Why “Show What You Know” Doesn’t Work for Teachers

human-723999_640I confess. I’m a know-it-all. If you ask me a question, regardless of the topic, I’ll attempt an answer. This quality might be driven by an overachieving personality, but I’d like to think it’s an indication of earnestness and critical thought. Those are two qualities I’d like to cultivate in my students, but I wonder if a well-practiced sense of speculation on my part does more harm than good to their own sense of self-thought.

Andrew Miller’s post reveals that I’m not the only educator that thinks about such things. He says outright that educators are to blame for students’ lack of self-direction, or their “learned helplessness” when it comes to doing the legwork to finding answers. And I agree with him, but sympathetically. Children are developmentally prone to dichotomous, black-or-white, right-or-wrong thinking, and the current educational paradigm with its focus on testing does little to cultivate tolerance of ambiguity or multiple viewpoints. Add the fact that adults tend to swoop in automatically (not because of a competitive neurosis, but because of years of practice) when youth ask questions or struggle to find resolution, and it’s a losing combination. Even so, this know-it-all quality, if unchecked by teachers, ultimately resembles banking education, exhorted against by Paulo Freire in the 1970s, in which teachers are treated as fonts from which students imbibe and regurgitate knowledge rather than thinking for themselves.

Admittedly, it takes a ridiculous amount of self-control to stand back and watch our kids struggle, for the sake of their best learning. But some teaching strategies exist to help mitigate the teacher-as-omniscient effect. “Three before me” comes to mind, and Miller mentions the flipped classroom, which is radical in its own right.

Any kind of system or strategy that gives students maximum opportunities to do their own thinking is a worthwhile one. What others can you think of?

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