain students always want to answer questions, and as a result, there are several who always turn off their brains because they figure someone else will do the work. In my classroom, I think these turned-off students are often the ones who think they don't know.

Anonymous said...

I offer a lifeline...with a catch.
If the students tells me they don't know, I allow them to ask any other student what the answer is. So, and we have practiced this many times, student #2 tells student #1 the answer. Then, student #1 tells me the answer. It gives them a little backup system, and I turn it into a fun situation if student #2 gives a wrong answer.

loonyhiker said...

Thanks for keeping this conversation going! I'm enjoying reading the responses and I'm glad to learn new ways to answer this.

Sarah @parentinggiftedkids said...

Ha! Too funny- no I didn't know that it was for your carnival! I just answer the questions and write the posts; my husband does everything else!