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Ask, don't tell: can it work for K‐12?

Stacy Becker (Public Policy Consultant, Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA)

On the Horizon

ISSN: 1074-8121

Article publication date: 16 August 2011




This purpose of this paper is to review Marc Prensky's book Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning.


Prensky's book takes aim at classroom practices, arguing that there are more effective ways for students to acquire knowledge and skills. Specifically, teachers should move from “tell and explain” pedagogical techniques to those that “ask and challenge”. This paper considers Prensky's approach in light of today's K‐12 educational system, what K‐12 education needs to deliver for the future, and relevant research findings.


Our education system faces two unprecedented challenges: all children must be educated, without exception; and for a future that is unknowable. Marc Prensky provides a simple answer to both: if education can't provide students the answers for negotiating the future, it must provide them the skills to figure it out for themselves. Prensky's advice for teachers is consistent with recent research about the importance of student engagement to learning. The practicality of his prescriptions is questioned, however, especially given the constructs of our educational system and No Child Left Behind.


While Prensky's book was written primarily for an audience of K‐12 teachers, this paper will be of greatest interest to K‐12 administrators and reformers. The paper suggests that, while Prensky's approach may be valid, it is unrealistic to expect a wholesale change among teaching practices if the structure of school itself does not change to enable and support those new teaching practices.



Becker, S. (2011), "Ask, don't tell: can it work for K‐12?", On the Horizon, Vol. 19 No. 3, pp. 226-231.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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