The One Right Answer

First Principle: There is often more than one right answer and more than one way to get to a right answer. Depending on the kind of answers we’re looking for, your answer can be right even when it is different from mine. This means: go out and find your answer… but don’t forget to use the second principle

Second Principle: Your answers are as right as your ability to back them up. If you can back your assertions up with compelling and persuasive evidence, you usually can use them. That means: do your research, find your evidence, make your argument, let the chips fall where they may.

Third Principle: The grade you get is the grade you earn.  It is assessing what you’ve learned.  It is information.  Use the grade you get to inform your actions for the next go round. That being said, if you think I assessed you incorrectly, make your case (refer back to the second principle)

Fourth Principle: Even in circumstances where there is one right answer, the process by which you get to your answer (right or not) is often more useful than the answer itself. Yes, I mean this. (except on the State Test)

Yes, But.. Aren’t Right Answers Important?

Of course, they’re important. It’s not very useful to NASA if they don’t get the right answer on the cold weather capabilities of their ORings but the process of getting to the right answer does include failure (hopefully, not as spectacularly disasterous as the Challenger’s).  Actually, failure is essential.  Sometimes failing is the means to a better success. As a former art teacher of mine put it, “You have to be willing to do bad work if you ever want to do good work.”  This is a good lesson for students, artists, writers, scientists and hockey players.  It teaches us all as learners that as we develop, our standard of excellence moves in front of our ability.  An educated eye (or ear) is developed long before the ability to master a skill.  Once we realize this simple reality of learning, we can allow ourselves to accept our best bad work and do it faithfully every day in our inevitable approach of the standard we hope to achieve.

Randy Pausch also put it very well.  We learn most of what we learn indirectly or by what he called a “head fake.” He said, ”… we send out kids out to learn football or soccer or swimming or whatever it is… we actually don’t want our kids to learn football… we send our kids out to learn more important things… teamwork,sportsmanship, perseverance… and you should keep your eye out for [these lessons], because they’re everywhere.”

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