TIP: Treat mistakes as opportunities

“When people are only faced with their failures, they tend to want to give up,” said Iona, a student in East Harlem, NY. “We need help to see our own progress, so that we don’t only see how bad we are doing.”

The most effective teachers regard mistakes and even failures as interesting steps along the way to understanding. What creative and effective ways have you found for giving positive feedback to learners who don’t “get it right”?

I’ll send a complimentary copy of Fires in the Mind to the best answers submitted this week.

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One thought on “TIP: Treat mistakes as opportunities

  1. I am a pre-service teacher in a high school German classroom. At the moment, I am teaching beginning level German. One of the things that my mentor teacher and I emphasize frequently in our classes is that learning a new language requires practice, and lots of it. The most important thing in our classroom is not that students get every word, article, and grammar convention correct, but rather that they attempt to use German as much as possible. To encourage students to use German, and use a lot of it, I try to create a low-stakes environment in which it is ok to fail. By “ok to fail”, I do not mean at all that it is not ok to try. I rather mean that if students are trying to use German and miss a few words, the fact that they used German as best they could is more important than the mistakes they made.

    This ok-to-fail attitude extends into how we address mistakes in our classroom as well. For example, students are allowed to resubmit quizzes and tests with corrections and explanations of the corrections. If the corrections and explanations are correct, the student can gain back partial credit for the missed questions. Doing this allows students to address their mistakes and learn from them, strengthening their knowledge and lessening the chance of them making the same mistake again. This system has allowed students who may not have been successful in other classes to be quite successful in our class. Students are given second chances to perform well.

    One last thing that I have noticed about this system is that students are perhaps more willing to try things that they would not have otherwise done before. The “ok to fail” atmosphere actually creates an environment in which fewer students do fail, because more students are trying more things.

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