Friday, September 20, 2013

I Don't Know

September 20, 2013

"I don't know" doesn't work in my classroom.  I hear it often, and I think far too many times, kids have said it because it's far easier than having to process a real response.  And we in education let them get away with it because we don't want to put the kid on the spot, or embarrass them.  Or heaven forbid, we think that the kid couldn't come up with an answer anyway, so why even bother.

That's not my philosophy.  If they have an answer, but just don't quite know how to articulate it, I'll help them-ask guiding questions, get to the heart of what they'd like to say.  If they genuinely don't know, I may ask another question, or I may tell them they've got time to process and I'll come back to them in a few minutes, or I ask them to ask someone else they think might have a good response--and then I'll ask the first student to reiterate what the second student said in his own words.  No matter what, I'm coming back to the "I don't know" kid, and he'll contribute to the conversation.  No getting off the hook here.

I don't do this because I want to 'call out' a kid who didn't do his homework; I don't do it because I want the kid to feel bad for not knowing how to join the conversation.  I do it because I believe--really believe--that all of these kids can join the conversation, and have something worthwhile to contribute.  They may not know it or believe it, but that's just because someone, sometimes they themselves, has convinced them that they don't have a voice.  They don't have confidence in their academic voice, so they don't practice their academic voice, so they don't build confidence in their academic voice.  It's a vicious circle; those with some degree of confidence expose themselves to criticism and critique as they join the conversation, and they learn how to refine and articulate and support their ideas because they have opened themselves up to that critique.  Those lacking academic confidence remain timid, sideline observers of the discourse, rather than active participants, stretching and flexing and building their mental muscle.

So I drag them in from the sidelines.  To borrow a sports metaphor, I don't make them jump in and start right off expecting them to sink a three-point shot; we can start with dribbling the ball.  Some of these kids use to be pretty good dribblers some years back, before someone else grabbed the ball away and sent them to warm the benches.  Let's start with that again and remind 'em how they used be good dribblers--pull them back into the game and show them how we can all--including them--contribute.  If we build their confidence and start to stretch that mental muscle, and expect that everyone can be a factor on the court, maybe they'll eventually be less apt to sit out on the sidelines, and more likely to jump in the game.

That's my game plan, anyway.  Everyone plays.

No comments:

Post a Comment