“My Favorite No,” Remixed for #MyFavFriday


August 24, 2012 by ray_emily

In “My Favorite No,” teacher Leah Alcala use a note card system to quickly check for understanding – and then she expertly guides her students through a thoughtful “error analysis.” (Read on to see why I’ve put those words in quotation marks.)

A bunch of you have reflected on and admired this clip, in the past. I liked the video well enough when I watched it a year ago [translation: I missed the point, entirely]  – but I’ve had some important revelations since my first viewing, which I’m eager to share with you.

Initially, I thought: Okay, cool. Another method of collecting and analyzing data. Good job, Ms. Alcala, on developing this low-tech, efficient substitute for costly individual student clickers. You’re clever, but you have haven’t changed my life – or really even my instruction. You keep doing your thing, and I’ll keep doing mine. Thanks for letting me into your classroom for five minutes.

Recently, however, I re-stumbled across Ms. Alcala. This second go-round, I have begun to recognize how awesome Ms. Alcala is – and how sometimes-dense I can be. Interestingly (maybe obviously, to those more clever than I), Ms. Alcala deserves our respect not because she developed this low-tech method of collecting data. (Whatever, right? There are a million ways to collect data.) Rather, she gets major props – from me, at least – for regularly facilitating class discussions that prioritize talk about what kids are doing well, even when all parties involved are staring a big, fat error right in the face. 

In the video, students and teacher collectively gaze upon a just-produced incorrect answer. Without flinching, Ms. Alcala knowingly asks her kids, “They did some things that I love. What in that problem am I happy to see?” And she waits for the hands to raise and the responses to trickle in.

This is totally bold – and also (I’ve recently discovered) contrary to my instincts. When I posed this question in class earlier this week, I half-expected my kids to groan and ask me to cut to the chase. (In other words: I wrongly assumed that they would feel as eager as I felt to zero in on that glaring error.)  Instead, they relished the opportunity to commend one another’s work – and they framed their compliments in interesting, novel ways. Much to my surprise (this seriously should not be surprising, now that I think about it…), my kids got excited about identifying the ways in which their peers were successful.

(Huh. Who’d have thought? Being nice feels good – and feeling good increases enjoyment of any given task.)

One fantastic, unexpected bonus: The kids who didn’t initially notice the thing that was wrong (or who perhaps produced the wrong answer, in the first place) would engage in these most affirming, welcoming discussions. The observations about the good (though incorrect) work would often include eloquent, student-friendly reiterations of key ideas and concepts. Consequently, I found that by the time I was ready to shift gears and ask, “Okay, and what was this student’s mistake?” – that the question was hardly necessary. Most of my kids who’d ‘done wrong’ had already clued in on their error (thanks to a little help from their friends) and could explain precisely how to fix it.

As I noted, attempting this style of “error analysis” (those words belongs in quotation marks!) has been a wake-up call for me. Despite my best intentions, there have been an embarrassing number of lost opportunities – instances where my instinct to immediately zero in on what was wrong prevailed. I’ve been both intrigued and surprised to notice this, as I have always considered myself the type of person with a penchant for focusing on the positive.  Oh well: Better late than never.


6 thoughts on ““My Favorite No,” Remixed for #MyFavFriday

  1. Barb says:

    This type of “error analysis” — with slight modification — is applicable to many other situations, including parenting, staff meetings, and office politics, for starters. Thanks!

  2. Alisan Royster says:

    I found “My Favorite No” toward the end of last school year, so I didn’t use that idea specifically — but in the last few years I’ve been a big proponent of error analysis by the group. Early in the year my students are usually hesitant to share their mistakes (they’re gifted kids and don’t like to be wrong!), but honestly by the end of the year when I ask students to share their mistakes I sometimes have so many volunteers that I can’t possibly take the time to let them all share and discuss! (Hmm . . . should I feel bad about having that many kids make that many mistakes after they’ve spent a whole school year with me? lol.)

    I can understand why Mrs. Alcala re-writes her Favorite No (to guarantee anonymity), and certainly in some circumstances that is necessary, but I would encourage teachers to create the kind of environment where students respect each others’ thinking and see each other’s mistakes as great opportunities for everyone to learn!

  3. Cindy W says:

    I had read about “My Favorite No” but had not seen the video. Thanks for that experience. I really like how she first emphasizes the positives in each “No” response. I often do an Error Analysis activity after formative assessments, but only “by accident” on warm-up activities if I happen to call on a student who made an error – in which case it is often a better learning experience for the class than selecting an accurate response. I will definitely use this “twist” as an option when school starts:)

    I response to Alisan’s comment about re-writing the response: Yes, I understand why she does it, and my previous error analysis activities have involved me typing up the “wrong answers” on a slide for students to analyze. However, I have also used snapshots of student work when it was too hard to type, and they were actually more excited about it, even though they knew it was wrong. (I admit, I did “pick” carefully, avoiding students who I thought might not be comfortable with it.)

    I plan on using the “Mistake Game” this year, so hopefully that will help develop the kind of environment in each class!

    • ray_emily says:

      I’m glad you got to watch the video! It is definitely worth five minutes of your time.

      I love the idea of showing actual student work, and want to do it more often. One thing I’ve been doing more of lately (okay – actually just in the past week) is inviting my kids to analyze the student errors that are provided verbally during class discussions. “Error analysis” that begins with “tell me what this kid did well?” has been a great addition to my classroom.

      I *love* the mistake game, in theory – but (and I’ve had some twitter conversations with Alisan on this topic!) the idea of doing it with sixth graders terrifies me a little bit. I feel like so many things could go so badly. I want to read about middle school teachers making it work! I’m interested in trying it out, but I think some tweaks would be needed for our younger audience – you know? (Like, maybe I could categorize types of mistakes with students, before we begin the activity, and then assign each group a different mistake type? Bleh. I don’t know. It can’t be a free-for-all.)

      • findingemu says:

        I know what you mean – exciting but scary. I only have eight grade this year (I will miss sixth grade, but I get to see some of the awesome kids I had two years ago – my how they’ve grown!) Anyways, I am going to try it with my Algebra students first and see how it goes. I think they will be able to handle it better. However, in my post on my Made4Math Monster Whiteboards I noted that the “regular” (read – “low”) eighth graders might really benefit even more from the environment in which mistakes are “celebrated.” I think starting with the “My Favorite No” will be great – then trying out “Mistake Game” once they’re more used to the idea. :)

  4. Cindy W says:

    Oops – “In response to. . .”

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