I Don't Know

Recently, my students took a test in our Social Science class. The assessment was a few short answer questions about a variety of topics in Ancient India. As my students turn them in, I typically have a follow up activity for them to be working on while other students are finishing up. Then I will start on grading the assessments in an effort to give them some instant feedback. There are always some answers that leave me scratching my head and asking myself, “where did that come from.”

However, as I was reading through the student’s work I came across one comment from a student that took me back initially. The question she was answering had two parts to it. She answered the first part well but clearly struggled with the second part and simply wrote, “I don’t know. L

Now, I know some teachers that would simply give this student a marked down score and move on. I do not do that. Personally, I look at this as an opportunity for both me and my student to learn and grow. Rather than moving on, I provide re-teaching opportunities as well as retakes. For most students, as soon as they turn in a test or assignment their learning ends. I would rather have a student write down, “I don’t know” so I can look at a different approach to help them understand that content. On a regular basis, I tell my students that it is ok for them not to know the answers but to constantly be looking for them. Once they give up on finding answers, I have failed them.

If I am truly a teacher, then I must teach. That doesn’t mean just teaching up until the test, but beyond. If a student “doesn’t know” then it is my responsibility to help them “know”. Learning should not end when a piece of paper is turned in.


I am a big fan of allowing students the ability to choose how they want to show me evidence of their learning. Yes, most students prefer to do this in written form because that is what they are used to. However, every once in a while a student will produce something that really blows me away. While studying Ancient Greece we were discussing various forms of government. One of these was an oligarchy which is simply a form of government in which the decisions are made by a small group. My students typically giggle at the sound of oligarchy because they think it is something the can order off the menu at Olive Garden. During one of the activities students wanted to draw pictures of what they thought oligarchy would look like if it was a dish on the menu. Here is one of these pictures.


It is clear to me that this student understands the concept of an oligarchy through this picture. She clearly illustrated the small group of decision makers as the olives on the top of the dish. Then there is the “sauce” that represents the decisions that impact the rest of the population which she used noodles for. I don’t need her to take a test or write me an essay. The abstract manner in which she illustrated her understanding is more than adequate. As I plan my lessons and subsequent assessments, I try to constantly be looking for opportunities for students to show me their comprehension in a variety of ways.

How often do we allow students the choice to show us their learning in a different way? Must all learning be shown in the same manner?