One thing certain to occur
in every classroom is that students will produce answers that are either not
what the instructor is seeking or are factually inaccurate. How you as an instructor
handle these responses is key to your ability to generate discussion and stimulate
Fear of giving a "wrong"
answer can inhibit class participation because students do not want to risk
the humiliation of being wrong in front of their peers. Obviously, this can
make it difficult for instructors to involve students in discussions or to gauge
student understanding. It's crucially important for instructors to establish
from the outset that errors by students are not a reflection of their self-worth
and that making "mistakes" is a valuable element of the learning process.
Here are a few guidelines
on how to deal with student responses and wrong answers so that you encourage
participation, check understanding and ensure the entire class has accurate
A. Use more positive than
negative language in verbal and written responses.
- Remember to give praise
- Focus on what is needed
rather than what is missing, e.g., "You need an analysis section"
vs. "You failed to analyze . . ."
- Do more than point out
incorrectness -- guide the student toward the correct response. Remember,
you are there to help students be right, not catch them being wrong.
B. Acknowledge all responses
as a contribution, regardless of their accuracy.
- Make sure that each
student's comment is greeted with some gesture of acknowledgment: a head nod,
a smile, a verbal "Good" or "Interesting" or "I see
what you mean."
- Look for chances to
give positive feedback, e.g., "Now that's an intriguing way to look at
it" or "Bingo, you've hit the nail on the head."
- Look for chances to
refer back to a student's earlier contribution to weave into the current discussion,
e.g., "That ties in nicely to what Janie said earlier about X."
C. Handle "wrong"
answers by dignifying students' responses and involving the rest of the
- Remember, a "wrong"
answer means the student doesn't know two things: (1) The correct answer to
the question you posed and (2) what question to which their response really
- Resist the impulse to
respond to errors by saying "No" or "Wrong." This may
squelch students enthusiasm for speaking up and will discourage participation.
- Instead, dignify an
erroneous response by indicating what question the answer is correct
for, and then clarifying why it's not correct for the question you asked,
e.g., "That would be correct if X were true, but remember that this situation
is different because of Y," or "I see why you might think that,
because the terms are easy to confuse. However, keep in mind that we're talking
- Resist the temptation
to give the right answer or to declare a response correct (or incorrect) too
quickly -- that instantly ends contemplation of the question for the rest
of the class. Instead, ask for others responses, or redirect the same
question to another student, or ask other students to build on the previous
D. Hold students accountable
for the correct answer.
- Make sure that the correct
answer is eventually provided (by a student or by you). This can be done when
you summarize major points of a discussion to reinforce accurate information.
- Hold students accountable
by insisting that they learn the correct answer. This can be gentle
: "Let's go over that one more time so you'll remember it"; or
medium : "I'll check with you tomorrow to be sure you remember,"
or unmistakable : "You will be accountable for this on the test."
This material was adapted
from: Hunter, M. (1982). Mastery Teaching: Increasing Instructional Effectiveness
in Secondary Schools, Colleges, and Universities. El Segundo: TIP Publications.