TECHNIQUE 12: Right is Right
Establishing a standard of academic rigor includes establishing expectations that student responses are “All-the-Way-Right”. Technique 12 asks the teacher to examine the quality of student responses that are being accepted. Is the student “close” to being correct? Do you think you know what the student is “trying to get at”? Will you accept a partially correct response in lieu of time constraints? Are you “crowding out” a students’ thinking by finishing their unfinished responses in order to save time and move on? This is what Doug Lemov refers to as “Rounding Up”. “Rounding up involves a teacher responding to a partially or nearly correct answer by affirming and repeating it, but then also adding critical detail (perhaps the most insightful or challenging detail) to make the answer fully correct.”¹ (p.101). In other words, doing the students’ work and thinking for them; not providing the student with the opportunity to formulate or articulate an original response. Does this classify as a means toward ‘Dumbing Down’ the classroom?
The basis premise behind ‘Right is Right‘ is simply encouraging and allowing for the student to produce an answer that is “all-the-way-right”. Using phrases that motivate the student to do more critical thinking and speaking and to recognize what a comprehensively correct response sounds like. This can be done without discouraging students from attempting to respond to questions posed in the classroom; another deterrent for accepting half-right answers, the need to encourage participation and risk-taking at school. Here are some exceptional phrases the teacher might employ:
- “Hmm. I like most of that answer.”
- “Good start, Susan. Can you develop your answer?”
- “OK. Can we put some more precise language to the task here?
- “Thanks, Joe, can you elaborate on what you mean by x, y, and z?
- “True, but can you observe a bit more on this problem?”
The key is to be appreciate and upbeat about the student’s initial response and fast enough to allow the student to maintain the thread of the answer her or she was working on. Below is a fantastic clip, from Uncommon Schools, that shows teacher, Mr. Armstrong, putting ‘Right is Right‘ into practice. Mr. Armstrong, seamlessly, goes through 3 students before he accepts an “all-the-way-right” response to his initial question. Without discouraging students, providing cues without giving away the “right” response and re-affirming a standard of academic rigor, centered on one essential question pertaining to the lesson.
A very hilarious student oriented piece of satire titled ‘Techniques for Surviving When You Don’t Know the Answer‘, is included in this section of the book. It provides the teacher with perspective and “red flag” situations when one is inclined to not go “all-the-way-right” in the classroom.
- Resist “rounding-up”; don’t risk teaching students to be undisciplined.
- Expect specificity; students should be trying to respond to the target question specifically, not simply giving you information that they do know about the topic.
- Be technical; encourage students to identify and use target terminology when responding.
- Right answer, Right time; pace students, those who attempt to “jump ahead” and explain the next steps should try to remain on the target question instead of getting “ahead” of the where the group is currently focused. “It’s risky to accept answers out of sequence.”¹ (p.106).