Normalize Error is a strategy that discusses appropriate responses to student answers. If a teacher puts too much stock in correct answers, it will discourage students from trying at all. In fact, one of the best opportunities to learn is through corrections after a mistake has been made. A teacher should make sure that all answers are accepted, and use all opportunities as teachable moments. The strategy discusses responses to both of the following: wrong answers and right answers.
The key phrase for this response is “Don’t Chasten; Don’t Excuse.” With “Don’t Chasten,” it focuses on taking time for the student to decide why an answer was wrong, and not immediately responding with the way to fix the mistake. Mistakes are a normal part of life and show the teacher that the material is tricky, but hopeful manageable with enough work. For “Don’t Excuse,” it focuses on making sure students do not get away with mistakes because the material was difficult. The section discusses spending little time discussing errors and more time looking for ways to correct the issues. One suggestion Lemov gives is to avoid calling an answer right or wrong, if at all possible. By fixing the issue without saying “that was wrong,” it saves the student from the embarrassment from his peers and allows the class to look for the mistake on their own. One thing to keep in mind is that if a teacher must say something is wrong, do it quickly and move on so that it becomes a non-issue. Since the goal is to make errors a normal thing, the teacher should not focus on them, in order to make the correct answer the thing students remember.
Responding appropriately to correct answers is just as crucial as responding to incorrect answers. Even if a teacher has the correct response to incorrect answers, if there is too much praise for correct answers students will be less willing to take risks, in fear of missing out on that praise. Lemov reminds teachers that sometimes praise can also be a response of surprise that a student performed so well. Though teachers want to praise some students for exceptional work, if a mediocre student is only praised occasionally, he or she will think that they can never live up to the potential of his or her classmates. The best advice is to make sure that praise and correction are normal and that neither is a big deal.