What's in a mistake?
How afraid are you of making mistakes? I have to admit that in certain areas I'm more scared than in others. When I first moved to Sweden from the UK, I felt pretty scared of speaking Swedish.
For two years, the embarrassment of speaking like a duck was stronger than the social and business benefits of communicating in the local language.And then I began to see that I was losing out socially, and professionally. So, quite suddenly I made up my mind to speak Swedish and I went to school and rapidly learned the words and grammar, and sounded like a duck. Swedish is an easy language, once you have decided to learn it.
How scared are your students of making mistakes? I'm sure a quick survey of your class would reveal that some students are not even willing to publicly state that they are scared of making mistakes. On my visits as a public speaker to schools, have asked students the question “Who's afraid of making mistakes” and seen how they look at each other to check if it's OK to make such an admission in public. Then we talk about the look they just gave each other; and what it can mean for their lives.
In any class where mistakes are taboo, the learning is limited. Where there is stronger focus on the Pain, there is less focus on the Benefits. So the question that you have to answer is how to promote the view that making mistakes is actually a learning technique. How can you do that?
I suggest that you become a role model, and make some mistakes in class, as a demonstration of what you believe; if you believe.
The Educator's Mindset
Mission Awakening the Learner, Deepening the Learning
Identity Guide, Facilitator
Values Curiosity, Humour and Courage
Mind-set “Wrong answers are the doorway to deeper learning”
Action Ask open questions!
Risks of limiting mistake-making in the classrooms, and beyond
If we limit mistakes in the classroom we risk creating a culture of being inside “the box”, and losing creativity, enthusiasm, and joy. We risk creating a “Be Right, Do Right” society in which people are limited by the pre-existing rules of how things shall be done.
Mistakes can be better interpreted as learningThe ability to plan to make (manageable) mistakes, and learn from them will give students important life skills that will serve them in their unknown futures.
Mistakes are worth making, partly for the immediate learning, and partly for the long-term bravery that grows and guides the adult-to-be.
When students accept responsibility for their mistakes, learning becomes possible. Teachers may have to hold true that “Making mistakes is not the same as being a mistake.” and communicate this to their students through their actions in the classroom. How teachers respond to “the wrong answer” will be a vital opportunity for showing what they believe in.
Students who have experienced elsewhere that mistakes are painful and to be avoided will naturally challenge anyone who lives by a different code.
As teacher you can guide your students to see that although you cannot undo a mistake, you can choose how to respond to it. Before you request that a student sees the mistake as a step towards a desirable result, you will have to show them that you can do the same thing.
In the book "A Coaching Approach to Education", I list a number of manageable ways of including errors, mistakes, and bloopers that will encourage students to believe that you see errors as a way ahead in learning.
The book is available here http://www.martinrichards.eu/books.html
Growth starts when you can see room for improvement.So, what are you scared of doing wrong in your classroom, and how are you going to manage that so that you can be a role model for the Magic of Mistakes?
Mistakes as incentive to learn
[I visit schools as a coach, I observe lessons and give teachers feedback.]
I was in the teachers’ copying room and I picked up a stray text from the photocopier. It looked like a newspaper article about the Napoleonic Wars. Without thinking, I started reading it as I walked to an empty chair in the staffroom. I sat down and continued to read.
There was something about this news article that was a bit curious. Naturally the Napoleonic Wars wouldn’t have been in the newspaper, nor on the radio, or TV for that matter, but there was something about the article that caught my attention, I read on.
About three-quarters of the way through the article, it hit me. Napoleon couldn’t possibly have heard the news from his generals on his walkie-talkie. I rushed ahead through the text and sure enough the text was full of small references to modernities that Napoleon could never have enjoyed. He could never had told Josephine that he loved her by sending a text message on his mobile phone.
Suddenly I had the urge to research the article to unveil the true dates, places and people...Then I read back through the first parts of the text, there were dates, and names of people and places that I had assumed were correct, but were they? Suddenly I had the urge to research the article to unveil the true dates, places and people; and indeed find out how Napoleon actually communicated with his generals. Was it pigeons, messengers on horseback, flags, mirrors?
At the end of a lesson you can use the Mistake Meter tool or the Self-grading tool to show your students that you value their taking risks, making mistakes and learning from them.
Ask students in turn at the end of the day, questions like these:
Prepare them for upcoming class activities that are more risky.
Let the students give themselves a grade from 1 to 10 for their willingness to make mistakes. "How willing were you to make mistakes today? How did that affect how much you learned?"
For some students, challenges their grade by asking them to justify their grade in some way.
Techniques for making the best of students wrong answers
[Observe a lesson with me, and get ready to give the teacher some constructive feedback]
At this school the common language used in the classroom is English. We note that the teacher speaks English about half of the time, and uses French when she is teaching the French words. Perhaps French is not her native language, but she’s good at it.
The teacher turns on the projector and twenty French words are projected onto the white board. The class hushes as they visually take in the words that are in this exercise.
“I want English translations of these words”, the teacher instructs.
Each of the words is displayed one by one. The teacher says the word out loud, and uses it in a simple sentence. This gives the students but a short time, about 10 seconds, to guess the translation to English. The teacher takes out a square of paper from a box she is holding and calls a student’s name, turning to that student she indicates “Say it now!”.
During the next twelve minutes we hear three kinds of answers, according to the observation that we are making, that reveal the teacher's technique for dealing with students answers.
Vacant answer e.g. “dunno”, teacher simply moves on to next word on the list. She comes back to the word later in the exercise once all the words have been shown.
Wrong answer, the teacher investigates the connection with curiosity and humour, “How did you come to that?”, “What’s the connection you made?”, “Where does that word come from?”, “What inspired you to say that?”.
Right answer, the teacher says “Mias oui.”. Sometimes she asks first “How did you come to that?” (exactly as her responses for the wrong answer)
In all cases the right answer, i.e. the English translation and the French words are then shown on the board. The teacher then asks the class as a whole about the possible connections between French word and English word.
Using guessing, humour and curiosity again. “How might these two words be connected?”, “What’s the connection?”, “What’s a way to connect these?”. And then the teacher moves on quickly to the next French word, allowing students just enough time to write down the English words if they need to.
What feedback would you give this teacher?
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Teacher, facilitator and coach; Martin Richards trains educators to use a coaching approach all the work they do.