Have you ever noticed that when you know a lot about a subject, it can actually be harder to teach someone else about it?
This is a common problem, and it’s called the curse of knowledge. The curse refers to the idea that the more you know about a subject, the harder it can be to transfer that knowledge to someone who has limited knowledge of the subject.1
For instance, a brilliant physicist who studies atomic collisions may have a difficult time trying to explain basic atoms and molecules to a high school student.
Here’s an example that might hit closer to home …
Your Aunt Sally knows how to bake the perfect pie crust. In fact, she’s done it so often she doesn’t even need a recipe. She just does it by feel. If you ask her to teach you, she’ll probably say something like, “Just keep adding water until it feels right” or “Knead the dough until it’s the perfect consistency.”
Not very helpful, is it?
As delicious as Aunt Sally’s pies are, she’s suffering from the curse of knowledge. Her knowledge may help her make a great pie, but it has become a curse to the process of teaching you to make a great pie. Sadly, if she can’t learn to overcome the curse of knowledge, the art of the perfect pie crust may never move beyond Aunt Sally’s kitchen.
But the curse of knowledge isn’t just Aunt Sally’s problem. It may be your problem as well.
As you know, teaching your child to read and spell is one of the most important jobs you will ever do. But if you don’t overcome the curse of knowledge, you may encounter all kinds of obstacles:
The curse of knowledge can affect your effectiveness as a teacher by causing you to forget that your child doesn’t have the benefit of the knowledge that you possess.
Imagine that your child is trying to fit the pieces of a big puzzle together without the benefit of the picture on the front of the puzzle box. He doesn’t know what the end result is supposed to look like. He doesn’t know how to fit the pieces together. Without the guidance of someone who has the big picture in mind, your child can struggle and become frustrated.
Just understanding that the curse of knowledge exists is an important first step! It helps you recognize potential problems before they actually become problems. Here are five important tips to help you avoid the pitfalls created by the curse of knowledge.
Of course, this is all more easily said than done!
But that’s where comprehensive programs such as All About Reading and All About Spelling come in. They eliminate the effect that the curse of knowledge may have on your instruction. Since everything is carefully laid out, you won’t have to reach back into the dark recesses of your brain to remember what it took to become a good reader. You won’t have to figure out how to help your child put all those random puzzle pieces together. The programs do that for you. You can just sit back and enjoy the process with your child.
Has the curse of knowledge ever affected your teaching?
1Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2010). Made to stick: Why some ideas survive and others die. New York: Random House.