Are you stunting your learner’s growth?

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By Kelly Beischel PhD, RN, CNE

The summer is upon us and one would think that I would have vacation on the brain but I can’t keep myself from thinking about teaching and learning.

You see, I was shopping in a large, unfamiliar supermarket the other day.

I had a meager shopping list yet it took me nearly a decade to navigate the store to find my items. (Ok. I may be exaggerating, but it did feel that way.) If you’ve ever shopped in an unfamiliar supermarket, you know the feeling.

Shawncea Colvin, a ClickList Associate gathering items for a client's order

Shawncea Colvin

I noticed Kroger employees like Shawncea everywhere, pushing big black carts, filling grocery orders.

I quickly discovered that I was witnessing the ClickList phenomenon in action.

If you’ve not heard of ClickList, you are in for a sweet surprise. A customer uploads an order for groceries using the ClickList Kroger App. These cart pushing magicians then fill the order. The customer drives by, picks up their order of groceries and voila – grocery shopping for the week is complete.

I had a serious case of the envies as I slogged up and down the aisles attempting to find the items on my list. In fact, I considered giving my order to one of the nice ClickList associates and begging them to finish it for me.

This led to my thinking about how similar the practice of uploading our needs to a grocery service on the Internet is to the process of teaching and learning. (Wouldn’t you like to witness my synapses firing? It’s like a pinball machine in there.)

In particular, about how students upload questions to us via learning management systems, emails and class. These questions can lead to potentially powerful learning moments, but as educators, we tend to answer the learners’ questions without requiring them to do the work of thinking and exploring. Just as the ClickList Associates save the shopper from the work of grocery shopping.

Unfortunately, when we do the thinking work for students we stunt their curiosity and growth.

In fact, one could argue that stealing students’ learning moments by doing the thinking work for them is unethical.

Pretty radical thinking. I know.

But students pay a high price when they don’t learn. And they don’t learn when we are doing the work for them.

What does stunting curiosity and doing the work for students look like?

1. Answering the questions you pose to students in class.

How many times have you asked a question in class and heard crickets? You rephrase the question. And still nothing but crickets. Painful, right?

What do you do when your students’ expression is clearly screeching, “OMG! Just answer the damn question already!!”?

You answer the question. It’s natural. Anything to put you and your students out of your collective misery.

But, learning happens when we are challenged to critically thinking through a question. Not when we hear the answer.

This is a perfect time to dust off (and use) the “silence is golden” proverb. 

2. We also do the work for learners when we “spoon feed” students.

Do you know the irony of this?

One of the most common complaints I hear from clients and professors in workshops I present, “students want to be spoon fed”.

Yes, some students absolutely do.

Most do not.

Most students want to learn.

They understand that they are paying to learn, paying with their time and money. And they expect us to spark their insights to facilitate learning.

I was recently discussing teaching and learning with a former student I’ll call Anna. Anna expressed her dismay that when students asked a question about a test item, her professor gave them the answer.

And no, I don’t mean that the professor answered the student’s question but rather the professor said, “The answer is C”. This professor gave Anna the answer to the test item rather than discussing her question! 

Horrifying, right??

I questioned the veracity of this story. Multiple times.

In multiple ways.

Anna is a former student. I know her. She understands that she will be held accountable for knowing the material on her licensing exam. Consequently, she seeks to learn.

Sadly, this was a true story.

What’s worse? The professor gave her the wrong answer to the test item in question.

More of that story at another time.

3. Singing a tune to “PowerPoint Karaoke” stunts student curiosity and growth as well.

In fact, it stunts both student and professor growth. Throwing a bunch of lecture notes on a slide, bars our creativity from coming out to play.

Reading slides to students induces boredom.

It’s unengaging.

Uninspiring.

And a waste of student time.

It also invokes students to think, “Why read if the professor is going to read the PowerPointTM and teach me all I need to know?”

On the other hand, using PowerPointTM as intended, as a guide that includes powerful images, provoking questions, and a minimal number of words can be a powerful adjunct to our lectures.

In fact, we can use questions in class, on Learning Management Systems, on tests, and within PowerPointTM to evoke curiosity.

What to do instead?

Relentlessly evoke student curiosity.

Why?

Because curiosity stimulates the mind to be active rather than passive.

Just as a muscle grows and becomes stronger with consistent workouts, the mental workout of being curious strengthens our learners’ minds.

And a strong mind is the intended outcome, right?

We spark learner curiosity when we ask students motivating questions (and don’t answer them).

Research illustrates that stimulating curiosity, an intrinsic motivator, aids student learning and memory. In fact, it’s the anticipatory activity that drives the “curiosity-driven memory benefits”.

Ignite curiosity about something your students are already motivated to learn and you have primed them to learn things they would typically find boring or difficult.

How cool is that?

How else might we stimulate curiosity to enhance growth?

  • Using unfolding case studies.
  • Requiring students to explain “why” for questions that can be answered using the “plug and chug” method.
  • Leaving blanks ___________________ in PowerPointTM slides. Students want the answers to these blanks. They will pay attention.
  • Beginning class with a problem that will be answered with the class material.

Evoking curiosity is stimulating and rewarding for both students and professors.

And that, my friend, is a win-win in my book.  Wouldn’t you agree?

How do you evoke curiosity in your learners?

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