Developing A Learning Culture

Some academic environments emphasize to students that being “right“ is what matters most. In Dan Levy’s class, however, what really matters is sound thinking, regardless of whether or not such thinking results in the “right” answer. In this video, Levy describes how he sees his job not as “coming with the truth,” but rather as inviting students into activities designed to authentically making them think.


Dan Levy, Senior Lecturer in Public Policy

Student Group



Harvard Kennedy School


Advanced Quantitative Methods

Group Size

74 Students

  • According to Posner’s theory of conceptual change, teaching for understanding requires that students consider new information in the context of old information and it is this process of resolution between new and old information that leads to conceptual change (1982)  
  • Using the theory of conceptual change in biology education, Tanner and Allen argue that wrong answers can help instructors teach “right” answers. Framing wrong answers for students as starting points toward better understanding could help normalize making mistakes (2005).  
  • To help students understand the value of desirable difficulties, Dye and Stanton recommend instructors openly discuss the benefits of taking challenging but beneficial, intellectual risks (2017)    
  • Value sound thinking over the “right” answer. When soliciting answers to a question you ask, probe student thinking or solicit additional perspectives from the class instead of immediately declaring the answer right or wrong.
  • Make it O.K. for students to be uncertain. Often students will feel compelled to take a stance, but including “I don’t know” as an acceptable response normalizes confusion as an instrumental part of the learning process..
  • Communicate the value of well-reasoned wrong answers. Wrong answers that demonstrate deep thinking will additionally help you gauge common misconceptions and areas for reteaching.
  • A brief blog post from Faculty Focus describes different ways an instructor might respond to a student’s answer without revealing the “right” answer
  • The University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching provides advice on “Handling Wrong Answers” and leading students to better ones
  • In another Instructional Moves video, Professor Paola Arlotta describes how she creates a safe environment for wrong answers