Communicating High Expectations to Students; A Series of Practical Techniques (Part 5): Beyond Right Answers

The final installment of the my blog series Communicating High Expectations: a Series of Practical Techniques, has reached its conclusion.  Before I begin on the final topic I would like to summarize the 4 prior posts.

Part 1:Discusses what messages we send to students based on who we ask questions of in class.

Part 2: Deals with how to react to wrong answers while still keeping expectations high.

Part 3: Reminds us not to apologize for difficult and/or boring content.

Part 4: Explores how we can avoid letting students “off the hook” with partially correct answers.

In Part 5, I want to discuss how to build on actual correct answers to extend learning and communicate high expectations.

One often overlooked aspect of differentiation is the students who need to be pushed a little further.  Sometimes when levels of students vary wildly in a class (which they often do) teachers resort to “teaching to the middle” – an attempt to reach as many as possible. However, teaching to the middle does little to honor the learning of or more advanced students and often times doesn’t address learning needs of those who are really struggling.

In order to address these common issues, I propose that we develop some simple habits of how we deal with correct answers during class discussions.  The message that we want to send when a students gets the right answer is “Great! But the learning is not done yet.” In essence, a students “reward” for a right answer is the opportunity to go deeper by answering more demanding questions.  This idea will also help teachers to differentiate more effectively.  By pre-planning different levels of questions teachers can target specific questions to different students to meet them where they are in their learning.

Below are some habits to develop when students demonstrate understanding by providing a correct answer: (Many of these are derived from Doug Lemov’s: Teach Like a Champion)

  • Ask How or Why?
  • Ask for an alternate way to answer
  • Demand precision or more specificity “How’d you come up with that? Is there another way to get the same answer?”
  • Ask for evidence “Where in the text can you find support for that?”
  • Ask students to use a skill related to the one they used to get the correct answer. ” Okay you’ve identified the main idea, now can you locate supporting details?”
  • Apply the same skill in different contexts
  • Keep follow up questions focused on objectives
  • Verbal Prompts: “Tell me more,” Develop that,” “Keep going.”
  • Non-verbal Prompts: Head nod, circling motion with finger…
  • Invite student-to-student discussion “Good answer John! Jane can you expand on that?”
  • Be explicit about how you will deal with correct answers in class and discuss your expectations when students struggle to go deeper.

To close this idea of going beyond the correct answer, I just want to emphasize the importance of creating a classroom culture where students view a challenge as a positive thing.  This can be accomplished through creating a safe environment where all the kids feel like their teacher has high expectations for them.  Praising effort, working to make sure each student experiences success, and providing every student opportunities to shine will all help accomplish a culture where students aren’t afraid of a challenge.  Ultimately, we want students to look forward to the hard problems rather than shy away from them.

This concludes the series on practical techniques to use to communicate high expectations to students.  If you have any questions or comments or would like any follow up information on any of the topics please contact me.  Thanks!

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