Several weeks ago I was tweeting with @saskateach and @Scorgo and we shared professional books we couldn’t live without. We are all educational consultants for our school districts so our roles are fairly similar. One book they both suggested was ‘Differentiating Math Instruction: Strategies That Work for K-8 Classrooms’ by William N. Bender. (You can have a look at it here.) I had never heard of this book but since both ladies recommended it I ordered it. I have just begun reading it and already discovered several gems in the first chapter.

The first chapter addresses the following: ten-brain compatible teaching guidelines for math instruction, ten informal tactics to develop number sense, games and activities to develop number sense, ten teaching tactics for high-impact learning in math and a self-evaluation grid for lesson planning. Along with these topics Bender shares teacher ideas throughout his book. His first entry in the IDEAS FROM TEACHERS section really caught my eye and I’d like to share it here.

I look back over my career and consider how I have responded to students who provide incorrect answers. I feel that I’m improving in this area but still find it difficult. I don’t want to embarrass students in front of classmates and risk having them give up. I also want to encourage students as they reflect about solutions and work towards a correct response with either my support or ideas from classmates. To address these issues Bender shares the “Right answer, different question” tactic. Here is the scenario:

Students are asked to find the sum of 64 and 28. An excited student, who has been learning how to add double-digits, answers, “82”. The suggestion is for the teacher to say something like, “I like your answer, but it answers a different question better. What question does it answer? Who can help with that?” So, rather than continuing with the original question, students provide answers that produce a sum of 82. Perhaps 61+21, 60+22, etc. After several minutes, to finish up, the teacher comes back to the student who first responded and asks him/her to provide an addition math sentence that equals 82 either orally or on the board. That way the answer is not wrong, just an answer to a different question. After this activity the teacher returns to the original question.

This approach resonates with me. It is respectful, continues the math talk that we want to take place in class and reinforces concepts currently being addressed in the lesson. In addition, there is an opportunity for all students in the class to stay involved in the process and not tune out while one student is being ‘corrected’. I also think, as Bender suggests, that this strategy reduces negative emotions that so easily can be associated with math. I imagine that more students would participate in class discussions and not be so afraid to risk as they learn.