If there is one thing that students love more than anything in math it is getting the answer correct!
Answering math problems helps students feel smart. On the other hand, nothing is more frustrating to a student than working on a math problem only to find out that his or her answer is incorrect.
But what if your students understood that when they answered a problem incorrectly they were actually making progress? Would answering a problem incorrectly be so bad? Teachers who have data collection and analysis systems in their classrooms can provide their students with a sigh of relief by not counting incorrect homework problems against them. “But that doesn’t make any sense!” you say.
By not counting incorrect homework responses against students but instead using them as launching points for interventions, you can create a system in which students make progress every day. As you know, every student makes progress at his or her own pace—some students are slow, and some students are fast—but some progress is better than none, right?
As a teacher you already know which concepts are the most difficult. You also probably have a handful of go-to interventions that you use with your students for those difficult concepts. Many teachers provide students an opportunity to redeem themselves by doing extra credit or redoing their work after the assignment is completed.
But what if you provided students with interventions as they are working on assigned problems so that they could learn from their mistakes as they made them? If your student does not know how to solve the problems on the assignment, it would be nice to receive the additional guidance before completing the assignment. This way your student can finish the assignement correctly and demonstrate that they mastered the concept—instead of just getting a low homework grade and having to review it again at some point in the future...if he or she gets around to it.
The time to work on difficult concepts is the moment they arise. From this point of view, incorrect answers don’t represent failure—they represent the start of the learning process and are actually can be a very important part of the problem solving process. Try this: instead of assigning all of your students a full set of homework problems, assign a portion of the problems. Identify which students are unable to answer the problems correctly and provide them with the interventions you think they need to answer the remaining problems correctly.
By breaking up your problem assignement into parts, you can accomplish two things:
1. Students who do not know how to answer the problems can receive the necessary support ASAP instead of completing the assignment incorrectly and still being confused about the correct way to solve the problems.
2. After assigning the intervention for students who need it, you can monitor whether performance increased for them. If it didn’t, it’s worth taking a look at the relevance of the intervention for that concept or for that student.
Developing Your System
Good technology can help you implement this process. If you had to stop your students midway through an assignment, grade their work, then analyze it for knowledge gaps, you would rarely be able to implement the process mentioned above. But if you assign practice using technology that tracks student performance, the grading and data analysis are automated for you. This could save you loads of time so that you can focus on teaching and effective strategies – and interventions to aid your students in learning as well as monitor their—and monitor student progress daily.
The most challenging thing about implementing this system is that each of your students may make progress at different paces. You will need to decide what level of progress is acceptable and help your students reach those goals. But the wonderful part of it is that by taking the emphasis off correct answers and putting it on learning, where it belongs, all of your students have the potential to move forward in the areas where they struggle the most. And moving students forward in their learning is the ultimate goal in teaching!