Why I never answer questions at Code Club
June 1, 2015

It’s hard to learn how to code (but totally worth the effort). The concepts are hard, including everything from variables to loops to conditional logic to functions. The syntax and vocabulary are hard to master. Getting a project to actually work feels daunting and at times impossible.

For all those reasons, I am never surprised when one of the young people at Code Club raises their hand and asks me to help them. I walk over with a smile, say hello and find out what they are working on. They often express frustration and even despair.

I never answer their question.

Even bigger than the nuts and bolts of javascript, Code Club is teaching and reinforcing a growth mindset. We want to prove that these kids are capable of learning anything with enough patience and hard work. Armed with this mindset, they will be poised for success at whatever they do, whether or not it involves typing instructions into a computer. Not answering questions is a central pillar of our strategy to instill the growth mindset in these young people, setting them up for success in life.

Instead of answering questions, we have landed on a policy that we think gets the point across. After a few months of this, the kids stop asking me and apply their ingenuity to find the answers they are looking for.

Here is the three-step process, beginning the first time someone raises their hand to ask a coding question:

  1. “What have you tried so far?” I try to get them talking about their attempts to solve the problem. I regularly point out resources like google search or documentation pages for the specific platform (for example, the Scratch Wiki).
  2. “Who else have you asked?” I make sure they work with other kids as much as possible. If they are shy, I will introduce them to someone that can help. Sometimes I shout out the topic and ask people to raise their hand if they know anything about it, then tell the original questioner to go talk to one of those people.
  3.  “Let’s figure this out together.” I have found that kids can learn a lot by tinkering together with me. Sometimes they have a fear of breaking things, or they are worried about failure. But they learn quickly through a trial and error process, and the next time they are more likely to get it working on their own. I also enjoy googling things on their computer to help them realize that I don’t have all the answers.

It’s not rocket science, and certainly not a secret (I just put it on the internet!), but this simple approach has helped instill the growth mindset into the kids we have worked with at our Code Club. We like it so much that we are building it into our Code Club software, and I have even heard of groups hanging a poster with the three questions for easy reference. Give it a try, and let us know how it goes in the comments or email me!


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