“I never made a mistake in my life. I thought I did once, but I was wrong.”
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post on how to respond to the question we so often get from our kids, Is this right?
Not long after the post, I was chatting with a mom who said “What if they have no idea they are wrong?”
So, today I have 4 tips for what to do with wrong answers, especially if your kids don’t know or care they are wrong:
Tip #1: Ask Them If Their Answers Are Right. Yes. That Simple.
An easy way to make your kids aware of their answers is to just ask them if they are right. It’s important for them to remember that they are the authority of their math and should know for themselves whether the solutions are correct or not. This does mean their work is not complete until they are 100% confident it is correct.
So, how do you do this with your kids? Just have them go back through their answers and make sure they feel confident that their answers are right. A great check your kids can do is to first make sure all their answers make sense logically. For example, if it’s 10 x 18 and they write 18, then having them take a second look will usually help them to realize that multiplying should make the numbers bigger. Many mistakes students make often result in obviously illogical answers that they’ll identify if they are encouraged to take a second look.
Tip #2: Have Them Prove A Few Of Their Answers To You
If they claim their answers are all correct and either you know that some of them are wrong or you think they’re correct but not absolutely certain, then pick a few of the problems for them to walk you through. Have them prove the wrong ones you’ve identified in your mind and, just to throw them off the scent, I always pick one or two that are right to mix in as well. (FYI you should be doing this even when they are getting correct answers, like all the time)
Often, all it takes is for your kids to explain what they did in order for them to find the error. This is also a great opportunity for you to see any holes or misunderstandings that may exist.
Tip #3: Tell Them How Many Problems Are Wrong And Have Them Find Their Incorrect Solutions
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Once you check their work, tell them how many they got wrong and then it can be their challenge to figure out which ones those are. For example, if they missed #5 and #8 in a set of 10 problems, I’d just say “I’m pretty sure two of them are not correct, see if you can figure out which ones.” I’ve even gone so far as to say “I’m pretty sure there are three incorrect…” which makes them dig pretty deep to prove you wrong, that there in fact, were only two incorrect. Students will question and prove everything they did as they work to find that “third” wrong problem. And at the end when they’ve found their two mistakes, corrected them, and proved all 10 correct, then you can say “oh, I guess I was wrong, there were only two!” (Playing dumb and asking a lot of questions is a brilliant mentoring technique, also remember that they need to become their own math authority, this “extra” wrong answer helps them to not see you as the math authority and that it’s ok to make mistakes.)
Tip #4: Not Every Problem Has To Be Corrected In One Day
We often feel that in order for math to be done for the day, each answer needs to be completed and corrected. This is definitely not true. If your kid has worked really hard on their problems for the day, say “Great job” and then for math the next day you can use one of the above ideas to help them correct any mistakes.
Just remember, their thinking is more important than their answers!