Why do teachers insist that students set out their answers their way or the highway? Why should a method of working out a Maths problem be marked wrong when it is actually 100% correct?
I guess the simple answer to this is that there always more than one way of working out a problem in Maths. No way is necessarily more correct than any other way however some solutions are more elegant and easier to understand and also quicker to solve than others. As long as you get the right answer and your reasoning is Mathematically correct then it doesn’t really matter which way you get your answer.
Many school teachers insist on students solving and setting out problems in a set way. Why? Maybe so it is easier for them to correct the questions and quicker to get their marking done. Maybe so they can control the class more effectively. I don’t really know because I haven’t spoken to any teachers about this.
So What Is The Correct Way To Do Maths?
What I have found is that it really is best for students to set out their problems in a way that they can understand because this keeps the flow of understanding happening. Everyone thinks differently and their pathway to each point in Maths has been different. So they really do need to be encouraged to set out solutions their own way as long as it is a correct method!
And this of course depends on the degree of difficulty of the Maths. If a certain method is best for solving the question then I suggest it to my students and explain why it is the best way. There is always a good reason for setting out solutions in a preferred way however teachers do not always explain this to students.
If the question clearly states that a certain method must be used to solve the problem then yes it must be done that way. But if it is not clearly stated then I believe students should be able to use any valid method. The problem that could result from this is a possible conflict with the teacher if the students use their own method to solve the problem and then attempt to stand up for their rights. Not many teenagers have the verbal skills or the confidence to stand up for their rights and state their case to their teacher. And for most of them they just end up doing it the teachers way.
So when my students inform me that they lost marks because they didn’t do it the teachers way I let them know that there is nothing wrong about the way they are doing their Maths. (And they actually know this because they got the right answer!) And that the best thing to do if they are not brave enough to confront their teacher is to do it the teachers way so they get their marks.