Rethinking 9 Common Assumptions We Sometimes Make About Our Learners

by | Mar 18, 2018

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 learners. 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 learners. We’ll also examine how to shift our thinking about them.

1. We underestimate them.

We underestimate our learners when we think, “They’re not going to 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 Essential Fluencies in their practices. The question is, “What is the most surprising thing you’ve discovered about your learners?”

All across the board, they’ve all said the same thing: they were amazed at what kids were actually capable of when interested and engaged. So use any and all tools at your disposal to make learning appealing. Remember, we are teaching them how to be independent thinkers and problem-solvers. Given the chance, they may surprise you.


Encourage learners 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 approach is to be teaching them to teach. If they can teach it, they know it. When our learners leave our classrooms for good, the whole idea is that they should be able to honour how we’ve taught them without needing us any longer.


2. We assume they know something when they actually don’t.

This may seem contradictory to the first assumption. We have to constantly play detective using mindful assessment. The days of simply asking learners to raise their hands to answer a question are long gone. It’s insufficient for gauging deep understanding. The final summative exam is also too late to find out what your learners don’t know. Conducting comprehensive, quick, and accurate formative assessments as the learning happens keeps our kids on the right track. It’s also to monitor our own teaching to make sure it’s on target.

Conducting comprehensive, quick, and accurate formative assessments as the learning happens keeps our kids on the right track. It’s also to monitor our own teaching to make sure it’s on target.

3. We think they can sit at desks all day and be engaged.

We must shift our focus to higher-order thinking, exploration, and discovery. 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.

4. We feel that technology has no place in their education.

Technology is all around us and embedded firmly in our lives. Our digital learner culture is even more tech-oriented. It makes sense to take advantage of it in education. It’s proven to be an invaluable tool for developing higher-order thinking skills.


If used correctly, technology can help learners get from point A to point B. It can be an outlet for their creativity. It can be a bridge for meaningful connection and collaboration with 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.


5. We think they can’t properly assess themselves.

Finding out what they think of themselves can be a real eye-opener for learners 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.

6. We believe 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 learners to come up with their own ways to solve problems while keeping them on track of their goals.

For some, 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.

7. We think they all 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 skill development using the Fluencies is fostered.


Recognizing everyone’s differences (the teacher’s differences 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 things well. Finding and validating a learner’s unique strengths can mean all the difference to their success.


8. We feel written tests are the best measure of learning.

Technology has changed everything, especially the way kids 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 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.

9. We assume they just don’t care.

Kids want to do well. It is certainly preferable to do well than not to. 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 learner’s ability to cope, then you’re faced with some challenging behaviour which can often appear as apathy.

Believe it—your students care and they want to learn. As teachers, we need to be able to peer deeper into underlying causes of what is on the surface. 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 source of the problem?
  • What can we do in the limited time during the day that we have?

The first step is to change our thinking. Kids do well if they can. If they can’t, we can help them get the skills that allow them to.


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