Most of us at one time or another have made assumptions about something. Incorrect assumptions can hamper our progress as teachers. More importantly, it can hamper the progress of our students. We must realize it’s safe to think differently about them. Shifting from disabling to empowering paradigms can help us reach even the most difficult learners.
In this article we’ll discuss some of those assumptions we make about students. We’ll also examine how to shift our thinking about them.
Assumption 1: Underestimating them because they are “just kids”
We underestimate our students when we think they’re not gonna get this. We even limit our own growth when we don’t keep our expectations high. We’ve asked one specific question to many educators who use the 21st Century Fluencies in their practices. The question is, “What is the most surprising thing you’ve discovered about your students?”
All across the board, they’ve all said the same thing. They were amazed at what their students were actually capable of when interested and engaged in learning. So use any and all tools at your disposal to effect great learning. Remember, we are teaching them how to be independent thinkers and problem-solvers. Given the chance, they may surprise you.
Encourage students to seek questions for themselves. If they don’t answer right away, don’t immediately go to someone else. Let them formulate a response that feels right for them. There’s no shame in saying, “I don’t know.” It becomes a gateway for guiding the student to be curious. Lead them towards exploring ideas by asking thought-provoking questions.
A great motto is teach them to teach. If they can teach it, they know it. Another is I teach you so you won’t need me anymore.
Assumption 2: Assuming that they know when they actually don’t know.
This may seem contradictory to the first assumption. We have to constantly play detective using formative assessment. The days of simply asking students to raise their hands to answer a question are long gone. It’s insufficient for gauging deep understanding.
The final summative exam is too late to find out what your students don’t know. Comprehensive, quick, and accurate formative assessment keeps our kids on the right track. It’s also to monitor our own teaching to make sure it’s on target.
Assumption 3: Assuming they can sit at desks all day and receive a great education
We must shift our focus to higher-order thinking in the classroom. The classroom is no longer restricted to the walls of the school. There are effective teaching models far from the traditional lecture format of yesterday. Flipping your classroom is perhaps the most popular.
Project-based learning also gets them collaborating and taking ownership of their education. Exploring the lessons on the Solution Fluency Activity Planner will give you some inspiration.
Assumption 4: Assuming that technology has no place in their education
Technology is all around us, and embedded in our culture. Our student culture is even more tech-oriented. It makes sense to take advantage of it in learning. It’s proven to be an invaluable tool for developing higher-order thinking skills.
If used correctly, technology can help students get from point A to point B. It can be an outlet for their creativity. It can be a bridge for collaboration to the outside world. It can also be a bridge to those who are struggling in traditional schools. Global Digital Citizenship can help to navigate the pitfalls of technology and assuage adult fears of its use by kids.
Assumption 5: Assuming that they are incapable of assessing themselves
Finding out what they think of themselves can be a real eye-opener for students as to your effectiveness as a teacher. By allowing them to tell you how they feel they are doing, you give them a stake in their future and control of their learning.
Put formative assessment into their hands with added input and guidance from you. By gaining this independence, they can become life-long learners..
Assumption 6: Believing there is only one path to a solution
Certainly you teach what you know, and possibly even how you were taught. Maybe you’ve done it the same way for years. Allow students to come up with their own ways to solve problems, but keep them on track of their goals.
For some students, it’s not so much the destination as it is the journey. Solution Fluency teaches kids to embrace more than one possibility as problem solvers. Honour that and explore it with them.
Assumption 7: Thinking all students learn the same way
This is why you want to differentiate instruction. Flipped classrooms are a great way to do this because it allows those learners who like to work alone to absorb the lecture material at their own pace. Of course, there are those who like to work with others. For them, classroom time can be spent in groups working and collaborating. This is how skills development using the Fluencies is fostered.
Recognizing everyone’s differences (teacher included) can be enhanced by knowing the Fluencies. Some learners are great solution builders or information finders. Others are more creative or more media-savvy. Many do well in collaborative situations, sharing knowledge with the community both in the classroom and at large. Some do all of these well. Finding and validating a student’s unique strengths can mean all the difference to their success.
Assumption 8: Assuming that written tests are the best measure of learning
Technology has changed everything, especially the way students learn. Today’s modern learner is different in every way than any generation before them. This will only continue to be said about future generations. It’s important to know how much technology transforms the brain, and will continue to in the years to come.
We mustn’t continue submitting standardized tests to what are increasingly non-standard learners. There are more ways to assess learning than the written form. By producing different outcomes using all forms of media, children are finding other ways to communicate effectively. Allow this creativity.
Assumption 9: Assuming students don’t care
Kids want to do well. It is certainly preferable to do well than not. If they aren’t doing well, it’s likely because of lagging skills which may be physical, academic, or social in nature. When the demands of a situation outweigh a student’s ability to cope, then you’re faced with some challenging behaviour.
As a teachers, we need to be able to peer deeper into underlying causes of what seems to be apathy. It can appear this way on the surface, at least. This is the time to ask ourselves critical questions about what we can do to help:
- What social skills are lagging?
- How do we teach these skills?
- How can we get to the root source of the problem?
- What can we do in the limited time during the day that we have?