What’s The Worst Answer?

“Students must know why an answer is a good one. And if the answer is not a good one, they need to explain why and suggest revisions to strengthen the answer. Rather than wait for the answer, teachers need to encourage students to consider the range of options suggested by students, the teacher or found in the textbook. This is an expectation to scrutinize options, not merely to guess the correct answer. Students must be encouraged to judge which suggestions are supported by the evidence and consistent with what is generally known. To reinforce the expectation, it can be helpful to regularly invite students to select the worst idea and explain its weaknesses and revise the answer to make it more reasonable.”

I read this today on my way to school, and the idea kept marinating in my brain as first period began.  The class started as many math classes do… by taking up last night’s homework.  Today, the homework that the students were taking up was a series of multiple choice questions.  The teacher first asked the students which answer was correct, then she asked the students why they chose that particular answer.  Students would answer then defend their choices, and then they would move on to the next question.

It actually reminded me a lot of a class that I had been woking with in the fall.  In both cases, the time in between multiple choice answers was the most valuable; THAT was where the real learning lived.  The answers were a means to talk about the thinking.

With, Case and Gini-Newan’s words in my mind, I chimed in with a follow up question to the math class.  After the students had found (and reasoned out) the best answer, I asked them which was the worst answer.  Both their teacher and I were amazed at the depth of conversation that the question led to.  Disagreements, debates, and dialogue around numbers… something that did not exist when talked about the right answer.

Try it if you get the chance.


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