One of the biggest struggles in my classroom and teaching is how to infer. This vast concept of being able to process information and knowledge to produce an answer is a lifeskill, one of those daunting tasks as a teacher that we must accomplish making sense of for our students. I don’t think the students are the problem, in fact, they are quite creative in their thinking; it is the educational system as a whole that is to blame for this.
With an emphasis on tests we teach students there is only one packaged answer, at least at the elementary level. We do not teach them that the answer can be deeper than just one sentence or that their answer may differ from ours. Why? Because you cannot measure that on a test. A test requires one bubble filled in or writing that fits into someones rubric. A test requires conformity in our thinking and particularly in our creative problem-solving skills. Tests do not like when we debate or argue various points. Tests urge simplicity in our instruction.
That is not to say that all tests are bad. We often discuss how it is what you do with the information that measures the worth of a test, and yet, tests hinder us from doing exceptional things in the classroom on a daily basis. That urgent need to constantly check for progress through a test experience, stiffles students in their quest to become bigger and better thinkers, and to help create inferences. SO most of our instruction is teaching to the test, math has one answer, when we ask questions they almost always have one answer as well. Teacher bias means a need for student thinking to line up with their own interpretation, so it becomes right versus wrong. After all, how many of us after the correct answer has been given, stop to ask whether there are other correct answers?
So why am I so hung up on inferences? Well, they require that one gathers a lot of information, mixes it up with background knowledge, and then draws a new conclusion. Inference requires confidence in ones own qualities as a thinker, as an independent creator. Tests do not teach confidence. My instruction attempts to, yet I am constantly battling students who think that there is just ONE answer. After all, that is what they have been taught. So if they miss that one true answer, then they must be stupid. It appears that we, by pushing tests on our students, become the creators of our own demise; students who have no confidence in their abilities to learn. And by “We” I mean the system as a whole. In our incessant quest to measure, we are dumbing down our student population, urging them not to think creatively but rather stick to the known, the facts, the things that can be measured. We are making them believe that the world has a right and wrong answer in every scenario, but it doesn’t. No wonder some of our most successful thinkers did not feel the urge to complete college. We have to get past the one answer tests to help our students. We have to get past the constant need for progress measurement. Get back to teaching. Get back to discussion. Get back to creative solutions. It is time to bring the thinking back in education.