Just so everyone has a clear sense of what is meant by uncertainty, Jordan and McDaniel (in press), define it as “an individual’s subjective experience of doubting, being unsure, or wondering about how the future will unfold, what the present means, or how to interpret the past” (p. 3). As a reading teacher, this is a topic that I am particularly interested in, as my students undoubtedly have felt uncertain while learning how to read. I’m sure they have thought about which phonetic sound represents the letter of the alphabet that is front of them. If they are an older student, they are likely confused as they attempt reading a complex novel or article. In transitioning to my role as a literacy coach next year, I think about how I will soon have to give advice and tips to teachers about how to manage their students’ uncertainty within the context of a literacy classroom. So, as you can see, I was hopeful that this article would give me some insights as to how to do that.
The authors mentioned that the research out there points out that individuals deal with uncertainty through communication and the responses given by peers heavily impact one’s ability to deal with uncertainty in the future (Jordan & McDaniel, in press). In reflecting upon my own students, as many of them are struggling readers, I think about how they often rely on peers to help them when they do not know a concept. However, often times, the students that they are asking for help from also are uncertain. This caused me to ask the following questions: Does this mean that students will be content in remaining uncertain? Will they try to inquire further? Or, do they just accept to live with the uncertainty and move on?
In thinking about these questions, it seems that how a student deals with uncertainty really has to do with how well the teacher helps students manage it. This article makes it clear that this is a key responsibility of the teacher. When students are encouraged to tackle problems, uncertainty can be productive; however, when problems are to be avoided, that is when students struggle in managing uncertainty (Jordan & McDaniel, in press). As a teacher, there will of course be those students who struggle with a particular concept more so than other students. This might lead to frustration from both the person who is struggling and those who are directly working with them. According to the study by Jordan and McDaniel (in press), if individuals shared the same uncertainty over time, groups eventually become annoyed with them and lost their patience. Therefore, it is crucial that teachers consistently model supportive peer responses for their students. Additionally, it is important that when assigning group work, that they strategically group students so no one becomes discouraged from their uncertainty.
The article suggests that individuals learn how to mange their uncertainty through their interactions with others (Jordan & McDaniel, in press). Therefore, it must be communicated in every interaction with students that uncertainty is natural and healthy. Though it can be difficult within the context of standardized testing where kids are encouraged to get to the ‘right’ answer all the time, it must be emphasized that struggling can be a good thing. Teachers should not always try to reduce student uncertainty immediately to supposedly allow learning to happen (Jordan & McDaniel, in press). From being a classroom teacher, however, I know this is very hard to change, especially when teachers are constantly being evaluating for what their students know at that moment. I do think that changing the way we manage student uncertainty could increase educational excellence, but it is something that teachers and administrators will need to agree upon in order for this to be a reality.
Jordan, M. E., & McDaniel, R. R. (in press). Managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams: The role of peer influence in robotics engineering activity. The Journal of the Learning Sciences. doi: 10.1080/10508406.2014.896254