Today, I was working with a group of students in my Math/Logic class. I gave them the problem of the missionaries and the cannibals. Basically, students have to figure out how to get all of the missionaries across the river without being eaten by the cannibals. Though the solution is quite easy once you know it, figuring it out for the first time takes some serious brain power. One of my students was struggling with the problem and finally asked me if I would give him the cheat-code. At first I laughed, but the more the situation replayed in my mind, the more concerned I became.
I guess I don’t know if all teens do this, but I can remember watching my nephews playing games on their X-box, and for every game they played, they had the cheat-codes so they could accomplish whatever task they were required to do faster and, generally, with more fire power. The cheat-codes took away much of the logic that is planned within the games. They made the games easier to play.
I started thinking of this and wondered how many times I had given my students the cheat-codes for assignments. How many times did I make an assignment so clear that no thinking was involved?
I have certainly set up rubrics that would fall into the category of a cheat-code. Many rubrics are so detailed that there is not much room for the students to think. They use the rubric as a formula to get a grade. Put this here, that there, and poof!, a good essay or project is ready to be turned in or rather, churned out. The students know exactly what to do and how well they are going to do because it is all spelled out for them.
Now I am not saying that this is always bad. Sometimes students need some direct modeling and direction. Good educators give clear instructions. They make sure the students know what is expected, but then students need the opportunity to create on their own. They need to try thinking without the cheat-codes. This doesn’t always happen.
So, what does this mean? Teachers need to learn to be more ambiguous. Don’t give direct instructions (at least all the time). Cut down rubrics so they don’t contain 15 different points. Let students create. Let students think. Let students learn.