Pitfalls to avoid when going through answers
I have heard (and said!) all of these things
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Going through the answers is a staple part of most maths lessons. It could happen during the Do Now, following some practice, or when going over a test. Going through the answers provides a key opportunity to review the independent work students have completed, allowing us to get a sense of where their understanding is. But it is a phase of a lesson I gave little thought to in the past.
But now I am answer-obsessed!
I have been paying particular attention to how teachers go through answers in the lessons I have seen recently. I have noted some of the things teachers say, either when they are explaining an answer, or when they have identified a lack of understanding, and why I think they are problematic. Oh, and needless to say, I have said and done each of these many, many times!
How many of these can you relate to?
Six things teachers say when going through answers…
Listen carefully, I will read out the answers…
It is easy for a student to mishear or forget an answer, especially if it is being read out in a big list. Because verbal information is transient, if they miss the answer the first time, there is no opportunity to catch up. The problem is exacerbated in maths when question numbers roll into the numbers in answers. Here is an excerpt of a set of answers being read out in a lesson I saw recently: Question 1, 5, 2 is 7, 3, 9, Question 4 is 11, 5, 2, 6, 10, 7, 7… One girl looked like her head was about to explode. Fortunately, the solution here is simple: always have the answers available for students to read.
Let’s all look at Question 5…
Teachers often want to draw students’ attention to a particular question when going through the answers. Maybe it has the potential to draw out a common misconception, or contains a twist. The problem is, if answers to all questions are visible to students, you are fighting a losing battle trying to draw their attention to an earlier question - students are too busy marking and thinking about other answers. Again, there is a simple solution: reveal answers one at a time so you can better control the focus of students’ attention.
Well done if you got that correct!
Here, the teacher has modelled a solution, or called upon a student to go through an answer. With the correct answer established, the teacher offers praise to anyone else who got it right. What is wrong with that? Well, put yourself in the shoes of a student who has got the question wrong. Are they really going to put their hand up and say they don’t get it, or ask you to go through it again? Maybe. But I think it reduces the chances of that happening. One solution is to hold back revealing whether an answer is correct - especially if it is the answer to a critical question - until you have asked if there are any different answers. The better solution can be found in number 6 in this list!
Who got most of them correct?..
This is an interesting one. Here, students mark their work, then the teacher asks something like: Who got more than half correct, who got 70% or more, or who only made one mistake? The question to ask here is: What does this data actually tell you? So, most of the class got most of the questions correct… but what if everyone got a certain question wrong? A major misconception may be buried under the rubble of aggregation. A possible solution is coming next, a better one is in number 6!
Hands up who got this question correct
This is better than aggregation. Here the teacher gathers data on each question, so is better placed to identify specific issues. But how reliable is the data? Will each student feel confident enough to admit they are struggling or confused in front of their peers? Again, maybe. But maybe not. The solution is coming next…
All of you, show me your answer
Asking each student to show you their answer to a given question before you have discussed the question or revealed the answer is the single most effective way of obtaining reliable data on student understanding. You hear from all students, and you see their actual answer, not the answer they tell you they got. In maths, mini-whiteboards are by far the most effective way to achieve this. Students can be asked to copy their final answer from their book, test or worksheet, hold it up on the count of 3, and you get an immediate sense of where your students are at. If everyone is correct, you can move on. If there are problems, you are immediately aware of them and so can respond.
Five things teachers say when it is clear some students don’t understand…
Let’s imagine we have seen the answers of all your students, and it is clear there is a spread of understanding in the room. How do we respond?
If you left it out, copy down the answer
Here, the teacher models the correct way to answer the question and asks students to copy it into their books. As a result, we have an example of the Myth of Copying Things Down. Nothing magical happens during the act of copying something from the board into a book which means it all of a sudden makes sense. And yet it looks and feels so much better than a blank answer.
If you got it wrong, correct it (in green pen)
This is the trendy version of the Myth of Copying Things Down (purple pen is also an option). Once again, copying down a correction that makes no sense is unlikely to help a student understand the concept, but everyone feels better having done it.
If you got it wrong, I’ll check in with you later in the lesson
I have said this so many times, and yet followed through on it so few. Probably you are a better teacher than me, but I just find that in the information overload zone of a typical lesson, trying to remember which students were struggling with which particular example, and then making time to check in with them at some point later in the lesson, simply does not happen as consistently as it should.
Are we all happy? (see also: Does this make sense?)
”Oh yes, sir, of course we are!”, the sea of silence (accentuated by the occasional smile and nod) seems to say. But are students happy? Do they really understand? Think of all the reasons a student who does not understand might have for not letting you know: embarrassment, peer pressure, laziness, fear of letting you down, or an inability to articulate exactly what they do not understand. The response to this question is a poor proxy for a reliable whole-class check for understanding.
Show me you understand by having a go at this one
For my money, this is the best way to respond to evidence of confusion. Identify the problem, offer an explanation or worked solution, ask students if they have any questions, and then check the effectiveness of your intervention by asking students a question related to the original one they struggled on. If students can answer this question correctly - again, mini-whiteboards are your friend here - you have much more reliable evidence that your students are on the path to understanding than a purple-pen adorned book will ever provide.
How many of these can you relate to?
What do you agree with, and what have I got wrong?
Let me know in the comments below!
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Thanks so much for reading and have a great week!