Throughout history, great things have come from mistakes. Everything from penicillin to popsicles to pacemakers was the result of someone making a mistake. That’s why it’s important to teach students to embrace mistakes and consider them a learning opportunity.
When we do that, there can be surprising benefits. One study showed that students who gave wrong answers to questions and then learned from their errors had 25% better recall than those using rote memorization to learn.
To help you turn student errors into learning opportunities, we have a few tips and classroom giveaways to get you started.
Let students know it’s expected
Students frequently enter the classroom with the ingrained idea that mistakes are “wrong” or “bad.” Letting them know that mistakes are part of learning can help students ease into the idea that errors are where education begins. Do this by handing out classroom giveaways, like stickers, pencils or erasers that say “Mistakes are forgivable” or “Mistakes mean you’re learning.”
Acknowledge that teachers learn from mistakes too
When students make mistakes, they often reveal important data that teachers need to know. For example:
- What doesn’t the student understand?
- How can the information be conveyed to achieve that understanding?
- What other information will they need before they can proceed to the next lesson?
Remind students that sharing their errors with you or another educator is the fastest way to understand what they still need to learn.
Provide fast feedback
When an error isn’t corrected right away, it can create a domino effect that impedes future learning. In addition to checking student work, consider holding “micro-conferences”—1- to 2-minute learning opportunities focused on a single idea where students share their work and get immediate feedback.
Consider using a timer to ensure that sessions only last the designated amount of time.
Help them discover the causes of their mistakes
Part of the mistake-correcting process is understanding where the mistakes originate. Help students understand that different kinds of errors require different types of solutions:
- Carelessness: If mistakes happen because work was rushed or performed when the student wasn’t properly focused, encourage them to give their work the proper time and attention.
- Misconceptions: If errors occur because students don’t fully understand a concept, help them correct the misunderstanding so they can move forward.
Give specific feedback
When students present corrections to their work, feedback like “great” or “much improved” isn’t enough to help them grow. Instead, use statements like “Excellent use of evidence to support your thesis” or “Improved use of description” to help students understand when they’re moving in the right direction.
Keep communication open
Students who make mistakes are often frustrated. Asking how you can help, or even just offering encouragement, can keep learners moving forward when they’re feeling stuck.
For students who have a hard time asking for help, consider giving them a special coin they can set on their desk to make you aware they need a one-on-one explanation for something they don’t understand.
Start embracing mistakes
When you start teaching students to embrace mistakes, they start seeing them as an opportunity. And that’s when real learning begins.