Where did they go wrong?
When consulting with a high school in Southern California recently, I taught a lesson on euphemisms and oxymorons in an English Language Arts classroom. While I was teaching the lesson, I saw some clear examples of why it is vitally important to continuously Check for Understanding and to provide effective feedback as you teach. I’d like to share those with you now.
The lesson I am sharing with you is a DataWORKS EDI Lesson. This page is referred to as Skill Development/Guided Practice. These two lesson design components are part of the same continuum. During Skill Development, the teacher models for the students how to do the first example (incident). Then, the teacher directs the students to work with a partner to answer the second example (lost). When the students come up with an answer, the teacher checks for understanding – and if the students are successful, then they are directed to do the third problem by themselves.
These students were successful after problems one and two, but after the third problem I noticed something was wrong. I had asked the students whether body count was a euphemism or an oxymoron. Three students had written on their whiteboards that it was an oxymoron (it’s a euphemism). So, I asked the first student, “Why do you think body count is an oxymoron?” He stated that body count is an oxymoron because it has two words (that is not a characteristic of an oxymoron). I asked him to read the definition of an oxymoron one more time. The student said, “I see that the oxymoron does not say that it has two words, and body count is used to soften the expression of how many people died. So, it must be a euphemism.”
I asked the second student, why she thought body count was an oxymoron. The student also responded, “because it has two words.” I asked the student to tell me the definition of the word body. The student said our flesh and bones. Then, I asked the student to tell me the definition of count. The student said to go 1, 2, 3… Finally, I asked the students if the two words contradicted each other like “disgustingly delicious.” The student said, “No, so it must be a euphemism because it is used to soften death.”
The third student quickly said, “I finally got this. The euphemisms soften the phrase, and the oxymorons are words that contradict each other.”
Debriefing with teachers
Teachers were really surprised about the misconceptions that the students had. They acknowledged the importance of Checking for Understanding to find those misconceptions before they are stored in the brain. The teachers also saw very clearly how important it was that I guided the students to undo their own misconceptions. Even the third student with the incorrect answer was able to reconsider his answer just based on the clarification from the other students.
One specific strategy that I use when I see incorrect answers on student whiteboards is to ask the student why he believes ______ is the answer. Then I listen very carefully. If the student can explain how he came to that answer, I can usually determine where he went wrong and then lead him to discover the correct answer. To do this, I simply ask him to re-read the definition, take another look at the examples I provided, or give him another simple example that might sink in more effectively.