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Responding Effectively to Incorrect Answers

I’m so happy that trainers and teachers are finally embracing the reality that lectures are not the most effective technique to transfer learning. However, as we try to make the switch and commit to asking questions rather than telling answers, we can create discomfort for the learners.  Knowing that discomfort and stress are the brain’s enemies, the question is what we can do to respond better to “crickets” (that is, nobody answers) or incorrect answers.

Brooke McCaffrey, in her Education Week article, “Sticking with Students,” explains a different approach that communicates to students that you believe in them.  Some of her strategies include:

  • Providing wait time – not calling on a student too soon
  • “Turn and talk” – discussing answers with a neighbor
  • Give the students personal whiteboards, so they don’t have to respond verbally
  • Give positive feedback about what is right about a “wrong answer”
  • Address the entire class with cues for the “right answer”
  • Give the right answer without sign of frustration or displeasure

After trying these new approaches, McCaffrey found, “I changed the energy in my classroom. The quiet, shy students began taking more risks because it was no longer scary to supply a wrong answer. Wrong answers became opportunities for growth for all of us.”

Here’s the complete article: “Sticking with Students: Responding Effectively to Incorrect Answers” by Brooke McCaffrey in Education Week, Jan 6, 2014 (published online)

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