Sunday, July 14, 2013


We hear this term often, but sometimes I wonder if we really know what it means. I was watching a video last year during a professional development session that was showing us what rigorous classrooms looked like. The teacher they were observing was talking about all the opportunities she gave the kids to answer open-ended questions-like 3+4= _____. Sorry honey, but that's not an open-ended question. True, it's not multiple choice so I'm assuming you think the students have to think more. But that's a closed-ended question.

Open-ended means there is a more thoughtful response. Often I think it means you are leaving it "open" to student interpretation, there may be more than one correct answer. I came across this video and I think it shows the difference. Although they are talking about expectations for scoring, I think it goes to show that giving them more latitude in their interpretation can give more creative results:

When kids are allowed to apply their thoughts their own way, I'm always amazed at what they come up with. When we do art projects, I often tell them here's the paint (or clay or markers or construction paper)-make a painting, make a collage. It's based on a lesson-maybe they are painting what the story would look like in a different setting or maybe they are painting their version of Sunny Sunny Day after seeing Starry Starry Night. When asked what colors should I use? Or should I put this here? My answer always is-you are the artist, it's up to you!

On assessments, I include open-ended questions (yes, even with the little ones). Why? Because I can really see if they understand the concept or not. My favorite answer (and I wish I could find the picture) was to the question: if we lived in the rainforest, how would our lives be different? And the answer the student came up with showed himself riding an animal. Think about it, do we see roads in the rainforest? Cars? I thought that was a great answer! With young kids I know what you are thinking--but they can't write!? Yes, but they can draw a picture. Does it take longer to correct tests because I have to flag some of them to ask the kids the next day what they drew-yes. But is it worth it? Totally!

I urge you to give it a try. I think you will really enjoy the ideas your kids will come up with.


  1. What an excellent example! Thanks for sharing.

  2. I've always thought a good rule of thumb for "open-ended or not" is to determine whether or not the question is a "yes or no" question. If you can answer the question with either a "yes" or a "no," it's (generally) not open-ended. Also, Mathematic problems are generally not open-ended (til you get into high school and abstract Mathematic concepts at least). If it requires MORE than a "yes" or "no," it's probably open-ended.

    Obviously, 3+7 only has one answer...

  3. You always do an excellent job in allowing your students to come up with their own versions, opinions, and answers.