Is this right?

Kids ask adults this question a lot, and it’s easiest to say “yes” or “no.”  A yes answer is a total dead end, conversationally and inquisitively speaking, and an answer of no is usually followed by a correction of some kind.  Either way, the ownership of the material lies with the adult being asked and not with the person doing the work.

With problems involving numbers, I’ve been practicing a response of “I got a different answer,” when something doesn’t look quite right to me.  This response has two apparent effects.  First, it sidesteps the possibility of deflation and disappointment that can result from the experience of wrongness.  When I say I got a different answer, kids will usually say “You did?  What did you get?”  It’s an opening for conversation and investigation. Then they ask me how I got the answer I got.

They don’t do that when I just say something like “Try again,” or “Here, I’ll show you how to do it.” They just stay over there in their kid world not knowing, while I’m over here in my adult world knowing.  “I got a different answer” suggests there’s a possibility (which, let’s face it, there always is) that what we think to be true or right is not necessarily, or at the very least, not the whole picture or the only possible reality.

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