Helping Students Learn through Mistakes
October 10, 2022
Mistakes are a part of life. We’ve all forgotten to grab our car keys at least once after leaving the house. Miscommunications are common and can lead to further mix-ups in both work and life. Not to mention, I’m sure all of us have some memory of a horrible fashion choice that’s best left in the past. Mistakes are, well, just a part of how we grow – but students can have a hard time seeing it that way.
School can be a difficult place for students. It’s their primary ecosystem, so mistakes here can feel much bigger than they actually are. This is true both relationally and academically. A student who has trouble controlling their temper can have their troubles compounded by social embarrassment. Similarly, a student who struggles with a particular subject my feel demoralized by their poor performance.
Every educator wants to help students learn from their mistakes, but instead, maybe we should be teaching students to learn through their mistakes. After all, most of the greatest scientific discoveries were made through trial and error. Here are just a few simple strategies that can help students develop a healthy view of mistakes – both from a social-emotional and academic standpoint:
- Active Listening: Help students communicate with others in a way that allows them to hear, empathize, and understand their peers. By teaching active listening skills like clarifying, summarizing, and withholding judgment, students are more likely to recognize and forgive human errors. By teaching these skills with intention, you’ll help your students become successful listeners as well.
- Power of Prediction: Revisiting predictions is a good opportunity to promote risk-taking in your classroom, especially if your investigation yields a result that differs from the prediction. Explain that the reason we do investigations is to learn and remind students that scientists make incorrect predictions and mistakes all the time. That is how they learn and move their science forward.
- “But What Did I Say?”: Never argue. When students attempt to engage, simply listen, nod empathetically, and say, “But what did I say?” If they continue to argue, kindly repeat, “But what did I say?” Be caring and be consistent, and this approach will work wonders!
- My Wonderful Mistake: Encourage a failure-friendly culture in your classroom — have students record and reflect on their wonderful mistakes and what they learned from them in their journals or use them as an exit slip at the end of a lesson.
If you found these ideas helpful, be sure to check out the full list of Strategy Explorations from Blue Apple. These resources are free to download and cover everything from classroom management to inquiry-based science. Use these to encourage your classroom and teach students to aim for something far grander than good grades. Because when students have a healthy attitude toward failure, they’re more likely to take risks, to think creatively, and persevere in the face of adversity. Qualities like these are priceless and will ensure they continue to learn and grow no matter where the road of life takes them.