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Virginia Journal of Education

Your Classroom

When Students Give
an Incorrect Answer

When we ask a question, we're often not quite prepared for anything but a correct response. For example, to the question, "How much is 3 and 4?" we anticipate hearing "7." When an answer such as "8" is offered, we can be in a quandary. When errors happen, is there an alternative to beating around the bush?

Years of training have embedded in us the idea that it is ego-deflating to tell a child that an answer is not correct. At the same time, we have been taught that the child must independently arrive at the correct answer. With these restrictions in place, there are not many options open. Typically, the only possibility is to follow up with additional questions such as "Do you think it is 8?" or "Do you want to try again?" or "How can it be 8?"

Not surprisingly, the questions rarely achieve their objective. The adult may have gone to great lengths to avoid the words "You are wrong," but children know that this is message. Had they been correct, the follow-up questions would never have been asked. Instead, there would have been a comment such as "Right" or "Good work." So children recognize the questions for what they are-indirect ways of saying "Change your answer."

The problem is not in telling a child that an error has been made. There is really no way to avoid that message. The problem is in the way the message is conveyed. If it is done indirectly through a series of challenging questions, the difficulties only increase. By contrast, if the feedback is stated directly in a simple, neutral, non-judgmental manner such as "No, that's not the answer," the difficulties lessen significantly.

Is there a way to show the child the path to success?

Human beings have a remarkable ability to learn by watching what others do and then copying the behavior. This process, termed modeling, is responsible for our learning an amazing array of skills. It's why French children learn to speak French while our children learn to speak English. While modeling is common in everyday life, it is typically not a major part of teaching interactions. That is unfortunate because this tool can be invaluable in helping a child reach success.

Take, for example, a child who reads with a high rate of error. Typically, with each mistake, the child is stopped and told to "sound out the word." This practice is so widespread that it seems the only thing to do. But as many a teacher and parent know, it can be slow and draining. And if used repeatedly, the reading is so slow and halting that it is impossible for the child to comprehend the meaning of what is being read.

Through modeling, the situation can be dealt with in a very different manner. For example, a number of studies show that children's reading improves considerably when they hear an adult reading a passage before they are asked to read it themselves.

--by Marion Blank ( ), director of the A Light on Literacy program at Columbia University

Reaching Parents Who
Speak Limited English

School can be an overwhelming place to a parent with limited English skills. But we still need them there, and they still need to be there. So reach out to parents from different cultural backgrounds. Use the expertise of parents who are bilingual. Here are some other suggestions:

. Translate letters, notices, progress reports, school handbooks and information packets into the languages of families of all students.

. Have individuals available to answer the school telephone who speak the languages of parents.

. Translate newsletters or key newsletter articles.

. Record phone messages in other languages so non-English speaking parents can also keep track of their children's coursework and school events.

. Use school newsletters to announce cultural and other events sponsored by other language groups represented in the school.

. Integrate bilingual and multicultural materials in school displays, publications, libraries and classrooms.

. Use paid or volunteer interpreters to promote communication with limited English parents.

. Hire bilingual parent coordinators or find volunteers to meet with parents in their homes and at parent centers, churches and other gathering places to talk about school-related issues.

. Recruit, train and hire bilingual parents to be paraprofessionals in the schools.

. Make special efforts to welcome limited English proficient parents who visit the schools.

Grants Available

Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, offers grants of $500 to $2,500 to K-12 teachers to finance projects aimed at reducing prejudice and violence or improving relationships between students and groups of students, and to fund professional development for educators in these areas.

Projects should be student-focused and emphasize character/moral education, conflict resolution, multiculturalism, community service or other aspect of tolerance education.

The grant program is a rolling one, so there are no deadlines. For more information, descriptions of projects that have been funded, and application forms, visit .

Guide Helps You Plan
Professional Development

The publisher of Education Week has created the Teacher Professional Development Sourcebook, which focuses on the expanding role of teacher collaboration and helps classroom teaches maintain their commitment to excellence.

The online guide is free and offers ideas and resources which could prove helpful as you plan your own professional development. Features include:

. A section on best practices and advice on creating and maintaining professional learning teams;
. Research on what works best in professional development;
. Data about current practices and individual state requirements for teacher professional development; and
. An interactive directory of more than 200 professional development products and services.

The guide is fully searchable, and contains links to any of the products, services or organizations you may want to learn more about. It's also available for order in print form.

To check it out, visit .

Website Helps
Boost Literacy

Looking for some fresh ideas on how to help elementary school students improve literacy skills? The Noyce Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching have designed a multimedia literacy website aimed at students in grades K-5. The site ( ) offers concrete examples of instructional strategies using a writing workshop approach, information on the "Every Child a Reader and Writer" initiative, resource materials, examples of student work, and video clips of teachers working in linguistically diverse classrooms in kindergarten, second and fifth grades.



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