The New “Ask 3 Before Me”?

When I was in the classroom, I had a rule: ask three before me.  Several of my colleagues had a similar rule.  The basic premise was that students shouldn’t come ask the teacher about every single question they had.  The goal was so that students would learn to search for the answer for a bit themselves rather than just defaulting to asking the teacher right away (and honestly, saved the teacher time because there’s no way one person can answer every single question from 25 inquisitive kindergarteners in one class period!).

My goal as an educator has always been to help my students become independent learners; ideally, they shouldn’t need me at some point if I’ve done my job well.  But in 2016, I wonder if we need to take this a step further. I’ve heard many complain about a sort of “learned helplessness” among today’s youth, a lack of any real knowledge or skill.  I’ll admit that I fall into that category sometimes myself.  There are many things that my parents and grandparents know how to do that I have no clue about, such as changing my own oil or canning vegetables.

Yet in many ways, I am much more adept than my elders at figuring out how to solve new problems.  Take even a simple example: my mother plays a word game on her iPhone. When she gets stumped, she texts me and asks for a hint. For awhile I would help her, but after awhile I got tired of the game and couldn’t help her anymore. Instead, I taught her how to do a Google search to find hints and answers. It would have never occurred to her that such a thing even exists (I also showed her on YouTube that some people create videos of the solutions in case she really gets stuck).

Teachers sometimes bemoan the fact that today’s students may never know what it’s like to have to look up something in an actual dictionary or encyclopedia. While there’s something to be said for valuing traditions, when was the last time you picked up a volume of an actual bound copy of an encyclopedia to look for an answer? I bet you Googled it or looked on Wikipedia.  Need to learn a new skill?  You might take a class, or better yet, search for it on YouTube.  Need recommendations for a restaurant?  Visit UrbanSpoon.com or put out a request on social media to get several within hours if not minutes.

So, I propose a new “Ask 3 Before Me” based on this image:

Image by Heather Dowd (@heza)

Notice the teacher is not on the list.  But fear not.  Just because you’re not on the list doesn’t mean you’re not important.  Students need to use collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and sometimes even creativity (together known as the 4 C’s of 21st Century learning) to be able to do any of this.  That’s where we come in.  These “new” skills are so fundamental to our students’ future success that we don’t dare send them into the real world without them.

I challenge you to think about this for a bit: how might your classroom look different if you go in with the assumption that students will forever have access to Google (or its someday replacement)?  What do they need to know and do?  What no longer seems important?

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