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Learning To Teach

What To Do When Your Student's Favorite Answer is...I Don't Know

By Sharon Hensley

Editor's Note:An article taken from Issue 14, Turning Challenges Into Opportunities

    In this issue we are presenting information on auditory processing disorders. When working with children with auditory and language processing issues, one of the most difficult things to deal with is the tendency of these kids to use "I don't know" as their first answer to any question. While it is frustrating, let's look at why kids fall into the habit of using this pat answer and some things you can do to combat it.

Granting Time - First of all, it is helpful to have an idea of why this habit develops. Have you ever noticed that many times a student will say "I don't know," and then give the correct answer in virtually the next breath? Most people with auditory processing difficulties need longer than average thinking (processing) time. Because of this, they are often still processing - thinking through and making sense out of - the question when we think they should have already given and answer. Yet most kids realize that if they don't respond quickly enough to a question, they may be accused of not paying attention or may be teased as "slow." They also know that a younger brother or sister may give a quick answer for them, which is discouraging for most kids. On the other hand, they learn that saying "I don't know buys them some more thinking time.

One of the best things we can do for these kids is to learn to wait for them to think before we begin to "encourage" a response. I put encourage in quotes on purpose there! So many times we think we are being encouraging to our kids, when we are in fact further discouraging them. Saying thinks like, "come on, I know you know this," and other things along those same lines only frustrates the child who also KNOWS he knows, but who can't get thoughts to form and come out of his mouth fast enough.

So, what can we do instead? One thing is to acknowledge that t is OK if your student needs more thinking time. If "I don't know" comes flying out of his mouth before the question is our of yours ask, Do you really not know, or do you mean that you are thinking?" This way, you have given permission for this child to have the extra time he needs to formulate an answer. If he responds that he is thinking, then the hard part comes; you have to wait and let him think! Another important think is to NOT supply answers for this student. I know this is hard! But we must often restrain our instinct to "rescue" the child by helping his or else we will end up crippling him even further.

Obviously, is a child has had the inking time he needs, but is still having trouble answering the question, we have to move on to the use of memory prompters or questioning them as to how or where they could look for the answers.

Thinking vs. Resistance Of course, sometimes kids do say, "I don't know" because they are resisting having to think and hoping you will give them the answer. What do you do about this, and how do you know the difference? The first thing to do is to go back to the question I mentioned above. Are you thinking or do your really not know?" Kids who are being resistant will not tell you they are thinking, but will insist they don't know and you should tell them the answer. They usually say things like, how am I supposed to know that?" And they usually sound belligerent or disrespectful as opposed to thoughtful or confused.

For these kids the best thing to do is to walk them step-by-step through the process of figuring out how to remember the information or how to look it up and refresh their memories. The memory skill articles mentioned above would be appropriate to read for this situation as well, but I would also suggest reading the article, but I would suggest reading the article, "Activating the Passive Learner," in Issue #9. Standing up to resistant behavior and taking your student through these techniques may take some stamina on your part depending on he level of resistance you are encountering, but it is the right thing to do. Kids who REALLY don't know the answer to the question you are asking need to be walked through this process as well, but the difference that you will pick up on is that they are genuinely baffled as to how to answer or attack the question you are asking. They are not defiant in their statements or tone of voice.

Take A Deep Breath! Kids who need a lot of thinking and processing time can be very frustrating to work with. If you find yourself feeling frustrated and just wishing your child would think faster, take a deep breath and reflect on the fact that you are giving him the opportunity at home to think and answer without being ridiculed or unnecessarily disciplined. Take the few moments of quiet while thinks to pray for him and for you. And remember we are all still learning to teach every time we sit down with each child. God is sculpting both of you through this process. Thank him for that!