Jeremy Côté


Are You Sure?

I’ve always been interested in a particular teaching technique that I think of as the “deception”. I’m sure you’ve experienced this sort of technique before, where it goes something like this:

The teacher asks, “How does this concept work?” The student responds with the correct answer, but they aren’t fully certain. Then, instead of agreeing and telling the student their answer is correct, they ask, “Are you sure?”

Suddenly, the student doesn’t seem as confident of their answer.

I’ve seen this happen on multiple occasions, and teachers seem to do this for different reasons. Some like to simply bug students, while others want to see how confident the students are in their answers. The goal, of course, is to get students to be sure of their answers without the need of a teacher’s approval.

I’ve always wondered how effective this strategy is. On the one hand, it’s a bit misleading to a student, who tends to rely on the nods of a teacher to know if they are going in the right direction. On the other hand, this technique prevents students from relying on the teacher as a crutch for a correct answer, since the teacher won’t be there to help for an exam.

My feeling on the subject is that it’s a good tool to use, but shouldn’t necessarily be used all the time. I worry that it could get to the point where the students don’t trust the teacher for straight answers, which isn’t a good thing. If used well though, it can be a good strategy to challenge students to trust their own reasoning.

Like many things, this technique should probably be used in moderation, and simply to see if a student is understanding the concept correctly.