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Grade Smarter

Addressing a Wrong Answer to a Question

You’ve asked your class a question, and a student says the wrong answer. So now, how will you respond?

Asking questions in lectures provides an opportunity for feedback when discussing possible alternative solutions. Students learn while they are thinking about problems. They often volunteer, so encouraging them by nodding and using verbal and nonverbal expressions demonstrates that you care. Furthermore, hearing students’ full responses allows you to give them credit for their ideas and determine when they have not understood the material.

However, when there are definite right and wrong answers, it’s vital that instructors provide explicit feedback on student responses so that the class knows which answers are right, which are wrong, and which are somewhere in between. Often, a wrong answer gives some insight into how students are thinking about the question and provides an opportunity to lead the students to a better solution. Of course, you also want to show that the student’s answer is appreciated and maintain a safe space for students to contribute answers in the future.

Strategies for Addressing a Wrong Answer to a Question

When you ask an open-ended question, you can’t be sure what students will say. Sometimes students will provide an answer that’s inaccurate. Instead of immediately labeling the answer as “wrong,” you want to build their confidence while also leading them to the correct answer. Instead of labeling answers “wrong,” consider one of these strategies:

  • Find out more about their thought process and use further discussion of the answer as a teaching moment: “That’s an interesting answer. Why do you say that?”
  • If some part of the answer is correct, acknowledge that: “You’re right about X. Great job, but let’s talk more about Y.”
  • If a student’s answer represents a common misconception, use the opportunity to clarify: “Thanks for that answer. A lot of people believe that, but let’s see why that might not be the case.”
  • Thank the student for trying, invite more answers, and then piece together the correct responses: “Thanks for sharing that. Does anyone else have thoughts on this question?”

To learn more, visit the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, University of Michigan.

Mark Espinola
CEO + Founder of Gradehub