I tried something new today with a class I’ve only seen a few times, and, well, it took a while for them to get where I wanted (well almost there). In fact, there were many pupils who simply said I don’t get it (even after reframing the task a number of times), or said they couldn’t do it, they just couldn’t. There was even one girl who was in tears, not with me I might add, but just the frustration of, as she put it, ‘being rubbish’ and not being able to do the exercise.
The fear of failure and making mistakes was evident. If Einstein had listened to his teachers he would never have gone on to conceive the thoughts he had about Science. But he didn’t. His growth mindset meant he could look stupid, and fail, and make mistakes, but also provided an opportunity to develop new strategies, theories and ways of achieving better results.
So how do you harness the power of mistakes:
1. Normalise mistakes – students need to experience failure in a safe environment so they know they are a normal part of life and there’s not need to be embarrassed about them, or try to cover them up. Rather, it’s a natural experience from which they can learn. So, develop a process that makes mistakes feel routine. Annie Brock gets her students to have ‘great mistakes’ which lead to new learning, and ‘Mistake Mechanics’ that unpick their thinking by looking under the bonnet (brain).
2. Value mistakes as learning opportunities – some teachers seize on particularly ‘wrong’ answers that students might have given (do this carefully though) and then get the whole class to analyse what was good about it (firstly), and then what the mistake was, and how it can be corrected. Again this normalises mistakes.
3. Coach them through mistakes – we want students to fix an issue themselves, so they really learn from the mistake, by working through it. So how do you do that?
a. Well, ask open ended questions beginning with ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘how’.
b. Get them to ask 3 other students first before they ask you for help.
c. Get them to reflect on what’s happened and talk through it with a partner.
d. Get them to think before a task about possible obstacles/issues/problems/misconceptions.
So, go on, make a mistake, and enjoy it!