I have never seen this before.
How many different times and in how many different ways have I heard this statement from a student? It is as if this statement somehow invalidates the legitimacy of what we are doing, or provides a free pass to accomplish little or nothing. It comes across as a complaint, but it should be an exclamation. Hey, we are finally doing something different, and I am learning something new!
Exposing students to something they have never encountered before is the essence of teaching; it is what education is about. But I recognize it is an uncomfortable place to be cognitively. It may be that I simply need to do a better job of reassuring students that they are up to the task. All learning is connected to previous knowledge. When possible, I make these connections known, but every student has a different set of knowledge, skills, interests and abilities, so it is a challenge to make every topic relevant and meaningful to each student.
When students say “I haven’t seen this before,” or “We haven’t learned this yet,” should a teacher get defensive or excited? I think we should be getting excited and communicate enthusiasm to our students that we are on the brink of learning something new! Unfortunately, I think sometimes complaints can bring a certain defensiveness, particularly in the later days of a calendar year, when the days are growing colder and shorter, a semester winds down and you look back at how much was (or wasn’t) accomplished. But in teaching there is always a new semester on the horizon, and new opportunities to do things a little better.
It might be a little early for new year’s resolutions, but one resolution I am making for my teaching in the coming year is when I hear “I don’t know how to do this,” or “We haven’t learned this yet,” I will be respond with enthusiasm, “Isn’t that great? You get to learn something new!”