Wrong Answers Only

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Twitter is a mystery to me. I cannot manage the flow of information; I feel inundated and overwhelmed by the threads that appear (despite the fact that I have carefully limited the number of people I follow). Nonetheless, I am delighted at times by snippets of wisdom or encouragement, as well as by trends that prod my own thinking about pedagogy. One recent trend involves a photo or concept accompanied by a question—and then the phrase “wrong answers only.” This thread, for example, interrogated the notion of Gricean maxims, a standard in the pragmatics section of any introductory linguistics textbook. While most answers were just fun (the Gricean Maxims are an indie band or perhaps a type of hair coloring), others challenged the maxims with a healthy dose of sarcasm for their so-called “neutrality” as a framework for analyzing discourse.

The “wrong answers only” thread starter invites participants to have some fun, yes, but also to define via the negative or to confront assumptions and points of confusion. Such an activity, to me, seems ideally suited to a college classroom: I am wondering if others have used that as a discussion starter or writing assignment in their classes. 

I plan to try a couple of “wrong answers only” activities in the next couple of weeks.

  1. As a mid-term exercise in a course I’m teaching on second language/multilingual (L2/Lx) writing, I am going to have students revisit some of the key questions we asked at the beginning of the term: who is an L2/Lx writer? What does L2/Lx writing look like? Where does L2/Lx writing occur? What sorts of pedagogies promote L2/Lx writing development? I am going to ask the students to consider these—and some of the assumptions we’ve already uncovered—by having them give me “wrong-answers” only. We’ll start that discussion in a synchronous Zoom session, and we’ll shift it to the asynchronous discussion board after that. 
  2. I will also try this as a class-closing exercise in my first-year/corequisite writing course: we’ll take a concept—thesis, introduction, paragraph, sentence, organization, source, etc.—and I’ll ask students to post a definition or example, anonymously, “wrong answers only.” Their responses can serve as a basis for reflection or discussion in subsequent classes—and a way to see how their perception of key concepts can evolve over the course of the semester.

Have you used “wrong answers only” (or a variation thereof) in your composition courses? What happened? I’d love to hear from you.


About the Author
Miriam Moore is Assistant Professor of English at the University of North Georgia. She teaches undergraduate linguistics and grammar courses, developmental English courses (integrated reading and writing), ESL composition and pedagogy, and the first-year composition sequence. She is the co-author with Susan Anker of Real Essays, Real Writing, Real Reading and Writing, and Writing Essentials Online. She has over 20 years experience in community college teaching as well. Her interests include applied linguistics, writing about writing approaches to composition, professionalism for two-year college English faculty, and threshold concepts for composition, reading, and grammar.