Why I Respond in the Same Way to Correct and Incorrect Answers

I posed the subtraction question 92 minus 18 for a class to calculate. One child answered 74. Another said 86. My response to both children was the same: “How did you get that answer?”

I did not indicate to one child that the answer was correct and to the other that it was incorrect. I wanted each child, and their classmates, to figure out for themselves if either answer made sense or not.

I want the children to become sense-makers who are willing to interrogate their own ideas. I want them to rely on logic when figuring out if an answer is right or wrong and not depend on the external affirmation or disaffirmation of a teacher.

Some children like the reassurance of a teacher having the final word but, with practice, children quickly get used to having to not only give an answer but to justify it.

Some teachers think that children get confused if answers are not immediately clarified. I work towards clarification by having children discuss the answers given. We talk about how an answer makes sense or about the kind of mistake that could produce a particular wrong answer and how such a mistake could be avoided by the children in this class.

A little confusion in the short-term can stimulate a child to think about a given answer. In the long term, children are more likely to remember ways of thinking in class than specific answers to specific questions.

The example above is from a mathematics lesson. The same approach can be taken in teaching history, science, English or any other subject. Depending on the situation, my response might be “What evidence do you have to support your claim?” or “Why does that answer make sense?”

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