In mathematics especially, wrong answers are going to happen. Whether it’s a miscalculation (what my 6th graders and I call, “silly mistakes,”) or a misunderstanding of the process or skill, students will make errors. I recently learned a wonderful way to use those errors for good; in a process that both addresses mathematical misconceptions (or even silly mistakes) but also provides opportunity to find some right within the wrong. This strategy is called My Favorite No, and what I love most about it is how it fits so nicely into the structures I already have in place in my classroom.
My main focus this school year has been student ownership and independence. I want my students involved in, thinking about, and assessing their own acquisition of knowledge. One aspect of this is teaching them how to identify mistakes and pinpoint where they might have made a misstep in a problem. My Favorite No has been a way to model those skills while also providing me with a quick and accurate formative assessment. As I mentioned before, this strategy fits nicely with the structures I have in my classroom; and I am confident that it will fit in yours as well. Here’s what it looks like for my 6th graders and me:
1. Entry Task/Warm-Up
Each morning I start the day with an entry task (usually a couple review math problems from the previous day’s lesson) on my students’ desks. It’s a way to facilitate a calm and quiet start to the day. Although our math time isn’t until late morning, 11:00AM, I use these entry tasks for My Favorite No. When I was introduced to My Favorite No (by the video that is linked above), I noticed that that this can be done with a single warm up problem completed directly before math instruction begins.
2. Choose the BEST Wrong Answer
As my students are transitioning into math, something I give them a timed 3 minutes to do, I quickly go through their entry tasks and pick out the best wrong answer. By best, I mean the answer that I believe many of my students can relate to and learn from. I also choose answers that have some great math demonstrated as well. It’s important for my students to recognize that a wrong answer isn’t a compete loss!
One of the most important aspects of the analysis is keeping the anonymity of the student whose work I am showing. To do this, I completely rewrite the problem and work exactly as I see it on their paper. I will say that my kids have become comfortable with being wrong in front of their peers (which is the result of 7+ months of community building in the classroom) and will often shout out, “that NO is mine!” The first thing I ask my students is, “What does Ms. Carlyle LIKE about the math that she sees?” The students have become very good at pointing out things like work being shown, the specific aspects of the problem that were accurate, and precision with labels. After the good, I ask my students why they think I picked this problem as my favorite no. I love hearing their “teacher talk,” when discuss error analysis when recognizing where the problem went wrong.
This entire process takes about 5 minutes of our math block but truly pays dividends much greater than that small time investment. I have seen miraculous growth in my students’ ability to recognize their weaknesses and identify exactly where they need to improve. This has played a role in increasing their self-efficacy in mathematics as well, because they are identifying their errors so clearly, that those errors seem more manageable to fix instead of feeling like they are overall just not good at math. At the heart of it, this strategy is about student self-assessment, a skill that when honed will be beneficial throughout their entire academic careers. Try it out and let me know how it works in your classroom or how you adapted it to meet the needs of your unique learning environment!