Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

Almost possible to touch this plant? I would think twice.
Is it possible to be almost right? As much as I like the British way of always being positive and never say ‘no’, right now I am feeling very French. I was looking at one of my daughter’s maths tests. On one of the questions, the answer was £1.60. She had answered £1.75. In short, her answer was wrong.

In France, the teacher would have put a red cross and written ‘Wrong’. Not over here. The teacher had put ‘Almost correct’ and given her half a mark. I couldn’t believe it. Is there such a thing as being ‘almost correct’? I didn’t think there was. Well, clearly, I was wrong.


My daughter was very happy to have got it ‘almost’ right. I wasn’t. She clearly thought that I was a grumpy old woman. Correction: a strict mum. If the school was happy, why wouldn’t I be? The thing is, especially in maths, you can’t have it ‘almost right’. It is either right or wrong. When, in a shop, you are given your change back, it is correct or it isn’t. Period.

What does being ‘almost right’ mean anyway? How can you progress and do better next time if you are told that you were ‘almost correct’? Kids (and adults, actually) need to know what went wrong in order to learn from their mistakes. Making mistakes and failing is pretty normal, right? And it is not that big a deal. The sooner you learn from your mistakes, the better. How can you do this if you are not corrected? Why are people afraid, in this country, to correct kids?

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that we should focus all the time on children’s mistakes. I am just saying that mistakes need to be corrected in order to move on to the next lesson/level. That’s all.

I know that life is not black and white. I know that, sometimes, the difference between success and failure is tiny. But it doesn’t mean that being ‘almost correct’ is ‘good enough, right? Or am I wrong?
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London
  • Cheryl Nicholl

    You are absolutely correct. You can not be ‘mostly, almost’ kinda’ correct. You either are in whole or are not. Especially in mathematics. This is not a good lesson to learn. Good for you for standing up and teaching your daughter the flaws in ‘politically correct’. Hahaaaaa

  • I almost agree with you!

  • we cannot be almost correct all times, but finally what matters is the personal satisfaction. sometimes we do things correct, but we do not have that satisfaction.

    http://amarnaik.com/

  • Thom Brown

    In this context might it have meant she understood the process but made an error in calculation?

  • Carolina HeartStrings

    Ok, now some teachers will give partial credit if you show your work and some of the steps you did right before you went wrong. But overall there is an attitude of over rewarding students/athletes. Team members get awards at the end of season for “participating” even if they failed miserably as a team. To me it lessens the value of when you DO win a trophy. Sad.

  • Chef William

    Almost right will make a hell of a different when landing a plane, guiding an ocean liner over the ocean or landing a rocket at the space station. Almost right can sometimes improve a recipe except when baking of course. Almost right has made a lot of divorce Lawyers very rich. I think your almost right with this one..

  • I couldn’t believe it! Don’t get me wrong, I think that children need to be encouraged, but I am not sure that saying that something is ‘almost right’ will help…

  • Well, it is true that, as we age, we are less and less sure of some things. But, in maths at least, there is no such thing as almost right!

  • You are right. I am all about encouraging kids, but that’s taking it a step too far, don’t you think?

  • Maybe. But wrong remains wrong, right? Or if it is what she meant, shouldn’t she have explained it?

  • Well, kids need to learn, right? How can they learn if they are not corrected? How can they find satisfaction if nobody has corrected their mistakes? It is a complicated world…

  • I knew it! You are getting more British, David!

  • I think that you are making a good point here: she said that she had it almost correct because it was politically correct. I can’t believe it!

  • SarahHague

    She could have got it right up to a point, so the working out may have been right but she went wrong at the end. The process is as important as the result. Mind you, if it was a simple addition and she got it wrong, then she got it wrong full stop.

  • Is the process as important as the result? I don’t know. he right process with the wrong result remains wrong, right? Gosh, I am confused!

  • Right or wrong, isn’t what we learn what ultimately counts?

  • Sophie Bowns

    Hmm, it would have been better if she’d marked it as ‘incorrect’

  • AnnMullen

    When I home schooled my daughter, I would check her math and tell her that she needed to rework her almost right answers. I didn’t say that, of course, but I can see how knowing that you are on the right path could keep you working until it is right. The problem with the teacher is that she doesn’t have time to get each child mastering the process. I hope you told your daughter since she was so close, you expected her to work until she had it right. Since the teacher can’t do that, it is your responsibility. And I am very sorry for a generation of people who think half right is good enough when they build planes and bridges.

  • Thom Brown

    I just remember getting ‘partial credit’ on math problems – if I showed my work, i.e. how I went about it.

  • Penelope James

    “Almost right” may be meant to be encouraging but in fact, it’s damaging. The mind latches onto “right” which can make a child believe she did a good job despite a slight mistake in the process. Suppose the teacher had written “almost wrong” implying near failure versus near success?
    I’m with you, Muriel, your daughter gave the wrong answer, and there’s no “almost” about that.

  • SarahHague

    The process is important otherwise why not just guess the answer? The teacher wants to see the working out and check that she’s on the right lines even if the end result went a bit astray. The way to confuse someone is to put a red line through a page of working out and write WRONG across it. That doesn’t teach anyone where they went wrong and is likely to put them off completely.

  • SueraeStein

    I am almost in agreement with you, Muriel! I think a lot depends on the math problem itself. If your daughter showed her work and was correct through most of it and made one error, rather than screwing up the whole approach to the problem, then, yes, the answer is wrong, but her work was ‘almost correct’. The next step should be to learn what she can do to make it completely correct.

  • As a prof, my answer would be if the setup was perfect and the logic impeccable- but a sloppy arithmetic error occurred, then I provide 1/2 credit- but let the student know that errors such as this are why the Hubble got screwed up and car accidents occur. But, for a test- and not a final- where the results are not catastrophic, I want the student to know I know they had it set up right.

  • I agree with your sentiments and feel the same way. I feel that kids these days are treated so ‘softly’, so ‘careful’, as if they are completely fragile. And yes, to me, Math is precise, or should be! I don’t understand how a mathematical answer can be almost right. If it were an essay, a point defended with one’s logic or perspective, I can understand how that could have a half point. But math??? No way!

  • It is, but some mistakes can be damaging: imagine a doctor who makes the wrong diagnosis, or a wrong calcultaion for a bridge…

  • Totally agree…

  • half right is not good enough. That’s exactly what I told my daughter.

  • Exactly. I think that it is all about ‘encouraging’ the kids over here. I believe that, when you have done something wrong, you need to know to be able to progress. It might not be nice to hear, but it is necessary!

  • To me, ‘almost right’ is simply not good enough. It was a very simple question,and the sad truth of the matter is that she had got it wrong!

  • It was a very simple calculation. There is no shame in having it wrong -in fact, she needed to know that she had it wrong… I think that, over here, people are scared to call a spade a spade.

  • Maybe it is a generation hing? I wonder…I also think that, in order to progress, you need to know thaht something is wrong!

  • This is such an interesting post!! I can see both sides to this. What you’re saying is totally right, with something like maths there really is only a right and a wrong answer! But….maybe the teacher saw that she had done the right process and just did the final adding wrong (something like that anyway), if this is the case then that should have been explained not just “almost right”. I’m not a fan of the ‘everyone is a winner’ softly softly approach….to me its okay to get things wrong, important even, for development!!

    Thanks so much for Linking up with ‘my expat family’

    • Thank you for finding me! I have to say that, even after 10 years, I am still learning. It just never stops.

  • I can see both sides too. Self esteem is the biggest barrier to learning and children have such fragile self esteem. Saying that it is almost correct let’s your child know that it is not correct, but offers encouragement to say that you are almost there.

    • I understand where you are coming from. That said, I believe that children need to be corrected. Otherwise how can you learn? In France, they would just have crossed it out with a red pen…It is a steep learning curve for me!

  • You are right, you can’t be almost right in maths, the answer is either right or wrong. You can get the method right though, but that distinction needs to be made clear! Not making it clear what’s wrong is not at all helpful in the long run. #myexpatfamily

    • Totally agree. That said, it was such a simple exercise that I really don’t think that the comment was helpful. Maybe I am more French than I’d like to see!

  • How funny. From an American point of view and if this had been in America, it would have been marked as incorrect. I think with math it is either correct or incorrect. The teacher could have put “nearly there!” but then marked it as incorrect which would have been more clear and more accurate. Is this in a British school? I’ve not come across anything like that before with my three kids. hopping over from #myexpatfamily, an American raising children in Britain.

    • Well, it looks like the French and the Americans have something in common then! A French teacher would have marked the exercise as incorrect. End of story.

  • Very interesting. I have to say that I sympathise a little with the teacher, but that is only because I live in a country where teachers are extremely draconian and will purposefully make a child feel bad about having made a mistake! It’s something I don’t like at all and I can’t help but want a more positive way of helping kids to learn. Logically speaking, however, I think you are right, especially when it comes to maths. There may be some sense in acknowledging that her working was along the right path, but the teacher should have made it clearer that she needed to try again. #myexpatfamily

    • Are you sure that you that you don’t live in France? I want to know more now! Off to your blog!

  • Anonymous

    It is Maths there is only wrong or right, I agree Period!
    Mackenzie Glanville

    • Muriel Demarcus

      Are you sure you are not French Mac? I thought I should ask…

  • Lynne Crookes Pepper

    Agree that mistakes need pointing out but our many problems with maths stem from the belief it’s either right or wrong which makes the stakes for failure too high. We need to congratulate kids for using a correct method at least as much as we do for them getting a correct answer.