Should We Teach Students to Say ‘I Don’t Know’?

When I began teaching, I encountered many students who didn’t know things. I had to grade papers that were filled with long, complicated narrations, written by students who clearly didn’t have a clue what they were writing about. Students continue to take this strategy, fervently hoping that the grader won’t recognize their ignorance, or will award at least a few partial credit points. How I longed for a simple “I don’t know” as an answer.

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Instructional Design: Who’s Playing First in My Course?

At a symposium about teaching projects on our campus, one group of faculty presented a set of projects they had done that involved giving students control over course design issues. The projects had grown out of a reading group that studied When Students Have Power by Ira Shor. The faculty presenters said that they let students design the syllabus and that the students typically created a rigorous course that was enhanced by the student ownership. I think I’m a student- and learning-centered teacher, but I’m also a teacher who has determined essentially all the course structure. So a few days before classes started, I decided NOT to spend my last few hours before the opening of the semester organizing, selecting, and deciding on syllabus issues, but to step (off a cliff?) into a world where students have power. Would chaos ensue if I gave students power in my general chemistry class?

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