How do you know that?

Are you talking to me?
Are you talking to me? Let me think a moment!

Has someone ever stated with conviction an opinion on a particular topic or something they considered factual that you thought was wrong?  If so, how did you handle it?  Did you fire back with your own opinion or listen quietly, but say silently to yourself, “That’s totally off the mark!” Maybe you even went along with it, in order to avoid an argument.  When dealing with facts there is only one right answer, but thoughts, ideas and opinions are a different matter.  No one can argue over a fact.  One plus one equals two.  Raleigh, is the capital of North Carolina.  I have three brothers.  A fact has only one answer.  How do you react when you are working with your child at home and they give an incorrect answer?  Do you give them the answer, ask them to try again, or just skip over the question and come back to it later?

One of the most effective ways to help your child academically is simply by asking one question, “How did you get that answer?”

Have your child think out loud.  This will give you insight into why he/she gave a particular answer.  This is especially true with math.  You will be able to “see” the steps your child uses and the logical (or illogical) thought processes that led to an incorrect response.  With this insight you’ll be able to pinpoint where your child needs help or if it was just a careless error.  I use this technique in all classroom settings.  When a student gives an incorrect answer I’ll ask, “How did you get that answer?”  I might also ask, “What makes you say that?” Nine times out of ten a child will find his own mistake as he is explaining out loud how he/she got the answer.  Assessing reading comprehension is slightly different though, because there can sometimes be more than one right answer. This is where standardized tests and I part company!  I think for math they are valid, but reading involves more than just facts.  When a student gives an incorrect answer to a reading comprehension question I’ll ask, “What makes you say that?  Sometimes, I’m the one who has a lightbulb moment because I see their logical and valid viewpoint, and it’s something I just haven’t thought of before.  Their answer makes perfect sense, and I give full credit for it. Unfortunately, there is only one train of thought, and therefore just one correct answer on a standardized test, which is why I’m somewhat of a skeptic when it comes to multiple choice questions on standardized reading tests.

Children and adults need to focus on questions more than answers at school and work.

It’s through questioning that we come up with new ideas, grow as individuals and become more aware of who we are and how we can work with others.  The answer is only the “end product.”  It is the journey that gives meaning and insight as we learn. I’ll sum it up with a quote from Eric Schmidt of Google.

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, said, “We run this company on questions, not answers.” He knows that if you keep asking questions you can keep finding better answers.


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