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The Power of Mistakes

October 24, 2016

 

Why do we feel bad when we make mistakes? For many people, young and old, mistakes bring feelings of embarrassment, fear, and even anger. We may feel judged, and in turn we see ourselves as inadequate.

 

In our math classrooms, students are especially sensitive to errors. Many math lessons teach step-by-step procedures that must be followed to get to a single answer. In this framework, it's easy to see how errors = failure.

 

Wait...

 

Errors, mistakes, and failure often act as triggers for fixed mindsets. Once students begin to fail, their insecurities and fears take over.Thoughts like "I'm just not smart", or "I'll never be able to do this" overwhelm the experience, and the learning process shuts down.

 

But what if we embraced mistakes? After all, we have countless examples of our most successful athletesscientists, and businesspeople failing over and over on the way to succeeding. What if, instead of trying to hide our failures, we made them public, and emphasized their potential to help us become better?

 

What if you tried this?

If we can change our students' perceptions about mistakes, we can improve learning. Here is an amazing example of how one teacher harnesses the power of mistakes in her classroom:

My Favorite NO

 

 

 

This teacher successfully promotes a growth mindset in her classroom in several ways:

  • She presents errors in a positive light, publicly celebrating one of them as her 'favorite'.

  • She encourages a full discussion and analysis about the strengths and weaknesses in her chosen example.

  • There is no penalty for mistakes in the discussion; equal weight is given to successes and failures.

Choosing an appropriate task is a critical part of this exercise. If you use Symphony Math, you might choose a task in an area of need highlighted for one or more students in the HELP links on your dashboard.

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