The Right Tool For the Job

The psychologist Abraham Maslow famously observed that if the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. I first heard this insight from a mentor when I was beginning my teaching career, and it’s had a profound influence on me ever since. In one sense, it’s a fairly obvious pedagogical point: tools matter. I wouldn’t use a hammer to remove a splinter from my finger, and I wouldn’t lecture for a whole period if I was trying to foster active learning. But there’s more at work here, I think; “tools” can also signify mindsets and attitudes. For example, if our default mindset about students is that they are deficient (“they can’t write worth a damn!”), then that conditions our responses to their work (We might ignore improvement because their writing never reaches “mastery” level).

Hammer, hammer, hammer.

“What’s wrong with hammers?”

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