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There is Not Always Just One Right Answer

To some questions, there is only one right answer. But some questions can have many correct answers. It is not always clear to students that there could be more than one right answer. Students need be encouraged to express their views about the issue even though others might have a different or opposing view. They need to be able to accept it when their answers do not correlate with others, and learn how to back up their findings with accurate information. They also need to be respectful of other's opinions and express their opposing views in a respectful manner.

When teachers are developing lesson plans it is very important to think about what kind of activity will encourage students to think of numerous possible solutions or ways to solve a problem instead of just one correct method or answer. Ross (2000) suggests that "Prescriptive science activities confine the breadth and intensity of a student's inquiry. Many students actively rebel when placed in a situation in which there is only one option." Instead of giving step-by-step activities in the classroom, and setting limitations to what the students can investigate during the activities, students should be instructed to explore as much as possible and not to worry about using a certain method or coming up with a predetermined answer. When teachers communicate an uncertainty about the outcome will be of the activity, students feel more ownership of the problem, work harder and really feel like they are discovering something.

In order for students to learn that there is not always one right answer teachers must consciously work at not just feeding them with answers. Some teachers too often simply respond to the students with answers, instead of questioning the students and encouraging them to think through all the possibilities to the answer. Even after the students have explored all the possibilities and given their answer, teachers need to question them and have them explain what they found out. Hewson's (2000) research says, "Conceptual understanding requires a metacognitive experience, where students discuss "how they know" and "why they know." Hands-on activities, in and of themselves, do not guarantee student understanding."

As teachers question their students about their ideas, teachers need to allow an appropriate amount of time for students to critically think about what they want to say. "Information processing involves multiple cognitive tasks that take time. Students must have uninterrupted periods of time to process information, reflect on what has been said, observed, or done; and consider what their personal responses will be" (Robert, 2000).

When teachers use wait-time between their questioning students will see that sometimes many explanations are possible for just one question. Teachers should avoid asking questions that can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no." This does not encourage students to think critically about the question. It also models that there was just one possible answer to the question. Students will understand that there are many ways to think of one idea when teachers ask open-ended and extended-answer questions. After the teacher asks the question there should be time given to the students to think of their response. Even after they respond the first time the teacher should try to give more wait-time and also ask the students to explain their response. Teachers should constantly be asking their students why-questions so that it encourages the students to think more deeply about their responses.

When students understand that there will not always be one right answer they will become better critical thinkers and this kind of thinking will lend itself to all other subject areas. This is a skill that the students will hopefully use throughout their life.


Teacher Tips

Appreciating and Valuing Diversity

Are You Really Listening?

Coaching for Success in the Classroom

Goal Setting

Developing an Interest in Science and Math

Developing Communication Skills

Developing Problem-solving Skills

Effective Discipline

Encouraging Cooperative Learning

Encouraging Creativity

Encouraging Students to Explore for Answers

Fostering Independent Thinking

Motivating Students

Overcoming the Fear of Making a Mistake

Practicing Effective Questioning

Self-Evaluation

Self-Evaluation Using Video

Teaching with the Constructivist Learning Theory

Teamwork in the Classroom

There is Not Always Just One Right Answer

Understanding Different Learning Styles

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