The Importance of Mistakes
“Mistakes are GOOD!” The first time I said that to a class of second graders, they looked at me like I was crazy. They were incredulous. “You mean you actually want us to make mistakes?” they asked in disbelief.
Yes I do! The truth is, mistakes are essential for learning, and fear of failure is a roadblock to that process. Children are not born fearing failure – it is a learned behavior. Society rewards achievement and success. We look up to winners, but each of those winners we admire so greatly made mistake after mistake on their journey to success. I like to say they Failed Their Way to Success. But society does not praise failure. We praise results, but not the process. Consequently, kids get the message that mistakes are a bad thing. I particularly see this attitude with gifted students and high achievers. They become addicted to the praise they receive for successes that come so easily to them, and fail to learn the correlation between mistakes, effort, and achievement. Therefore, many bright children begin experiencing poor grades when the work becomes more challenging.
Learning is an emotional experience and emotions drive learning. If we want our children to become achievers, we must change their mindset about failure and mistakes. We must help them view mistakes as opportunities and not failure. Whether it is a science project, completing a math worksheet, playing sports, developing friendships, or taking part in a competition, children’s learning is enhanced through making mistakes. Mistakes offer opportunities for children to become problem solvers, consider different alternatives and try new approaches.
When I think of teaching students to embrace mistakes I always think of Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus. In my opinion, Miss Frizzle was the founder of Growth Mindset. Her call to action “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” should be a mantra in every classroom.
Flip That Flop!
There are many activities you can use with your students to teach about mistakes, but today I am going to share just one strategy I have used with students which you might want to try with your class. I call it Flip That Flop. In true Ms. Frizzle fashion, I believe in teaching students to celebrate mistakes as learning opportunities rather than failures. The dictionary defines a flop as a total failure, so a play on words is a fun way to think about how to flip a mistake and turn it into an opportunity for learning using a flip flop analogy.
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To begin this activity, I like to have a class discussion about how mistakes are learning opportunities. I give an example of a mistake I have made and how I turned it into a learning experience. I ask the kiddos to give me an example of a mistake they made and what they learned from it. Like most of us, they will have plenty of examples. If you want, you can give them a scenario (I have included 4 in the FREEBIE – SEE BELOW), and have the class analyze the problem. Once the students are familiar with the format and looking at ways to turn problems into possibilities, we are ready to do the activity.
In this activity, students write a description of a time they failed or made a mistake (The FLOP), how they turned the flop into an OPPORTUNITY, and a reflection on WHAT THEY LEARNED. There are four templates – a cover which the kiddos decorate any way they want, and a page for each stage of the activity. Once the templates are complete, staple them together and display the Flip Flop books in your classroom.
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If you are short on time or teaching younger students, you can use the flip flop templates included in the download and have the students write the “flop” on one flip flop and then write how they turned the flop into a learning opportunity on the other one. They look great on a class bulletin board and are visual reminders to everyone that mistakes are good and a necessary part of learning.
Here are a few other ways you can use this activity:
- As a reading response activity. Many of the stories in reading texts feature characters making mistakes or experiencing failure. This would be a fun activity to get the kiddos thinking, problem solving, and responding to literature.
- As a get to know you activity at the beginning of the year.
- As an end of the year reflection where students write about their biggest mistake that year and what they learned.
- As part of a biography study – many of us use biographies in our classroom, and most famous people have overcome great obstacles and made mistakes on their journey to success. You could put these on a bulletin board and title it Famous Flops.
- As a reflection after a math lesson. Students could write down their math mistake and then analyze their error and write how to do it correctly and what they learned. This is a great activity that allows students to demonstrate conceptual understanding of math.
Quotes that support this activity:
I’m a big fan of using quotes in my classroom. There are tons of quotes about mistakes and failure, but I want to share some quotes that best support turning mistakes into opportunities. These quotes demonstrate the importance of mistakes, but also the importance of reflecting on those mistakes, learning from them, and making mistakes a positive and necessary pathway to success.
I hope you get the opportunity to use this activity with your students. It is a great activity for the end of the school year. I am passionate about finding ways to increase student achievement. I will be doing a series of blog posts related to student achievement and strategies you can use, so I hope you will visit again for more ideas and resources.
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