Student Learning and Confidence can Skyrocket by Changing One Approach

Student Learning and
Confidence can Skyrocket by Changing One Approach

Many teachers fear the moment when a student will ask them a
question that they do not have the knowledge to answer.  This uncomfortable situation can cause
some teachers to change the subject, others will construct a roundabout
explanation, a few will make a guess and several may even discourage their
students from asking questions altogether. 

Students Learn to “Fake it”
When a teacher is unable to admit their lack of knowledge,
it sends a disagreeable message to the class. 
Students can usually tell when a teacher sidesteps a question and many
are dismayed when given faulty information or when questioning is discouraged.  They pick up on the insecure energy and
learn that it is shameful to admit that they, “don’t get it” and instead they
learn to “fake it” and give others the impression that they know the
information or understand what they are hearing when, in fact, they do not. 
However, there is another way to handle this situation that will benefit
both the teacher and the students.
Release your own Fear in the
Learning Process
teachers must demonstrate a love for and confidence in the learning
process.  The first step to this
practice is to release any fear associated with the learning process.  A close second is to be comfortable
seeking assistance when gaps in knowledge arise.  Both these skills are best learned vicariously through
demonstrations.  Therefore,
educators must set an example for students to follow so they can feel safe and
comfortable asking questions. 
It’s Okay to Say, “I Don’t
So what’s the big deal about teachers admitting their lack
of knowledge when a student asks a difficult question?  Are they afraid that they will look unintelligent?  Do they fear that one of their students
could have the answer, but this would undermine their authority?  I, too, had this fear at one time and
over the years I have discovered that it is not only okay to say, “I don’t
know,” but, in fact, there are enormous benefits.
But How Can Your Lack of Knowledge
Help the Class? 
Showing students that you do not have the answer can be a
critical learning tool.  
It shows that you are a life long learner.
It shows that you appreciate questions that
expand    your knowledge.
It exemplifies that admitting your lack of
knowledge can start the process of finding the answer.
It provides an opportunity for you to share the
process of acquiring knowledge.
It encourages interactive learning and a
cooperative environment where students can feel safe sharing knowledge.
It teaches students to be curious.
It teaches students how to think critically.
It teaches students how to be inquisitive, confident
But How Can Teachers Integrate
this into Their Classrooms?
Teachers must release their own fears and tell students the
truth.  Personally, I like to word
it, “I’m not sure about that, let’s figure it out!”  After that, educators need to:
1) Always nurture confident queries.  Encourage students to ask questions.
2) Continually demonstrate how to find answers.  This can be done by asking those around
you (students and colleagues), searching the internet, consulting a book and so
3) Constantly cultivate an environment that celebrates and
supports exploration. Praise students for asking questions and
independently finding the answers. 
Create a question box for those that are shy, and let students volunteer
to answer the queries with their own knowledge or by volunteering to do the
4) Repeatedly, show your students that teachers, too, are
comfortable admitting what we don’t know. 
Then find the answers or allow others to help you find the answers.  Always provide gratitude and positive
feedback to those that help.
If you have any other ideas or anecdotes I would love to
hear them!
Cheers, Erica
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to and 

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2 replies
  1. I am Bullyproof Music - Lessia Bonn
    I am Bullyproof Music - Lessia Bonn says:

    I love this! When I'm showing kids where their voices are, whether in groups or privately, I NEVER warm up ahead myself. I like to show them my voice before and after so they don't get the "teacher is perfect" attitude in their heads. Teacher isn't perfect haha. Sometimes there are tricky parts in songs I figure out how to sing in front of them. That way, when I'm not around, they know exactly where to begin! I also often point out that life is just like singing…the magic is discovering where one's voice really is and no one's voice, not even the teacher's needs to be perfect!

  2. Erica Warren
    Erica Warren says:

    Thanks so much for your kind words and also sharing your own anecdote! Keep up the great work!! I found the process of writing the post quite liberating. Cheers, Erica


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