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What To Do...When Children Share Incorrect Answers

communication math community math workshop mindset May 08, 2024

It's a familiar scenario. We've all encountered situations where we ask a child to share their thinking, and they confidently present an incorrect answer. So, how do we respond? What actions should we take? In this post, I'll get into how I approach the sharing of a wrong answer during a mini-lesson, within the Math Workshop structure. However, the same ideas and principles can also be applied during math conferencing and investigation time.

First and foremost, we want to maintain curiosity. What is this child thinking about? How are they thinking about it? We want to 'get underneath' their thinking process. As educators, there are several steps we can take in preparation for when a child shares a wrong answer, knowing that it's bound to happen.

Maintain a Neutral Response

I'm careful to maintain a neutral response at all times. By remaining neutral to all types of thinking during a mini-lesson (and investigation), we can keep the thought process flowing and focus on unpacking the process of arriving at an answer, regardless of its correctness. This approach sends a clear message to the children that we value all forms of thinking and that all contributions are important to our community.

Use Visual Models of Thinking

We can ensure that we always record, model, and visually share the thinking during a mini-lesson. Sometimes, when children see their thinking visually represented, they naturally self-correct just by observing the visual model of their thought process.

Explicitly Teach “Change my thinking”

We can explicitly teach, reinforce, and value the idea of changing our thinking. By doing this, we create space for children to 'change their thinking' and provide them with language to express this shift. Instead of saying 'I'm wrong' or 'That isn't it,' they can share statements like "Oh, actually, I'm changing my thinking" and self-correct.

Teach and Embrace a Growth Mindset

We can explicitly teach a growth mindset and consistently reinforce it through actions. When children understand that their brains develop new connections from making mistakes, they become more willing to embrace errors and adjust their thinking. I often acknowledge their efforts by saying things like “Wow, I can see your brain growing right now!”

Intentionally Build a Math Community

We can emphasize the importance of our talk community and intentionally cultivate it. By scaffolding for children to share part of their thinking and inviting others to build upon it, we create opportunities for collaborative exploration. I might prompt the community with questions like “Does anyone want to add onto ’s idea?” Or “, would you like to select someone to expand on your thinking?” This helps children and educators unpack thinking together, versus focusing on right/wrong answers.

By implementing these strategies early on in our community, we create an environment where children feel comfortable exploring all ideas, both right and wrong. This also lays the groundwork for embracing the concept of changing our thinking, shifting the focus away from the end product (an answer) and fostering a deeper curiosity in the learning process.

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