Other ways to tell a student they’re wrong without using the word “wrong”

Hey John, Last week, Edutopia published an article I wrote about building a trusting environment in the classroom, and the idea most people gravitated to was the idea “Rarely use the word ‘wrong’.” Jesse Bacon made it into a meme, and none of that comes without its share of (self-promoting) critics. Yet, when guys like […]

Hey John,

Last week, Edutopia published an article I wrote about building a trusting environment in the classroom, and the idea most people gravitated to was the idea “Rarely use the word ‘wrong’.” Jesse Bacon made it into a meme, and none of that comes without its share of (self-promoting) critics. Yet, when guys like John Spencer back up my opinion, I know I’m on the right track.

As a teacher, I have a few ways to say “that’s wrong” without actually saying it. The point isn’t to sanitize the class or soften the critique. For students, they often see the word “wrong” as a gateway to devaluing their own potential, as if their wrong answer determines their competency in the subject. We have to find ways for students to own and play on their mistakes without feeling like they’ll never get it.

Here are some ways to do this:

“How did you get that?”

This question often elicits thinking from the students to say more about how they arrived at their answers.

“Let’s try a different approach.”

This statement does two things well: it lets kids figure out that they got it wrong on their own, but it also signals to students that they’re about to go through a series of questions that will help them clarify their own thinking. Win-win.

“You’re getting there.” (and anything like this)

We’ve seen this one a few times, but this statement specifically tells the student that they’re on the right track, so they ought to keep poking around for the answer there.

“This needs work.”

This might be the harshest of my criticisms, but that’s a good thing. This statement tells students that, while far off, it can be fixed with some effort and rethinking.

The point, generally, is to assure that students keep motivated even with the bumps on the road.

Are there more? Please let me know in the comments.

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