I'm Not Really Much of a Thinker
But: I'm starting to wonder if students aren't told anymore, "Go and look it up," or, "I don't know either - why don't you find out." Or finally, "Use your noggin. You know the answer. You just don't know you know it."
I thought about this today: My first semester teaching, I gave an exam that had a question about drug addiction and "enabling" (this is when I taught the comprehensive health course - we try not to mix drugs with our sex in the class I teach now) and one of the response choices was, "Tina is 30 years old and economically dependent on her parents because of her meth addiction." At least 5 students raised their hands for help and all asked me the same thing: "I don't know what you mean by that."
I was so taken aback when the first student asked me that, I don't think I believed her. Perhaps she was playing a joke? "What?" I stammered, "Come on - sure you do!" She shook her head - "No, I really don't." I tried to walk her through it. "Well, think about it: What does 'economic' mean?" She didn't know. After some coaching, she was able to figure out what "dependent" meant. I had to explain economic. But what about the tried and true, "hooked on Phonics" sounding (or "working" in this case) it out?
And as the semester progressed, I found that during exams, students rarely asked me questions about the exam content; they asked me questions about what words and phrases meant. Words like, "Economically dependent" and "rivals" and "impasse."
This is where the tired and rambling comes in and where maybe you can help me out: I was always told, "There is no such thing as a stupid question." But: I wasn't always given the answer, either. In fact, I still remember vividly having to stay in one recess (fifth grade) to look up every single one of the words I didn't understand in the first 3 chapters of Island of the Blue Dolphin (and write out the definitions) because I had asked too many questions during English class.
I've since tried to simplify my exams and I try to avoid using any of those "GRE-type" words. And yet, I always get questions about the meaning of words that I never in a million years thought would stump a college student.
This isn't a rant - I'm really wondering: What is going on here? Unrealistic expectations on my part? Poor reading comprehension skills? A high school focus on a small set of words that will be found on the state proficiency exams? Nerves - i.e., words they'd recognize in other situations, but due to test anxiety suddenly seem unfamiliar?
I honestly don't know. It's just another mystery that remains unsolved for now.