“Today I’m announcing a game-changer. And once you let it sink in you won’t be able to look back. Ready? Here it is: there is no one right answer. And I’m not just talking about in classroom instruction and achievement assessments. This is bigger than that. There are no one right answers anywhere, at any time, in life.”
There may be times that there is only one right answer such as a math calculation or some known fact. But I feel that there is more than one way to arrive at any given answer and it is my job to help students learn that even though the answer might be important, there are multiple ways to arrive at this answer.
I have such a hard time when I’m helping my students with assignments from other classes. I may not show them the exact way that their teacher did or I’m told that it has to be done exactly the way the teacher showed them. I remember having the same conversation with my parents when they tried to help me with my homework.
When I give an assignment to my students, I make sure that they know there are usually more than one way to come up with the answer. As long as they don’t cheat or copy someone else’s answer, I’m happy with them getting the right answer. I may ask them to explain how they came up with the answer because it might help someone else in the process. But I’m not stuck on one way only. Sometimes I can learn a new way too.
Sometimes the student gets the right answer by luck and when sharing the process, I realize there is a flaw in this process. That opens up the discussion and we try to solve other problems the same way. The students are able to discover that this was more of an exception to the rule rather than a rule for all. I feel that my students learn more by doing this than just hearing me tell them how to solve the problem.
I feel this helps students learn better problem solving skills. They won’t be in school forever and someone won’t be there to always give them the answer. I want them to learn how to work through a process and look at all options. One option is definitely to go to someone else for help and I don’t want them to ever be ashamed of doing that. But I think that option should be the last resort. My students feel so good about themselves when they can solve a problem on their own.
But this is usually a slow process because so many of my students have faced failure. They are afraid to take new risks and fail again. I try to explain to them that getting the wrong answer is not the failure; it is not trying or taking the risk that is the true failure. By getting the wrong answer, it gives us a stepping stone towards success. You can now rule out that answer and work towards a better one.
I encourage students to solve the problem but if they have trouble, I share my way of solving the problem. Then I encourage them to look for other ways that this can be solved. They are so proud of themselves if they can find a new way. I think learning this skill will be important to making them successful in life.
How do you feel about having only one right answer?