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A Dangerous Assumption

By Dave Stuart Jr.

When we assume a person understands us, has learned something, or has otherwise changed just because we told them something, taught them something, covered something in a meeting — that’s First Degree Assumicide.

Teachers, administrators, parents, and students all fall prey to this dangerous assumption.

  • Example 1: “Class, stop with the lower-cased first person pronoun! We’ve been over this! This is a first grade standard! Use upper-case ‘I’!”
  • Example 2: “We covered the purposes of [insert new initiative] in the beginning of the year staff meeting! It’s _____________!”

When we assume that someone is doing something or remembers something because we told them to do it some time ago, we are probably living in an alternative reality. We are overestimating the centrality of our words or lessons or rules and underestimating the overwhelming amount of stimuli that people receive on a daily basis in the twenty-first century.

To overcome this dangerous assumption, two things help a lot:

  • Assume partial responsibility: Instead of assuming that your listener will automatically remember what you told them, assume some of the responsibility yourself.
    • Example 1: “We won’t be using the lower-cased first person pronoun in any of our writing in this course because it’s a first grade standard and details matter. To help you remember this, I want you to start a new page in your notes labeled “Writing Hit List,” and I want you to put “Always capitalize first person pronoun ‘I'” at the top. Another way that I’ll help you remember is by not grading anything that you submit that contains a lower-cased first person pronoun, and not responding to any emails that do likewise.”
    • Example 2: “This new initiative at the school is one we’re committed to because the purpose is _________. The purpose, again, is _________ — that’s something you should write down. What is the purpose? ___________.”
  • Give periodic retrieval practice: Expect your listeners to forget things if you don’t periodically help them remember. Aid in remembering by having them retrieve the information — this is more effective than you simply telling it to them again.
    • Example 1: “All right — we’re about to turn in a piece of readable writing. Class, what is rule #1 on your Writing Hit List?” Allow them to repeat verbally. Another option: Have them answer the question, in writing, as part of their warm-up.
    • Example 2: “Happy October, staff! Please start today’s meeting by writing down on an index card at your table what the two purposes of [insert initiative] are.” (This is a great way to keep your staff focused on Everest, too.)

Step away from the dangerous assumption; step toward the reality that our students or staffs or children or spouses will forget things even if they don’t mean to. If we want it remembered, we need to help!

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4 Responses to A Dangerous Assumption

  1. Lori Padmore June 17, 2017 at 10:29 am #

    Thanks for this! Assumicide! Independent retrieval practice is so important they/we have to have a “need” to learn it!

  2. Sandy Wells June 17, 2017 at 1:01 pm #

    Thank you once again for another great article. It’s a good wake-up call for all of us. I intend to reread this article prior to the start of the new school year and share it with my colleagues.

  3. Susan Colby June 19, 2017 at 8:15 pm #

    What a wake up call for for all involved. I like the writing hit list idea. I will have to revisit this article at the beginning of the year.

  4. patrycja June 21, 2017 at 7:44 pm #

    I like the hit list idea. I would like to provide my students with a “hit list” for the year we consistently refer to throughout the course. Thanks!

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