Jennifer Davis Bowman


Cincinnati, OH

Interests: Instructional...

  • Posted 3 Years ago
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7 Tips to Eliminate the "I don't know" Response

I was blown away the first time I saw the commercials in the “Real Cost of Smoking” campaign. You can take a look at one of the commercials in the series here. Even though the commercial was not a school public service announcement, it made me think about the classroom. So, instead of the cost of cigarettes, I thought about the real cost of the “I don’t know” response. It’s sad because unlike the in-your-face consequences instantly revealed in the smoking ads (we see a teen pry his teeth out with pliers to represent the impact of smoking on teeth), the consequences from the “I don’t know” response can go unnoticed for years. I was thinking that it was time to pursue a prevention effort-a campaign if you will, to eliminate this response. It's 
time to ban “I don’t know” from the student vocabulary! Below are a few strategies that will get us off to a strong start:

• Some research shows that when teachers utilize active listening techniques (decreasing movement during communication, nodding head to show attentiveness, and rephrasing student comments) students are more likely to continue to interact and share information (Cahn & Frey, 1992).

• In addition research shows that humor may encourage students to open up a little more. There is some evidence that inserting humor helps students relax and pay more attention (Wanzer, 2002). 

• Unsurprisingly, research also suggests that teacher smiling and making eye contact with students is linked with student motivation to learn (Frymier & Schulman,1995).

• Some scholars argue that children move between an active and bystander role during the communication process. Factors such as age, empowerment, and environment facilitate how children move between these roles (Lambert, Glacken & McCarren, 2010). I figure that our expectation of the student’s role (if we expect them to be more involved or passive) impacts 
how we persuade (dissuade) the use of the "I don't know" response. 

• Also, it appears the communication process can be defined as emergent or ever-changing. Scholars caution against the use of planned strategies/interventions that do not account forthe inherent dynamic nature of the communication process (King, 2010). I guess that this is an instance when we as teachers have to go with the flow and think quickly on our feet in 
terms of responding to the “I don’t know” statement. 

• Instead of dissecting the features of the communication process, one blogger focuses on the way students communicate their lack of understanding as a critical component of the assessment process. For example, when students say "I don't know", this leaves little information as to the source of confusion or even why the material was misunderstood. If we can help students to instead say, “I understand everything up to this point…” this provides teachers with a specific starting point for helping the student move forward. 

• Another blogger explains that when teachers disclose steps within their own personal learning process (cognitive structures), it helps students navigate through their struggles with finding answers. So, to model how you actively strive to be in the know, you may say, "when the principal asks something that I don't know, this is what I do to come up with an answer..."

Admittedly, this list is short. I am hoping to hear from you in order to expand the list of strategies that we can use to improve student response. Have you found any useful techniques? What about any strategies that you found less helpful in meeting your expectations? When students say "I don't know", do you know the real cost? Join the campaign by sharing your story below...

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