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

How to respond 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 Teach Like a Champion 2.0: 62 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College, Doug Lemov 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.

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