Teaching Tip #3 – Responding to “I Don’t Know”

How many times have you heard a student respond to a question with, “I don’t know?”

This could be an academic response (the student hasn’t learned yet), or a behavior response (the student is trying to opt out). In either case, there is still learning to be done with this student.

In  Doug Lemov’s book Teach Like a Champion, he outlines a strategy to deal with this type of student response. When a student responds with, “I don’t know”, you can turn to another student, re-ask the question, confirm the answer, then go back to the original student and ask them to restate the answer. The whole exchange will take a few seconds, and a simple version might look like this:

Teacher: What is the result of 2 x 3? Student A?

Student A: I don’t know.

Teacher: Student A, we’re coming right back to you, so be ready. Student B?

Student B: 6!

Teacher: Student A?

This simple response to “I don’t know” helps to re-engage students and create a classroom culture where students are unable to opt out of their learning.

Teaching Tip #2 – Initial Perception

As students enter your classroom, they already may perceive you a certain way. This could be based on reputation, their experiences if you have previously taught them, or even just by your name or gender!

These perceptions can immediately impact how students, and often parents, will respond to your relationship building. According to Harry K. Wong and Rosemary T. Wong, in The First Days of School, here are three welcoming techniques that you can do as a teacher, to improve student or parent perception of you.

  • Send a letter home to parents before school begins.
  • Send a letter home to each student before school begins.
  • Visit the home of each student before school begins.

Obviously, these three strategies may not be viable, or even possible, based on your own teaching situation. At my middle school, I teach over 300 students, which makes letter writing (not to mention home visits) very difficult!

To solve this, teachers at my school send home a postcard to each student in our homeroom. This is an easy (only 20 or so postcards for each teacher), and viable way to allow every student in the school to know that the teachers are excited to see them, and to begin building relationships before school even begins.

Teaching Tip #1 – First Contact

It is day 1 with your new students this year. How do you handle the first contact with your students this year? Here are a few research-based ideas from Harry K. Wong and Rosemary T. Wong’s book, The First Days of School.

  • Greet your students at the door. A smiling face and encouraging tone pave the way to building positive relationships with students.
  • Have a seating chart prepared, and a way for students to find their seats quickly (their names on desks, chart on the board, coordinates for their seat).
  • Have an activity for the students to do immediately when they find their seat. From the start, this trains them that they are here to solve challenges, problems, or whatever else is in front of them – and above all, learn.

I like to start my year by greeting my students at the door, and handing them a picture of something (like a Pokemon). The student needs to then find the matching Pokemon on a chair, which is their seat. Additionally, I have a small activity on the stool that students should be working on as soon as they find their seat, with clear instructions on the board. This allows students to know that they are welcome here, but that school is about learning. Starting now, learning begins..

What do you do when you first meet your students at the beginning of the year?

Technology and the Right Question

How often does your district implement new technology into your classroom?

This is something my district does quite often, and it can be great. New technologies can increase the speed, range, scope, and experiences that students have. Student learning can be improved because of this tech, and it can even make me a more effective teacher.

But new technologies can also be a drag.

It happens in my district from time to time – that something fresh and new is introduced, but for some reason, I just can’t get behind the technology. Maybe the technology doesn’t meet a need of my students, or maybe it is inefficient for the circumstances of the classroom. You may have experienced something similar.

In education, we often ask a very important question – how can we use this brand new technology? However, there is a different, just as important question that often times we forget to ask.

How does this help improve student learning?

From district coordinators to classroom teachers, it is important that we also ask this question every time we consider a new technology.

Image created by Dr. Ruben Puentedura, Ph.D. http://www.hippasus.com/rrpweblog/

There is a great framework of thinking called SAMR, developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura. In short, SAMR helps teachers determine how technology is, or can be, used during instruction. The four different levels (which mirror Bloom’s Taxonomy to an extent) are substitution, augmentation, modification, and redefinition.

If you want to learn more about SAMR, you can check this pretty thorough write-up from Kathy Schrock here. It explains what SAMR is, how it connects to Bloom’s Taxonomy, and how it applies to your classroom.

We need to ask how tech improves student learning more often. Education tends to chase after the “flavor of the day” when it comes to technology. Often times a single article or research paper is all that is needed for districts to change the entire focus of their school year (like Grit in schools). It is of utmost importance that, while we maintain our enthusiasm for positive change, to also challenge new ideas and not only ask how, but also why.


How do you use new technology in your classroom, in regards to SAMR?

How can the district model of top-down tech integration be improved?