To me, these are probably four of the most irritating words a student can utter in my classroom. Not because I expect them to understand everything first time, obviously. But because to me that phrase seems a total abdication of responsibility on the part of the speaker. It means, “I don’t care if I get it. It’s not my fault that I get it. Make it all better for me.” Perhaps I’m looking too hard for a subtext that isn’t, consciously at least, intended.
I still don’t want to hear those words. And so I’ve come up with a few strategies that my students know I expect them to use. I say ‘I’, but in fact I mean ‘we’. You’ll recognise some of them, I’m sure – perhaps others will still be useful. Some of them are adapted from suggestions a class made when I asked them to produce a ‘best practice’ guide to asking for help. I’ve tried the ‘traffic lights’ system which can be helpful in gauging confidence, but I’ve found that asking students to be more specific serves a dual purpose:
- it means I can more quickly give them more appropriate help.
- by defining the problem more carefully, they can sometimes figure it out themselves.
I encourage students to use the 4Bs – Brain Book Buddy Boss – so that they have tried some things before I get involved. This means that when they ask for help, they aim to put it in the form “I have tried… and I still can’t….” This is so much more positive as I’m able to start off by congratulating them for trying. It’s also a nice way to reinforce the idea of a growth rather than a fixed mindset.
Alternatively – or additionally – it can be worth asking students to describe their problem in terms of Knowledge, Understanding and Skills. Defining the problem is the first step towards solving it. (I knew this sounded ‘quotey’ but was impressed to find that most online sources quote something similar from Einstein.) Efectively this is a form of self-scaffolding, as they are setting themselves up to try a relevant approach. There’s no point reading a glossary if the problem is with solving an equation. This practises skills our students will need, not only in exams but in ‘real life’. Students define parameters, figure out what gaps they need to fill and choose useful strategies. Getting them to analyse or audit weak areas points them in the direction of the solution, the same as checking confidence with an exam checklist sets priorities for revision.
I discussed my ideas – and how I shared them with my classes – of a Learning Journey. Many of the Purpos/ed discussions focussed on the idea that as teachers we are trying to equip students with skills, rather than facts; this blog post sums up the approach nicely. A very important lesson for us to share with students is that we as teachers are not infallible. When a teacher doesn’t know something, or struggles with a question, how we approach it is valuable; it’s often worth ‘thinking out loud‘.
I also make a checklist available which they are expected to complete if they struggle with homework. If needed, I can point out that the tickboxes are based on students’ suggestions, so they are realistic approaches. It not only gives a gentle reminder about strategies, but also means that leaving work half-completed is no longer the easy option.
If the above doesn’t work, here’s I Don’t Get It as a ppt.