Tell Children They Are Wrong

Don’t beat around the bush – when someone is wrong, tell them.

Adults are telling each other all the time “You’re wrong!” and if that’s on Twitter then WWIII usually breaks out.

And why is that?

Perhaps it’s because as children they weren’t told they were wrong.

If someone gets something wrong in a maths lesson then route one for some teachers is to say:

“You are almost there with that! Well done, keep trying!”

“It’s not quite right so have another think.”

“I can see why you may have come to that answer.”

“Just take a look at that one again.”

“Good effort but rewind and have another crack at it.”

“Thank you for giving it a try, would you like to hear how others may have answered?”

“You need to use a different approach for number 6.”

“You’re on the right track for this part, however …” 

“How did you arrive at your answer?”

“Did you think about….”

…..or words to that effect. Fine on occasions and we’ve all used these but sometimes you have to be more direct.

This certainly isn’t route one for many teachers who wouldn’t even contemplate using these responses. They would say that these cotton-wool phrases are precisely the sorts of words that have created the snowflake culture of easily offended and zero resilience.

And perhaps they are right. One person who thinks so is Traci D. W. Jackson and she has written about the dangers of over-protection in her book So This Actually Happened: Tales From A reTired Teacher.

Traci pulls no punches and tells it how it is. She describes a child went running to the school counsellor in distress because she had been told she had got something wrong. The counsellor said that pupils needed to hear kind words and that Traci had hurt the child’s feelings.

I think most of us would find that hard to stomach especially when Traci was expected to apologise. This of course is barking mad.

Quite rightly, Traci says that we have to prepare children for the real world and the sugar-coated soft responses we give children might sound innocent enough and compassionate but they backfire later in life. The dressed-up phrases are okay in moderation but they can limit personal growth when used all the time.

Over-sensitive children can bounce back from being told they are wrong so that they become better able to internalise the message and move on.

As Traci says,

We have to prepare students for the contest they won’t win, the project that they will not receive a perfect score, the academic scholarship they may not receive and the love that won’t love them back. We must teach them that at times it’s ok to cry, but then you’ve gotta move right the hell on to the next moment, the next experience, the next disappointment. It’s life.

A positive and trusting environment can use the word wrong without it feeling wrong. It needs to be said and within a resilience-led classroom it can be done. Children need feedback, especially when their answer is incorrect but we can start off by saying, “No, that one’s wrong.”

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