4. Reframe maths mistakes
Misteaks Mistakes are an opportunity for learning. That’s not to say we should praise incorrect answers. But we should listen to the reasoning behind those answers and use wrong answers as an opportunity to ask even more questions.
Mastery without failure isn’t possible and a pupil who never gets it wrong won’t necessarily know why they’re right. Besides, success is a bit boring — it’s only when we make mistakes that we have an opportunity to examine what’s really going on and figure the problem out at a deeper level.
Next time you come across a mistake in class, take a few minutes to ask why your learners think it’s incorrect. This opens a window into their thinking, uncovering their misconceptions and letting them work out what went wrong and why.
Investigating maths mistakes can start a rich discussion between peers. Instead of waiting for a wrong answer, you can use an incorrect statement as an anchor task. Calling it a ‘maths rumour’ turns a situation where pupils may feel negatively about their capabilities into a fun detective game everyone can play:
- I heard a rumour that the biggest acute angle is 89°
- I heard a rumour that 2/9 is bigger than 1/4
- I heard a rumour that there are no numbers between 3.7 and 3.8
Then let your pupils have a productive discussion. During their conversation, you can step back to assess their level of understanding and the direction they need to move in to improve their learning.
It’s also a chance to teach students question-framing skills. Ask them to discuss the incorrect answer and encourage them to use respectful language like “I understand your thinking, but have you considered X?” Or, “I don’t understand how you came up with this answer, can you explain your thinking to me?”
Reframing maths mistakes helps pupils learn to persevere and stretches their conceptual abilities so they can grow as mathematicians. They learn that struggling is not an unpleasant obstacle to getting the correct answer, it’s a productive exercise they can build upon lesson after lesson.
For more maths rumour ideas, read our blog: Maths Misconceptions: Using A Rumours Activity.