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“What If I Get It Wrong?”

My students were taking their midline math assessments when I noticed that The Scowler, a struggling special needs student of mine, had answers remarkably similar to his neighbor. I’ve been known to lose my temper over copying, but it’s been a goal of mine lately to make interventions as quiet and personal as possible. A hard-line approach with this student in particular would only cause him to shut down.

I knelt down, and in a whisper I asked, “Are those your answers, or are those your neighbor’s?”

“Oh!” He looked surprised. In his disarmingly sweet way, he replied, “They’re his.”

“Well, I need to see your answers, so I know what you need help with.”

“But what if I get it wrong?”

It was one of those so-simple-it’s-heartbreaking questions that come so naturally to 9-year-olds. His voice was overwhelming with self-doubt and anxiety. But while my first impulse was sadness, I also admired The Scowler’s straightforwardness.

I explained to him, like I have many times before, that there is nothing wrong with wrong answers. In fact, my students have been known to shout out, “Mr. Brosbe loves wrong answers!” when another student is shy or struggling with an answer. Still, I needed to remind The Scowler of that fact. I wouldn’t be mad. He wouldn’t be in trouble. It was fine for him to get it wrong, as long as it was his best work.

Later, I looked over his midline assessment. Half the answers were blank, and my first reaction was utter frustration. But, I reminded myself, this was a true representation of what he understood. It wasn’t pretty, but it was honest, and that was encouraging.

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