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Coping with the Curse of Knowledge (and Yes, You May Have It Too)

Reflections on Teaching

Coping with the Curse of Knowledge (and Yes, You May Have It Too)

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Having never viewed myself as an expert and periodically believed I’m an imposter just waiting to be found out, I went a long time without worrying about the so-called curse of knowledge. I couldn’t possibly know too much math and chemistry, the content I teach. I associated the curse of knowledge with the difficulties experts have in bringing their extensive knowledge of the content “down” to the level of students in their introductory courses. In my nonexpert world, when concepts seemed easy to me, I assumed they were easy for everyone. I freely admitted and reminded my students that I had “done this many times.” But I also held fast to the belief that if they simply did the work, it would be easy for them as well.

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  1. Perry Shaw September 23, 2019

    What a superb article Nancy. Thank you for taking the time. I was privileged to begin my teaching career as a high school mathematics teacher. I remember my first placement in my teaching degree where I spent hours preparing my “fantastic” lesson. I presented my material with creativity and “clarity”, and then set the students to work doing exercises.

  2. Perry Shaw September 23, 2019

    (cont) Within 5 minutes I discovered that half the students didn’t have a clue what I had been saying. One reason we don’t realise that we have the “curse of knowledge” is that we don’t take the time to discover what our students are and are not understanding from what we say.

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