When You Hear A Perfect Answer

You’re teaching a class. Problem-based, discovery, inquiry, whatever you want to call it. Students struggle with a new problem. Some students figure it out, some are partway there, some are confused. Class moves into a discussion. Share student work, or have students present methods. You call on a student. They give an absolutely stellar, perfect explanation, exactly what you were looking for.

What do you do?

Too often, my response last year was to say “perfect!” But that’s just one student, and the goal of the discussion needs to be to get every student to understanding.

To work on that, I’m creating a small bank of question stems to fall back on in those situations, to make a habit of moving the whole class toward understanding and not just the students who speak up.

Share with a partner:

  • Tell your partner what ____ said in your own words
  • Tell your partner if you agree or disagree with ____ and why
  • Tell your partner what the difference is between ______’s method and (previous idea)

Think independently:

  • Rewrite _____’s idea in your own words
  • Solve _______ using the method _______ explained
  • Draw a picture to illustrate ________’s idea

Continue discussion:

  • Who can restate _____’s idea?
  • Does this method work? Why?
  • Will this method work for any problem?
  • What is the first step we need to take to use _______’s method?
  • Is there a situation where ______’s idea won’t work?
  • How is this different than what we  were doing before?

I want to produce more, but in addition to having question stems to fall back on during discussion, I also want to think about what type of questions I’m asking. When is it best to discuss with a partner? When is it best to continue discussing as a whole class? This strikes me as a critical moment in the lesson, and it depends largely on how many people in the class already understand, and how many need another push. If I’m missing a bunch of students, partner discussion seems most effective to get everyone a chance to talk about it and create their own understanding. But I also think it depends on how complex the reasoning is — if we’re looking at a big leap in logic, more whole-class discussion may be necessary, while students need less for a smaller step from previous understandings.

I’m not sure how this all fits together, but I’m hoping to learn some more about it as the new year starts. In the meantime, I’m going to put these above my desk and focus on asking a question — any question — instead of giving away that a student figured out a key understanding.

2 thoughts on “When You Hear A Perfect Answer

  1. Howard Phillips

    I faced this situation many times, and I taught myself not to give anything away, but to move on to others and their answers, explanations or whatever. Then to summarise the offerings and open a discussion. Of course one runs the risk of traumatizing “mr. right” but it is worth it for the common good! It is extremely rare that all the others will immediately see that “mr. right” is actually right and dry up.

  2. katenerdypoo

    this is something i do wrong as well that i’d like to work on for this year. your ideas and questions are great. i also want to work on my “poker face” and not give away whether an answer is right or wrong, so i’ll have to use these strategies also when an answer is wrong (especially since i know that a wrong answer can often provoke the deepest discussions and lead to the best understanding!).


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