Don't answer a student's question and another way to annoy students.

Tony Wagner's book, The Global Achievement Gap, has become a good read and is making me think.

Over the history of education we have promoted the idea that the teacher is the bucket filled with all knowledge and understanding and students simply reach in and grab the information they need out of this bucket. The teacher teaches; the student listens and learns.

How can we change this mindset? Do teachers need to act differently? Do students need to take greater ownership for their learning? A teacher cannot be doing most of the thinking, leaving little left for the student.

Here are two ways we can promote more student thinking:

1.) Don't answer a students question. Absurd? Maybe, but quickly answering a question lets the student off the hook for having to think. Instead, ask a question in response to a question. For example:
- What do you think?
- Why do you assume that?
- Have you considered...?
- What do you know about...?

2.) Institute a classroom expectation such as "Ask three before me." This expectation naturally increases student thinking. Students ask more questions and students in turn answer more questions. It takes thinking both to ask and answer questions. While I walk around the room checking for understanding, and a student asks me an academic question, I often reply with, "Have you asked three?" This is a quick reminder to the class to ask other students their questions. If they have asked three students and are still confused, they ask me the question. Do I then feed them the answer? No, I revert to my strategy mentioned in #1 above.

In no way am I promoting that a teacher never gives an answer to a question. I am just advocating that this should not be the first response when asked a question. Lots of thinking should happen from when the question is asked until when the answer is found. If traveling is about the journey and not just the destination, then learning is about thinking and not just arriving at the answer. If students are accustomed to being spoon fed the answer, they will initially be annoyed when they are asked to do more thinking to discover the answer. But, thinking is in their best interest for college, work and life success.

Happy teaching and learning.

Make it a great day or not, the choice is yours,