It’s time to kick the IDK bucket

Students say “I don’t know” all too often, and some teachers call them out for doing so. Now, we can kick the IDK bucket. Connie Hamilton explains in this excerpt from Hacking Questions: 11 Answers That Create a Culture of Inquiry in Your Classroom.

The Problem: Students use “I don’t know” responses as a way out

No matter the reason, IDK answers are a problem in the classroom. Accepting them as responses only magnifies the problem. Students learn that if they wish to avoid effort or risk, the ticket is “I don’t know.”

Sometimes these words are stated explicitly. Other times, they offer dead silence, leaving the teacher wondering what to do next. Wait it out? Move on to someone else? Offer a hint?

What makes this problem even more complex is that we are often unsure of why students are unwilling to take a risk and engage in thought.

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Some are so automatic in their responses that we wonder if they really do not know how to respond, or are just shy, or are actively disengaged. Matching our reaction to the reasoning behind a student’s IDK allows us to react appropriately—and control who is holding that cognitive baton.

The Hack: Kick the IDK bucket

We set ourselves up to kick the IDK bucket by identifying the root cause for the “I don’t know” response. You see, we cannot assume that IDK means the student really does not know something.

Sure, that’s a potential trigger, but it isn’t the only one. Each reason has a different solution.

Creating a classroom where students feel safe about taking risks doesn’t happen without purposeful efforts by the teacher to create the culture.

The careful pairing of problems with counteractions will send the IDK bucket to the graveyard. Picture a cognitive baton. Your key to reducing the number of IDKs in your classroom is to keep the cognitive baton in the student’s possession. The person holding the cognitive baton is the person doing the most mental work.

Why are the students trying to rid themselves of the cognitive baton? One reason is that many students have come to believe that the game of school is about knowing answers. The narrative on this must change.

Students do not have to know the answers. They just cannot be satisfied with not knowing them. In short, IDK should be a rise to action, not an end result. We need to see this as a starting point, rather than a final answer.

There are bound to be underlying reasons why they are unwilling to take a chance. “I don’t know” is safe from the risk of being wrong. It does not require vulnerability. It does not draw the spotlight. No easy, one-size-fits-all answer exists here.

Facing an IDK situation does not trigger one specific formulaic procedure for overcoming it. We have to consider multiple reasons why a student might be avoiding answering or giving a wrong answer.

When students can identify the root cause of their IDK, and find a way around it, they are one step closer to removing the barriers that are delaying their understanding.

Creating a classroom where students feel safe about taking risks doesn’t happen without purposeful efforts by the teacher to create the culture. How we respond to students when they don’t know an answer says a lot about whether we value learning . . . or just the right answer.

Accessing the student’s reasoning for the IDK helps the teacher determine whether the student lacks confidence, was disengaged, has a misconception, or is really lost on a particular concept.

What You Can Do Tomorrow

Use a physical object as your cognitive baton. Use a ball, stuffed animal, or actual baton to designate a speaker. I use an actual cognitive baton or a think stick. Having students hold an object when they have the floor provides a visual and kinesthetic reminder that it is their turn to contribute their thoughts.

Be ready with encouraging responses that keep the baton in their hands. If a student gives an IDK, use these prompts to help organize the student’s thinking. Do not dummy down a question or begin to answer it for the student. Keep these IDK bucket-kicker questions prepped and ready:

  • What would you say if you did know?
  • What can you rule out?
  • What are you thinking so far?
  • Think aloud. Let us hear what your brain is processing.
  • Tell us what parts you’re sure of and what parts you’re still working through.
  • What part has you stuck?

Invite students to qualify their thoughts. You can hear a lack of confidence in a student’s words. In these cases, students use IDK to avoid committing to an answer they aren’t sure about. When you suspect a student is reticent to reply, instead of affirming or redirecting the answers, encourage qualifiers like:

  • Right now, I’m thinking . . .
  • Based on the little bit I know currently . . .
  • I might change my mind later, but here’s where I am now . . .
  • I’m still thinking this through . . .
  • I’m not exactly sure, so let me take a shot at it . . .

Seek qualifiers instead of commitments. Perfectionists live within our classroom walls. These students have the most trouble committing to their answers because they are still wrestling with the notion that it is acceptable not to know. These students can be 95-percent confident in their thinking and still offer an IDK in place of taking a risk. An answer for these students is to create a mathematical win-win. Ask them to estimate the likelihood that their response is correct. Encourage them to share their thinking, and leave the door open for it to be wrong by quantifying it.

Allow questions as responses. Rather than demanding an answer, invite students to share questions they have about a question. This gives them a chance to gain clarity and deepen knowledge through effective questioning.

Acknowledge students for their effort, not their answers. Praising learners for correct answers can discourage students from taking risks. Many students use this praise to define themselves. They personalize correct/incorrect answers in a way that supports a fixed mindset that they either are smart or not smart…. Effort, persistence, creative thinking, problem-solving, and reflection are all traits that will serve students long past knowing the answer to question number four.

Learn More

Read the entire hack in Hacking Questions 

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Are Teachers Doing Enough for Gen Alpha?

Are you teaching Generation Alpha with Baby Boomer content? Educators are faced with new challenges from the generation that may live into the 22nd century. How can teachers cope?

Here’s what Michael Fisher and Elizabeth Fisher, authors of Hacking Instructional Design, say about planning for the future, so we can better meet the needs of Gen Alpha.

The Problem: Contemporary Students Aren’t Interested in Traditional Constructs 

Depending on when you open this book for the first time, at least eighteen years have gone by since the beginning of the 21st century. Eight years ago, we saw the ending of Generation Z, those children who were born between 1995 and 2010. They are now in our classrooms and have been for some time. Since 2010, more than thirty million more children have been born, and they represent a brand-new generation: Generation Alpha.

Gen Alpha is also known as the Global Generation or Generation Glass. They will be the most technologically literate generation in all human history. These are the children of Gen Xers and Millennials and they will live into the 22nd century.

What this generation can do with technology will be mind-blowing, but many will lack skills like persistence and the ability to manage impulsivities.

The problem is that we haven’t let go of the past. These Alphas are already in our classrooms, albeit at younger grade levels, and we’re still working to get where we should have been a decade ago. We are preparing for Generation Alpha while still considering Generation Z’s needs, while using Generation X’s resources, and Baby Boomer’s content.

It boggles our minds when we walk into schools where they tout their readiness for the 21st century. We’re almost 20 years in … and readiness should have happened already!

The Hack: Create an Alpha-Balanced Curriculum

The people in the Alpha Generation, as a function of the world they were born into, are going to have very specific needs. Teachers will need to examine their curricula for opportunities to engage this generation of learners, and this includes all access to everything all the time. No more computer lab Thursdays. No more coming to school just to receive knowledge and information. No more limitations on what if or what’s next.

Gen Alpha will also insist on being entrepreneurial. Think back to the Hack on Context. This is where the rubber meets the road for Gen Alphas. They will want to learn, apply, and create in many learning situations where the creation or the deliverable is relevant to other audiences—and specifically paying audiences. They will want to create content of substance and worth that they can share with the world, not just turn in to the teacher.

Generation Alpha will increasingly need to see a high degree of equilibrium between their worlds outside of school and how they interact and learn inside of school.

This generation is perfectly at home online. In fact, even the youngest members are already fluent in a multitude of devices and can search by voice for just about anything they want, from making slime to finding out how to play a new game or discovering the quickest way to clean something up that they don’t want Mom or Dad to find first.

Let us reiterate here: these Gen Alphas don’t need to know how to read to begin searching digital devices. Traditional print literacy is no longer the main literacy entry point. (It’s still super important, though!)

Gen Alphas, while a well-connected generation, will not necessarily have the same social skills as previous generations. They are comfortable and will seek out online interactors—at the expense of physical/live human interactions. Because of this, teachers will need to be cognizant of soft skills like the Habits of Mind, as well as what Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves describe as social and human capital.

The planned curriculum for these students should be in balance with these needs. Teachers need to care about the world their students are currently living in and the world they will graduate into. Knowing the above, in partnership with existing instructional practices, creates a contemporary curriculum that is inclusive of Generation Alpha’s needs and the responsibilities of the teacher.

What we’ve done up until now in education has worked for the majority of students. However, those methods and practices will wane in effectiveness as time moves forward.

What You Can Do Tomorrow

  • Plan for 24/7 access across multiple devices. Teachers will need to be more considerate of skills rather than content. The What is out there already. The How and the Why are still critically important. Devices are a requirement in the classroom, just as paper or pencils or chairs are choice items. Contemporary learners need experiences with all these materials, including different types of devices that allow for different functions: tablets for portability, and laptops and desktops for more powerful research, writing, and product-making. Note that we are not suggesting they should be on the device 24/7, just that those devices must be available when needed. Start planning for a way to make this happen.
  • Plan to create products of value. Teachers will need to consider learning outcomes where students can demonstrate learning in innovative and creative ways. Students will want to create these demonstrations of learning for a much wider audience (see the Hack on Ultima Thule) and perhaps for a chance to make money or a difference.
  • Start collaborating when thinking critically and creatively. Teachers will need to provide opportunities for digital interactions, virtual connections, making, prototyping, gaming, video production, virtual destinations, coding, and more! All of these “hot” activities in education boil down to decisions that children make and the outcomes or consequences of those decisions. These different opportunities invite students to be metacognitive, high-level thinkers who reflect on their decisions and choose more wisely.
  • Plan to teach more soft skills. What this generation can do with technology will be mind-blowing, but many will lack skills like persistence and the ability to manage impulsivities—dispositions that are focal points in the previously mentioned Habits of Mind. With everything available all the time, students develop habits that keep them from exploring and discovering. Alexa and Siri are only going to help students to a point, and then students need to navigate learning, communication, and collaboration in ways that technology is currently eroding in human interactions. Be prepared to help them with these skills so they can move forward into the world purposefully and successfully.

Final Thoughts

Generation Alpha, and by extension, Millennials and Generation Z, will increasingly need to see a high degree of equilibrium between their worlds outside of school and how they interact and learn inside of school.

Learn More

Find 32 more Extraordinary Ways to Create a Contemporary Curriculum.

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Teaching, Running, and Chasing Greatness

The Running Begins, by Mike Roberts

The year was 2007. I was an out-of-shape and overweight thirty-three-year-old, and in an attempt to turn my health around, I decided I was going to run from my house to the local high school, run four laps around the track, then head back home. All told, this journey should have been about 1.5 miles. Having never run more than a mile in my life, and that in eighth grade PE, I wasn’t prepared for the challenge that I had laid out.

Nonetheless, I jumped into my basketball shorts (I was still a weekend warrior basketball player, despite my weight), laced up my high-tops, and headed out the door, ready to turn my life around. I didn’t even make it to the high school. Nope, before I even made it to the end of my street, I felt like my heart was going to burst out of my chest and my calves were going to explode like microwaved hot dogs.

I was sweating more than I thought was humanly possible, and being that I had never run any type of long distance in my life, I was clueless about bringing water with me to cool me down (not that I even had a water bottle at the time). Simply put, my body just wasn’t ready for what I was asking it to do, and rather than risking what I felt was certain death, I turned around and walked home.

But as I shuffled back toward my house, gasping for air, I tried to look at things from a positive perspective. I reminded myself that the quarter mile I’d just finished was still the farthest I had run during the past twenty years. Granted, it was a total disaster, but it was something. And while I didn’t know it at the time, that was the run that started my running journey.

Broken but not defeated

I decided to give running another shot a few days later. This time, based on the previous failure, I cut my goal down to only two laps around the track. I knew that if I wanted running to become a part of my daily life, I would have to be patient and let it come to me little by little, and this new goal seemed much more manageable than the previous one.

And yet again, I didn’t even make it to the high school before fatigue set in. But rather than turning around, I decided to keep going. Unable to run, I slowly crossed the street, regaining my breath little by little with each step. A few minutes later, with my breathing a bit more under control, I found myself standing on the track of the high school. And while the next ten minutes included a combination of running, walking, and resting, I was somehow able to complete two laps around the track.  It was a small victory, to say the least, but a victory nonetheless. As for the walk home, well, let’s just say I didn’t set any speed records.

Three years of commitment, screwups, and microscopic improvements. And it was worth every step!

Over the next few weeks and months, courtesy of twice-a-week training, my speed and mileage began to inch up. And while the gains were slow, I had decided that if I wanted to get into shape, running was going to play a role in my transformation. To help, I set a goal of increasing my weekly mileage by one mile per week. This not only helped me get out the door on a regular basis, but also provided me with a target that was both manageable and within reason.

While an additional mile per week might not sound like much, it definitely added up. In fact, by the end of my third month of running, I was putting in twenty-five miles per week. Twenty-five miles per week!

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That was well beyond anything I’d ever thought I could do when I was walking back from the school on that first day! It was also when I first gave some thought to running a marathon. But just as a reminder, a marathon is 26.2 miles—all at once!

So while I felt a sense of accomplishment about my twenty-five-mile week, I also knew there was still a lot of work to do if I hoped to cross a marathon finish line in the future.

As it turns out, a marathon, like most things worth doing, takes time and effort to prepare for, and it took me almost three years from that initial run before I toed the starting line of my first marathon.

Three years of commitment, screwups, and microscopic improvements. And it was worth every step!

The Final Kick: College and Student Teaching

For me, teaching began in much the same way as running. I was near the end of my junior year of college, and while I had officially declared myself an English major with a history minor, I still didn’t have a clue as to what I was going to do after graduation. In the back of my mind, I had always considered teaching as an option, but I wasn’t sure if I was “grown up” enough for such a serious job.

When I began my senior year, I decided to dip my foot into the teaching waters by registering for the Introduction to Education class offered at my school. I thought I could use the class as a barometer to see whether or not I should pursue teaching as a career. At best, it would light my fire and start me on my teaching journey. At worst, I would drop the class and continue trying to figure out my direction.

I also discovered that this teaching thing might be worth pursuing.

I don’t remember much about that first class, except that quite a bit of information was shared about educational theory. I remember feeling like a lot of talking was going on, without much being said. Looking back, I realize that my boredom stemmed from the fact that I didn’t care much about theorists from the past. What I wanted to talk about was the future of education, including all of the cool ways school could be used to improve society. I wanted to discuss my innovative ideas regarding how I’d run my class, and hoped to hear how other people envisioned schools of the future as well.

And while the thought of being a teacher had drawn me to the class, I was still looking for that extra push to really sell me on the idea . . . and theory from the past wasn’t doing it for me. So I walked out. Yep, I didn’t even make it through the entire class. But over the course of the next week, as I sat through my English and history classes, I couldn’t shake the idea, or more accurately the feeling, that I should at least reconsider being a teacher.

So, like on my first run, I decided that though my career in education wasn’t off to a great start, I’d give it another shot. And while the second class wasn’t what I’d call the most exhilarating educational experience of my life, I did manage to make it through the entire session. And by the time the semester was over, I had not only learned a thing or two about the history of education . . . I also discovered that this teaching thing might be worth pursuing.

There’s more to chasing greatness

For the rest of this Mile and more from Chasing Greatness, read the description and take a look inside here.

Share your own running and teaching stories with us on Twitter at #ChasingGreatness

How to Create Mental Velcro in Your Classroom

PLUG INTO PRIOR KNOWLEDGE: one of 33 Hacks in Hacking Instructional Design, by Michael and Elizabeth Fisher

THE PROBLEM: PRIOR KNOWLEDGE IS NOT ALWAYS ENGAGED

One of our largest educational conundrums is deciding what, how, and why students need to learn, and making sure we’re moving in a logical direction as we guide them. We can utilize the greatest resources in the world, but unless we’re connecting to previous learning or experiences, we’re not taking advantage of the neural pathways in a student’s mind. 

Click the link below for 61 pages of FREE content from the authors

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Prior knowledge exists outside of standards, outside of grade-level expectations, outside of assessments, and outside of the numerous pedagogical ideas we’re sharing in this book—but it is a vital piece of any student’s education.

If we want learning to stick, we need to anchor it in a way that allows students to build on their existing foundations, using their prior knowledge.

THE HACK: PLUG INTO PRIOR KNOWLEDGE

Students grow neural pathways when new learning builds on knowledge that already exists in their brains. Plug students into their own brains to figure out where to start. You don’t put a roof on a house with no walls or foundation, right? You lay the foundation first; the same theory is true in the classroom….

For the rest of of Hack 7, listen to the podcast episode, embedded above.

For 32 more Hacks from Michael and Elizabeth Fisher, check out Hacking Instructional Design

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Atomic Habits: How to Easily Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones

Popular author and speaker James Clear says, “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.” That is, the effects of your habits multiply, when repeated, much like your money multiplies, as it sits in an interest-bearing account.

Clear is the author of the new Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones, and he has a simple formula for making your habits Atomic, which he shared with Hack Learning creator and Times 10 Publisher Mark Barnes for Episode 127 of the Hack Learning Podcast

Excerpts from Mark’s brief interview with James Clear

 

MB — In your new book, Atomic Habits, you say, “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.” Talk about that statement.
 
JC — The basic idea is that habits don’t add up, they compound. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them.
 
This process can work for you or against you. That is, habits are a double-edged sword. We’ve all experienced this with bad habits: eating junk food or procrastinating for an hour seem like insignificant choices on any given day, but when you repeat them week after week they can really add up. 
 
It is only when looking back two, five, or perhaps ten years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones becomes very obvious.
 
This is why it’s so important to understand how habits work: you want to be able to design them to help you rather than hinder you. Understanding habits allows you to avoid the dangerous half of the blade on that double-edged sword.
 
MB — People often connect habits to goals, but in Atomic Habits, you say “Forget about goals and focus on systems.” Why should we forget about goals and what systems should we focus on?
 
JC — This is one of the core philosophies of Atomic Habits: You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems. 
 
Setting a goal is fairly easy. Anyone can sit down for 10 minutes and complete a goal-setting exercise. But what you find is that setting a goal often has very little to do with actually achieving a particular outcome.
 
In fact, the winners and losers in any particular domain often have the same goals. Every Olympian wants to win a gold medal. Every candidate wants to get the job. And if successful and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goal cannot be what differentiates them.
 
MB — So what makes the difference?
 
JC — I think it comes down to the system that you follow each day. Throughout my book, I give dozens of strategies and examples of how to build a system of atomic habits that make it easier to stick to good habits and break bad ones. 
 
Also, it’s worth noting: I don’t believe goals are completely useless. Goals are good for setting a sense of direction and gaining clarity about what you’re working on. But systems are better for actually making progress.
 
MB — Can you share a system from your book?
 
JC — How to stop procrastinating with the “2-Minute Rule.” The Two-Minute Rule states “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.”

You’ll find that nearly any habit can be scaled down into a two-minute version:

  • “Read before bed each night” becomes “Read one page.”
  • “Do thirty minutes of yoga” becomes “Take out my yoga mat.”
  • “Study for class” becomes “Open my notes.”
  • “Fold the laundry” becomes “Fold one pair of socks.”
  • “Run three miles” becomes “Tie my running shoes.”

The idea is to make your habits as easy as possible to start. Anyone can meditate for one minute, read one page, or put one item of clothing away. And, as we have just discussed, this is a powerful strategy because once you’ve started doing the right thing, it is much easier to continue doing it.

A new habit should not feel like a challenge. The actions that follow can be challenging, but the first two minutes should be easy. What you want is a “gateway habit” that naturally leads you down a more productive path.

MB – You have a wildly popular site and newsletter, with hundreds of thousands of subscribers. What can our listeners expect to find when they subscribe?
 
JC — I write about self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research. Newsletter subscribers get a new article from me each week about topics like habits, decision making, and continuous improvement. Over 400,000 people subscribe to those messages.

Check out Atomic Habits

James Clear’s new book, Atomic Habits: How to Easily Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones, just arrived and is appropriate for us, because like Hack Learning books, it looks at a problem through a unique lens and offers simple, right-now solutions to making your habits Atomic. You can learn more and grab your copy at atomichabits.com.
Learn how to become uNforgettable at uNseries.com

James Clear is an author and speaker focused on habits, decision-making, and continuous improvement. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Time, and on CBS This Morning.