When a student’s work does not meet your expectations do you say “Well done”? For many teachers, this is the immediate reaction to a student giving the first answer that pops into their head. It’s like we’re so pleased that somebody said something, anything, that we’ll give praise to the first answer that materialises.
The danger is that a student who gives a poor answer may believe the answer they gave to be ‘correct’ when in actual fact it may fall short of ‘correct’ by quite some margin. When will that student get a chance to improve their answer and gain the knowledge that comes with a ‘best answer’? Hopefully before they have to write it down in an exam. There is risk in teachers saying “Well Done” to answers that are not correct!
But what about the child who has tried really hard to come up with an answer? Simply say “Thank you” instead and either give the child more thinking time or move on to the next student. You could follow it with a few words of praise for the thinking that they’ve done or the effort that they’ve made. You could even use follow-up questions to lead the class towards a ‘correct answer’.
Children are naturally curious, eager to learn and enjoy being challenged. Perhaps this is why so many students don’t offer answers? Perhaps if there was a puzzle to be solved that is neither too easy nor too difficult children could be more engaged? Try thinking of your questions as a way of leading your students through a puzzle, providing just enough support to make it fun and maintain their curiosity. A puzzle that you get right immediately after only a few seconds is not much of a puzzle (even worse if you only think you got it right!). But one that involves some deep thought, of drawing on your prior knowledge and challenging you to do something new with it is fun.
What to do with the correct answer when it materialises
Go back to every child that got it wrong and ask them the question again. Have them repeat the correct answer or explore it in their own words, but insist on accuracy. Then get the whole class to say it out loud. Celebrate the correctness!
Remember, nobody expects you to re-write the textbook when you take an exam, so sharing and celebrating a right answer in this way is undoubtedly a great technique for reinforcing knowledge and encouraging it’s storage in long-term memory.