Never say “No” to a student

Teachers have to really be on their toes. Monitoring pace, lesson content absorption, breaks impact on subject delivery, boredom of students … and the list goes on.

One important skill is the ability to see why a student is mis-understanding and giving them a face-saving way out of their error.

It’s been my experience that there is no better way to lose a student than in having them feel like they are dumb. It’s not your fault they feel this way (except for really bad teachers), they are already delicately balanced between a perception that they are not the best student, and their hope to understand the material you are delivering.

One additional real-time challenge teachers have is in effortlessly and quickly understanding WHY a student has a mis-understanding, and then redirect their thinking to the correct connections or process. This skill is a volatile little moment where, if done right, you keep them with you, but even a hint of “dumbness” and you have lost them.

Responding “no that’s not right”, “No”, “not quite” are all some things that might come to your mind in response to a question. When a student builds up the courage to speak out and answer, Try to banish these phrases…. to an extreme.

Now, It is my suggestion, that you truly track the thinking a students’ wrong answer followed to reach their incorrect conclusion. There is no shortcut here. Once you truly understand their thinking, you will typically find that there is a logic to their mistake.

What I do next is explain their thinking and make them right for it … kind of “Oh I see you took this thing, and applied this rule to get your answer, that makes sense”. And bingo, you have kept them with you. The student teaching the teacher kind-of thing.

But here’s where you turn the corner to correcting them, You gently remind them that there is a pesky rule that they missed and that microscopic omission led to their mistake.

Something like:
“Oh I see you took this thing, and applied this rule to get your answer, that makes sense.” then: “but doing the problem that way covers many cases, but there is a special case where you have to also include this rule, (or step) etc.”

Make their mistake very small in their mind, and make them right for their thinking. It’s really powerful.

It’s been my experience that the real challenge here is quickly understanding the “why” behind their mistake. When you know how to do it right, this is often quite difficult. The better at this you are, the better you can serve your students.