“The Curse of Knowledge” should be required reading in every credentialing program.
The curse states that: once you know something, it’s hard to think from the perspective of someone who doesn’t know it. And the more you know, the harder this gets.
Experts become the worst at explaining an idea unless they actively battle The Curse of Knowledge. I bet we all experienced a college professor (or conference presenter) who yammered on, assuming that you would just “get it” without ever checking in.
An Information Imbalance
This article in The Harvard Business Review, calls this an “information imbalance.” The greater the imbalance, the more awareness you need in order to be an effective teacher. (Aside: There’s also a wonderful anecdote about tapping out songs in that article that you should totally read).
As teachers, our whole job is to correct information imbalances!
But I Said It!
The Curse of Knowledge also connects perfectly with the first of Tom Sallee’s Two Lies of Teaching: “If I say it, they’ll learn it.”
How many times have you heard a frustrated teacher groan, “I just explained that!” or “I already said that” in response to a question. This frustrated teacher blames students for not listening – but there’s a difference between listening and understanding.
Just look at Bloom’s Taxonomy! “Remember” and “Understand” are two different levels.
Make Sure Everyone’s With You
This is why constant “checks for understanding” and formative assessments are vital. It’s really easy to assume everyone’s keeping up, but just because they’re listening nicely doesn’t mean they’re understanding anything. In fact, students want you to think they understand so that they don’t look dumb, get called on, or get asked to the dreaded teacher’s table for review.
And beware: the longer you teach, and the more often you teach the same lessons, the easier it is to think the material is basic knowledge – simply because you know it so well!
Along with formative assessments, that powerful teaching trait of empathy is your ally against The Curse of Knowledge. Can you feel what your students feel? Can you think like they think? Can you step out of your teacher shoes and into the shoes of a six or sixteen year old?
If not, I gaurantee you that there are teachers on staff who naturally connect to kids. Watch them. Talk to them. Figure out how they do it. I owe much to my classroom neighbors Mrs. Joo, Miss Chan, and Miss Phan for demonstrating empathy for 12 year olds.
Battling The Curse
The Curse Of Knowledge is a serious problem. You naturally think students understand, they naturally pretend to understand, and then it’s the unit test and… their understanding was underwhelming. Use formative assessments and empathy as your allies against the curse.
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