As a bright-eyed, eager, college-aged student teacher just starting to work with elementary-aged children, I was careful not to damage their tender little self esteem issues by pointing out their incorrect answers in class. Whenever a student answered a question incorrectly or offered up information that wasn't true, I would say something comforting like, "Well, not quite," or "Now, that's not exactly right." Even when an answer was waaaay off base, I would pull out one of my gentle-teaching-tactic phrases, so as not to hurt anyone's feelings in front of his classmates.

I quickly learned I was walking down the wrong path, however, and fortunately, someone told me so quite clearly. Actually, it wasn't a some-ONE so much as a some-THING.

Wrong answersThis was back in the mid-'80s, an antediluvian age (before the flood of technology, that is) where the most forward-thinking of interactive computer simulations all looked rather like a game of Pong. I know because I participated in one, about classroom management. During the simulation, every time I was presented with the chance to respond to a student who had given an incorrect answer, I exercised my soft approach. I delivered the "Well, not really" line of responses. At game's end, I learned I'd scored a big fat zero in the category of Responding to Students' Incorrect Answers. Turns out, straightforward feedback is an integral part of the learning process. When a student presents misinformation, the teacher needs to be really, really clear in saying, "No that's incorrect" or "No, that's not right," or "No, that's not it"--- nothing mean or embarrassing, of course, just really clear -- lest the teacher leave the students with the impression that the incorrect answer was in some way acceptable.

I came to not only understand this reasoning but truly appreciate it. Every time I had reacted to a wrong answer with a wishy-washy response, I was essentially throwing up a roadblock to understanding. Certainly, if a student's answer is partially right, the teacher needs to be clear about what part is right and what part is not. But when the answer is completely wrong, it's wise to steer clear of any confusing sweet talk, and just speak the truth.

It's a lesson I never forgot as a classroom teacher, and it's a lesson we include when we create WCTL games. That's why incorrect responses are always clearly marked, with both visual cues (like a red X) and sound effects (BOING!). Again, nothing mean, just really clear.

Parents, if you want to work toward an even deeper level of understanding, ask your child to explain to you why wrong answers are wrong and right answers are right. Who's "deeper level of understanding" am I talking about here? Both of yours, of course!