Value of Pre-Planning Questions and Anticipating Student Mistakes

At some point or another most teachers have experienced the feeling of looking over test results and being surprised by poor results – the gap between “I taught it – but they didn’t learn it.”  In the high stakes world we teach in now, time to reteach is a luxury most of us lack.  So what are some ways we can meet the needs of struggling students without having to spend weeks or days on re-teaching.  Below I will describe a way to better prepare for misconceptions and how we might plan for them proactively – rather than waiting for test results to tell us they don’t understand the content.

Recently while reading Doug Lemov’s Teach Like A Champion 2.0, I came across a piece of advice that seemed very simple, yet something I never did enough when planning lessons: Planning for Student Errors.

Lemov presents the following activity for teachers to do while planning:

  • List three to five of the most important questions you will ask in your lesson
  • For each question, list two incorrect answers you think you are likely to get
  • Describe how you’d respond to each of those incorrect answers

I created  a template for teachers to go through this process here: Scripting Questions:

* Note I also added a space for “desired answers.” It sounds like a no-brainer, but I think there are times when we ask questions on the fly and we may not know exactly what answers we want to hear.  Scripting important questions before lessons and thinking about the answers before hand will prepare us to listen for desired answers and identifying common misconceptions.

Once we have planned questions and thought about the answers we want or may receive, the next step is deciding what to do when misconceptions arise.  It is important to set some flexible time aside in each lesson to either address misconceptions or add more complexity – “Either or Time.”  This is difficult to do if we do not have a plan.  So while looking at the possible incorrect answers a teacher may have one or two extra examples at the ready to model to the class or even a small group if need be, while other students may be asked to complete a more challenging task.

The underlying idea to using a strategy like this is to check for understanding throughout the lesson – and respond appropriately to the understanding that your students demonstrate.  Pre-planning flexible responses is necessary to meet the needs of your students.

As always – Please send any questions comments my way!

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