Monday, August 1, 2011

Question of the Week: August 1, 2011- How to Deal with "Clueless" Students

I have a particular student whose response to any given question during our lessons can be predicted with 97% accuracy (I say this because there are some rare instances when he surprises me). That response is:

"I don't know."

It doesn't matter what the question is...What do you want to work on first today? Do you think that phrase 3 is the hardest phrase? What does the title of this piece suggest to you? seems that no matter what question I ask, I always get the same response.

I've tried various manners of approach. Sometimes I'll give him a few options, hoping that providing some guidance will help him make a decision. I try to draw him out with leading questions and hints. But nothing seems to work, in the end it just seems like I have to sit there and tell him everything.

I like to teach by asking lots of questions and helping my students find the answers rather than sitting there and telling them what I want them to do all the time. But it seems that this just isn't working with this child.

So...any suggestions from other teachers out there? Have you ever had a student like this who seems to not want to answer any questions in their lessons? How did you deal with it?


  1. I had a student like that...she always said that, even if I knew she knew the answer. After playing a few games with her it got her to open up a little. I really had to try to incorporate a game into every lesson or it seemed like she shut down again. Sometimes students say that because they are a little insecure answering questions or because they are people pleasers and don't want to dissapiont you by getting it wrong. playing games got her to open up. I guess I showed her I was human and not someone to be afraid of. Being silly together helps sometimes I guess.

  2. I agree with Lacy, some students hold back by not engaging. Then they feel safe. Others hold back because they don't want to give or commit. To me that resistance is a passive aggressive way of saying "I don't know if I want to do this." it is frustrating and requires much more animated work on our side, as teachers, to bring them along.

  3. Lately I've been trying to reiterate with my students that there are "no wrong answers" - only answers which lead us to more questions. Sometimes this works. I notice this "I don't know" problem to be especially prevalent with my pre-teen students. They want to please you, so they're terrified of saying something "wrong." Like others have said, it makes our jobs as teachers a bit more complicated. We have to do the "question dance" to get any responses.

  4. Thanks so much for all your comments! They've given me some food for thought all week, and encouraged me to take a different approach with this particular student.