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Dignifying Wrong Answers

We all face occasions when we need to correct a child. How we make the correction has a powerful impact. Although this entry is written for classroom teachers, the message is applicable and useful for parents.

Dignify Wrong Answers

Embarrassing a student who offers a wrong answer constitutes one of the quickest ways to anchor fear of failure and feelings of stupidity. While your job includes giving corrective feedback, the way you respond to a wrong answer will make the difference in whether a student continues to try or refuses to participate. The following guidelines suggest ways to dignify an insecure student who gives a different response from the one you expect. Use one of the following statements from Dr. Madeline Hunter’s Project BEST.

Close! Think about it. (Then give a clue).

I can see why you gave that answer. However, the correct answer is . . .

I know you know the answer. A clue is _____.

  • To the student who raises her hand and then doesn’t know the answer say, You really do know the answer. You have forgotten. I’ll come back to you when you remember.

  • To help the student who is too shy and insecure to answer in front of the class encourage, Whisper the answer to me and I’ll tell the class what you want to say.

  • For the student who never seems to know the answer to any question, work with her ahead of time and rehearse the question and the answer. I’m planning to call on you to answer this question during the reading. Be ready to give the answer.

  • Allow ample time for students to think (approximately 5 to 7 seconds). Say, _____ is thinking. Let’s be very quiet and help her think.

  • When a student is stuck, take the pressure off by saying, Everyone, get ready to answer this question! Everyone, check with your partners. Re-ask the question.

  • Then come back to the original student and ask the question again.

  • You may ask, Would you like to pass? Choosing to pass offers more dignity than asking for help from peers.

  • If you decide to call on another student, you may want to reassure the first student that you have not given up on her.

I’m going to call on someone else, but I want you to listen carefully. I’m going to come back to you and I expect you to know the answer.

– Be certain to immediately return to the first student.

  • Instead of saying, This is an easy question, say, This is a challenge!

  • Change the intonation, pitch, and volume of your voice as you ask questions. Make some questions seem mysterious, others exciting.

  • Consider buying a small, portable amplifying system so the quiet students can speak into a microphone and answer more easily.

  • When determining levels of understanding, use positives instead of, Who needs help? or Raise your hand if you have questions. Students will rarely admit either of these. Try the following ideas as alternative ways to check understanding.

I may not have explained it clearly. If you’re with me, raise your hand.

– Ask each group or row to confer and make up a group question

.- Say, Tell what you do understand!

The idea is to provide dignity to children who respond incorrectly as well as those who do not have any answer at all. A student who is embarrassed may begin to give up. When you give corrective feedback in a way that dignifies, the child remains willing to try again.


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