#myfavfriday Questions vs. Comments

I was asked to share a "My Favorite" at this week's #globalmath department. I wanted to share something new that I hadn't blogged about yet but now I also get to blog about something new!

This idea kind of came out of nowhere but is really a mix of the mistake game and error analysis.

In Algebra I we were working on translating word problems into an inequality to solve and graph. A student had volunteered to work the problem on the board and had set it up correctly but was solving it all kinds of wrong.

The other students began glancing around and whispering back and forth because they could see her errors too. I thought to myself, how can I correct her without making her feel stupid in front of the class?

I told the students that if they saw any mistakes in her work that they must ask her a question rather than make a comment. I told them that saying "You're wrong or you messed up" is not helpful.

I felt like I could literally see the wheels turning in their brain as they thought about how to phrase their observations into a question. I guided them by telling them they could start their question with "Why did you ________?" or "Couldn't you __________?"

As they started to ask questions, the student realized her own mistake, corrected it and explained "Oh, I should have ___________".  The students picked this up easily and it has become a powerful tool. I'm trying to structure every piece of feedback I give as a question.

I feel pretty good about the questions I ask during a lesson but now as students are working and asking for help, I avoid telling them right or wrong, yes or no, but phrase every comment as a question.

For example:
  • Did you find what the question is asking for?
  • What do you think?
  • If I tell you that you are wrong, what would you change?
  • Is x alone?
  • Is that your final answer?
  • Does it make sense to do it that way?
  • What is another way you could do it?
  • Do you notice a pattern?
  • Do your partners agree?

At the end, I debriefed by asking students why I made them ask questions rather than comments. Their response was that telling someone they are wrong doesn't tell them where they went wrong or how to fix it. Bazinga!

I find that the more often I ask students why I do something, the more I learn about my teaching style and my instructional choices. Sometimes what appears natural to a teacher needs some concrete student reasoning behind it. They always give me better answers than I think of on my own.
It never hurts to let students give purpose to what happens in the classroom.

That's everyone's favorite.


  1. Isn't it interesting how if we tweak our wording just a little bit, other people respond more positively?

    1. Yes, like most behaviors, it's definitely a choice on our part

  2. Thanks for sharing this. I'm thinking a lot this year about feedback and how to make it most helpful for students. I thought this post had some great ideas about making feedback specific. http://cramlingtonmuse.wordpress.com/2012/06/25/assessment-for-learning-the-cramlington-teaching-and-learning-model-issue-6-conference-june-2009/ She also writes about the importance of peer to peer feedback. I love your question idea because it's a simple way to help students practice critiquing in a positive way. I'm also pondering the role of feedback in classroom games online and in hybrid environments over at my blog http://classroomquest.wordpress.com.

    1. Thanks for the link- that is a great article!

  3. Thanks for the info. Very knowledgeable. Please, keep it up.