What’s wrong with mistakes?
The previous blog talked about when praise is appropriate and what form it should take. As parents and educators our goal is to encourage intellectual curiosity and foster self-confidence. We praise effort and focus. But what about errors?
In his book, Teach Like a Champion, Doug Lemov makes the point that learning does not always take a direct path to the correct answer. Blunders and missed turns along the way are not only interesting, but often necessary, as we make understanding a concept or mastering a skill a personal, prized accomplishment.
Lemov emphasizes normalizing error. Since boo-boos are not necessarily barriers to learning they should be de-demonized and accepted as a normal function of the learning process. Mistakes are not to be encouraged, but neither are they the end of the world, nor proof that your student doesn’t care. It often takes the experience of, “Well, THAT didn’t work” for us to arrive at, “Oh! I get it!” Teaching at home or at school should include time to ask, “Why doesn’t ‘pig-headed’ mean he looks like a pig?” or, “What happens if I don’t flip the fraction to divide?” It should be safe to get it wrong before you get it right.
Nonjudgmental, matter-of-fact responses to errors go a long way toward showing your student you are interested in how their mind works and value their intent. Some effective responses we have used are, “That’s an interesting answer. What was your reasoning?”, “I can see how you came to that conclusion,” “Good answer based on the context!”, or even, “Good guess, but let’s work it through again and see if you are right.”
Modeling the process of coming to the correct answer is powerful. If your child sees that you don’t always expect to be right the first time and that being wrong happens to smart people he is encouraged that mistakes do not spell disaster. Some of us don’t have to try very hard to incorporate mistakes into the model, but if you are perfect, fake a few. Humorous goofs are a great way to point out that it’s OK to mess up as long as you recognize, correct and move on. My favorites usually happen during reading, for example, “They used credit to buy ears – oops, cars.” And “She turned the dork nob.” Make that doorknob.
Our children’s minds are amazing places and the mistakes they make give us a peek into what they perceive and how they learn. It’s OK to say, “I can tell from your answer that I didn’t explain that clearly enough.” Or, like during the vocabulary lesson that went hilariously wrong when a student’s attempt to use “frost” in a sentence was, inexplicably, “I will frost….the cow.” My response: “Wrong, but funny.”
To read the original article about Doug Lemov’s book follow the link below:
Note from Susan Morris, director: The above blog entry was written by Maureen Nettles in 2012 and I forgot to post it. Maureen died suddenly in December, 2014. She was a wonderful tutor and a “person of parts,” as you can tell by hearing her “voice.” She is dearly missed by students and colleagues alike.