How to Answer a Question You Don’t Know the Answer to

How to Answer a Question You Don’t Know the Answer to

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As a  professional teacher, a student asks me a question which I don’t know, I’ll tell him I’ll clear it to you in my next class. And I’ll not be ashamed of it, that I don’t know the answer to your question. And I won’t discourage him by saying get out, because he’ll always be afraid of asking questions in future as I am now.

Obviously, we cannot know everything, and students do use electronic devices connected to the Internet while in class so that they can “Google” whatever you say and verify your statements.

You absolutely have to be honest, but this becomes a greater opportunity to model meta-cognition and demonstrate strategies that you use to find an answer to an unknown question. You get to analyse the question, brainstorm all the things, resources and tools you could consult and use to help you find the answer and then you get to demonstrate how to use such tools and resources and arrive at the answer. It also presents the opportunity for you to discuss as a class – HOW do we know when we have found the RIGHT answer, how can we match an answer to a question (or a question to an answer) and know that we have the right answer?

These are strategies that we expect children to employ in their study and also in exam taking and so not knowing an answer to a question actually opens the door for you to teach (and more importantly for the children to learn) so much more.

I strongly believe that while you as a teacher can indeed tell students that you don’t know but will find out FOR them and tell them in the next class, doing so means that you (and the students) miss an incredibly brilliant opportunity to teach beyond the obvious and to engage the learners to actively find out WITH you by enabling them to co- construct their own knowledge and understanding rather than passively receiving your knowledge.

In essence – embrace NOT knowing because it also shows your students that you too are human and nobody knows everything, but everybody can find answers to questions if they are shown how and guided, encouraged engaged and supported finding out.

We are all learners and that every semester I learn new things from the students. The whole of life is a learning process. I would personally tell them that we can all explore that question as an assignment and we will come in with the answer in the next lecture and compare/discuss it. For sure no one can know everything and there are cases when the answer just skipped your mind. Asking for time or encouraging collaborative learning and sharing can help come up with the answer.

As a teacher, you should understand and also make it known to your students that you are not the repository of all knowledge. As such, such a question can be redirected to the whole class for further discussion or as an assignment for discussion on your next meeting.

In summary, teachers are most effective when they are open and honest with their students. I too would tell the student who asked the unanswerable question that I don’t have an immediate answer but would have one when the class meets again. If the student persisted in wanting or needing an immediate answer, I would open the forum for students to answer the question correctly. If this proved to be a problem, the answer would have to wait until the next session.

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