Communicating High Expectations to Students; A Series of Practical Techniques (Part 2): Responding to Student Answers

In part 1 of this series, I discussed how we can use our questioning techniques to communicate high expectations to students.  In this post, I would like to explore what happens after we ask the question. Specifically, how do we react when students do not know the answer or give incorrect answers.  These moments are key to creating a classroom culture where students can begin to feel safe and confident.

Sticking with it or No Opting Out:

What?  This technique simply requires that each time a teacher asks a student a question, the teacher sticks with that student until that student is able to provide the right answer. Sometimes this involves cuing, or even providing the answer for the student, but always end with the right answer coming from the student.  The goal of the technique is to communicate to all students that “not trying” is not an option.  This will help send the message that effective effort is important and with effort all students will be able to find success.

Example: In it’s simplest form Sticking with it may look comething like this:

Teacher: “What is the first step in Mitosis? (pause) John?”

John:  silence... “I dunno”

Teacher: “Okay we will come back to you, Jane?”

Jane: “Prophrase.”

Teacher: “Good, now you John.”

John: “Prophase.”


  • Sends the message that “it’s okay not to know, but NOT okay not to try.”
  • Helps “low expectancy” students to experience success.
  • Reinforces the message that “When I don’t know the answer, my teacher will not give up on me; my teacher will help.”
  • Can validate other students who do know the answer by allowing them to help peers.
  • Frequent use of this will discourage “I don’t knows” from reluctant students who actually do know.  If they know you are coming back to them anyways they will begin to put the effort in.
  • Help teachers determine whether a student really doesn’t know the answer, or if a student is being defiant.
  • When students begin with a wrong answer or “I don’t know” and end with the correct answer – it provides opportunity for praise and builds academic momentum of the class.


When students respond to questions with an incorrect answer or with an “I don’t know.”

  1. Teacher can provide the answer for student and ask the student to repeat the answer.
  2. Teacher can illicit the answer from a peer and return to original student.
  3. Teacher can provide a cue for the student and/or break down the question and end with student giving answer.
  4. Teacher asks a different question to another student that functions as a cue for the original question; the original student uses it to answer the question.

*Using Cues is more time consuming, but more rigorous


  • Avoid Gotcha’s. When asking questions students need to know we want them to get it right.  Sometimes we can inadvertently make them think we are attempting to catch them not knowing.
  • Be sincere and firm, but try to leave emotion out of your voice.  When we react to incorrect answers with disappointment and frustration we are communicating to students. A neutral tone may prevent a standoff where students become defensive and confrontational.
  • Praise for effort not for achievement.
  • Once you do return to student and get the right answer, following up with a similar question, or asking for more elaboration can help reinforce your high expectations.
  • Consider asking students who answered incorrectly at first to analyze their mistake.
  • Create a classroom culture where mistakes are normal – even welcomed.
  • Use wait time! (3-5 seconds) After asking a question, after calling on student, and after student answers,   Don’t go to another student for help too soon.

Please share any questions or comments in the comment section below.


3 thoughts on “Communicating High Expectations to Students; A Series of Practical Techniques (Part 2): Responding to Student Answers

  1. Pingback: Communicating High Expectations to Students; A Series of Practical Techniques (Part 4): Right Answers | PC Instructional Coach Blog

  2. Pingback: Communicating High Expectations to Students; A Series of Practical Techniques (Part 5): Beyond Right Answers | PC Instructional Coach Blog

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