Many teachers fear the moment when a student will ask them a question that they do not have the knowledge to answer. This uncomfortable situation can cause some teachers to change the subject, others will construct a roundabout explanation, a few will make a guess and several may even discourage their students from asking questions altogether.
Students Learn to “Fake it”
When a teacher is unable to admit their lack of knowledge, it sends a disagreeable message to the class. Students can usually tell when a teacher sidesteps a question and many are dismayed when given faulty information or when questioning is discouraged.
They pick up on the insecure energy and learn that it is shameful to admit that they, “don’t get it” and instead they learn to “fake it” and give others the impression that they know the information or understand what they are hearing when, in fact, they do not. However, there is another way to handle this situation that will benefit both the teacher and the students.
Release your own Fear in the Learning Process
Good teachers must demonstrate a love for and confidence in the learning process. The first step to this practice is to release any fear associated with the learning process. A close second is to be comfortable seeking assistance when gaps in knowledge arise.
Both these skills are best learned vicariously through demonstrations. Therefore, educators must set an example for students to follow so they can feel safe and comfortable asking questions.
It’s Okay to Say, “I Don’t know?”
So what’s the big deal about teachers admitting their lack of knowledge when a student asks a difficult question? Are they afraid that they will look unintelligent? Do they fear that one of their students could have the answer, but this would undermine their authority?
I, too, had this fear at one time and over the years I have discovered that it is not only okay to say, “I don’t know,” but, in fact, there are enormous benefits.
But How Can Your Lack of Knowledge Help the Class?
- Showing students that you do not have the answer can be a critical learning tool.
- It shows that you are a life-long learner.
- It shows that you appreciate questions that expand your knowledge.
- It exemplifies that admitting your lack of knowledge can start the process of finding the answer.
- It provides an opportunity for you to share the process of acquiring knowledge.
- It encourages interactive learning and a cooperative environment where students can feel safe sharing knowledge.
- It teaches students to be curious.
- It teaches students how to think critically.
- It teaches students how to be inquisitive, confident learners.
But How Can Teachers Integrate this into Their Classrooms?
Teachers must release their own fears and tell students the truth. Personally, I like to word it, “I’m not sure about that, let’s figure it out!” After that, educators need to:
- Always nurture confident queries. Encourage students to ask questions.
- Continually demonstrate how to find answers. This can be done by asking those around you (students and colleagues), searching the internet, consulting a book and so forth.
- Constantly cultivate an environment that celebrates and supports exploration. Praise students for asking questions and independently finding the answers. Create a question box for those that are shy, and let students volunteer to answer the queries with their own knowledge or by volunteering to do the research.
- Repeatedly, show your students that teachers, too, are comfortable admitting what we don’t know. Then find the answers or allow others to help you find the answers. Always provide gratitude and positive feedback to those that help.
If you have any other ideas or anecdotes I would love to hear them!
Cheers, Dr. Erica Warren
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