"I don't understand"

I discovered a curious thing in class Tuesday.  There are students who don’t understand something, yet don’t ask in class, or anonymously text the comment wall, or drop by after class, or send a follow-up email, or ask at a revision session.   

I berated the class about this. They tell me the problem is even worse in other courses. I told them early in my course that NO QUESTION IS TOO STUPID, and that there are many reasons why they might not understand something, the least likely being their stupidity. Much more likely, Faculty explained things badly.
To my berating, two responses on the comment wall:
I don’t ask because I feel like any answer I get still won’t make any sense. I’ll end up going “*nod* Okay…” and thinking “Still have no clue.”   Groan.  I know no Faculty who would be happy with that.  Ask, ask, ASK.

You can’t just say I don’t get it you have to ask specific questions as you have told us. Without specific questions, no one can help.  Try this: identify the point where the wheels fell off.  We can go from there. If you really understand nothing at all – really, zero, zip, nada, zilch? – then that’s important to identify and we can start over.  But without communication, nothing can happen.   True of so much of life, from teaching to marriage.
I spend my working life saying “I don’t understand”.  All the cool stuff is in that zone. Why aren’t students happy to admit when they are there too?  Is it laziness on their part?  Or something wrong with the culture we create?  Surely we want to encourage our students to say when they don’t understand. That question drives science. The world would be a better place if it was the fundamental question in all walks of life. I don’t understand.  

1 thought on “"I don't understand"

  1. mary

    When I was a student, I used to ask questions to my instructors if there is something that I do not understand but of course I won’t deny the fact that there are times when I am shy to ask. As a suggesstion, it would probably be a good idea to have an evaluation and an open forum in class to get the reasons behind your question. Good luck!


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