Just Because You Can Look It Up, Should You?

I saw a comment on Twitter recently suggesting that teachers should never tell students things that they could look up. It struck me as one of those zero sum statements that are not helpful as we try to navigate the changing relationship between teachers and students. Teachers have expert knowledge to share that can help students move forward with their own learning more efficiently. Finding the balance of when to share and when to encourage students to explore on their own is, in my humble opinion, part of the art of teaching.

I think the spirit of the statement was probably related to teachers telling students lots of stuff the don’t need to know to move forward efficiently, and the balance must include some consideration of how much knowledge students might need to get started and the best way for them to gather that knowledge. For instance, I observed in a project-based learning high school for several years where ALL direct instruction was banned. A math teacher shared that, as she worked with her 9th graders on a three-dimensional construction project, she realized that many of them did not know how to use a ruler. She felt that she could get everyone up and running pretty quickly with a short full group lesson but was worried about violating the pedagogical rules. Of course, they could look up how to use a ruler and helping them learn how to learn might be a valuable lesson for them, but in the context of the project, she could move things along in ten minutes of instruction.

Rather than imposing rules, we need to trust teachers to make good decisions about the needs of their students. Strict pedagogical rules–whether conservative or liberal–do not help anyone, serving only to create frustration and even fear in professional educators. As connected educators, we recognize the value of community and shared expertise as part of the learning process and often ask questions of our colleagues that, theoretically, we could have looked up ourselves whether we are doing so on Twitter or around the lunch table.

Perhaps we should start thinking of our students as those colleagues. That changes the dynamic, and those quick questions between colleagues can help keep them on track with their larger project.


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