March 29th, 2018
In education, our perception of mistakes is important as we seek to challenge conceptions of what defines success and failure. The goal of education, after all, is to have students solve problems independently. In taking the time to engage in mistakes, students are allowed to move into a deeper level of understanding that transcends the classroom.
When incorporated into the learning process as an expected occurrence, mistakes and the responses to them become important components of problem solving. Instead of giving up in frustration after making a mistake, when students work constructively to understand the mistake, the strategy to solve the problem stays with them better than if asked to simply memorize the solution.
For educators, the trick is to turn these moments of mistakes into learning opportunities, and cultivate this same perspective into the minds of our students. This is done by encouraging students to embody what psychologists describe as a growth mindset. While even the brightest pupils may avoid effort and wilt in the face of difficulty, those that have cultivated a growth mindset will rise to the challenge, persisting intensely when things get difficult, ultimately leading to greater accomplishments.
In order to promote a classroom environment where mistakes are not only acceptable, but celebrated, we must foster a learning atmosphere that is understanding and responsive to the mistakes students make. Rather than praising intelligence, educators should focus on encouraging students to think of their mind as flexible and support individual responsibility. By relying less on praise and allowing time for students to develop skills on their own, students will come to see mistakes as the building blocks of knowledge.
Furthermore, education should allow students to search, inquire and pursue topics in a discovery process that engages them. Allowing time for individual exploration will create opportunities where mistakes may occur, but they can be used as a powerful learning motivator when immediate and thoughtful feedback is provided.
By recognizing mistakes as an inevitable and important part of the pedagogic process, more than just a way of assessing what students know, we can reach new heights and see our students’ potentials soar.