Mistakes. We ALL make them. And yet, many of us can’t help but feel bad when they occur. This is also true for our students. There is a negative stigma around mistakes that students often tie to their own measure of success. Helping students accept mistakes and learn from them will open a whole new world of opportunity for them. Here are 4 ways you can help students learn from mistakes and take learning to a whole new level.
1. Help Students Recognize That Mistakes Provide Opportunity
It’s more than likely that students will come to you with the belief that mistakes are a bad thing. Helping students recognize that mistakes are actually an opportunity for growth and deeper understanding has the power to change everything in your classroom.
One of the best ways to help students see that mistakes are “no big deal” is by admitting your own to them. I find that talking about making mistakes openly with students is a great way to acknowledge that no matter how much we learn and grow, we will always make mistakes and that’s perfectly normal!
Talking to students about your own experiences with mistakes and how you addressed them is a great way to encourage a new mindset about learning from mistakes. This would be perfect to discuss during the morning meeting after a big test to touch on mistakes that were made and how the children feel about them. By first addressing the initial feelings and then relating them to your own experiences, you will help to normalize mistakes.
After discussing your own mistake, talk about the things you learned by correcting them. Touch on how you would not have come across these opportunities if it hadn’t been for the mistake. Making the case for how we can learn from mistakes will help students identify value in them and maintain a more even tone when they occur.
Research suggests that embracing mistakes in school can actually help children learn more. This article discusses some of the studies and scientific reviews that cover this topic. Studies show that taking the pressure off in low-stakes situations, such as during classroom centers, small groups, and other day-to-day lessons can have a HUGE impact.
As mentioned in the article, this scientific review from the Annual Review of Psychology highlights the benefit of allowing and even encouraging mistakes. The review notes that mistakes made in during casual classroom practice, followed by self-correction, and feedback increase the possibility for students to explore, question, and engage.
Anything we can do to promote deeper thinking, further investigation, and conscience thought is beneficial to our students. For this reason, I urge you to encourage mistakes! Make it known to students that mistakes are how we learn and if we’re too scared to make them, there will be no room for growth!
2. Use Literature To Reframe Beliefs About Mistakes
It’s a pretty common belief that mistakes are bad. After all, there are a lot of negative feelings surrounding doing something “wrong” and the fear of failure. Just because this is a common belief, doesn’t mean we need to let our students succumb to it! Teaching children that they can in fact learn from mistakes will make a monumental difference in their success.
To help students embrace this concept, I believe it’s important to create a classroom climate that is rich with a growth mindset. Helping students maintain a growth mindset will shift their beliefs about mistakes and help them start to see the possibility when they make a mistake, rather than failure.
I’m a big fan of using literature to help children understand new concepts and this topic is no different! There are so many wonderful books you can use in your lessons to help children embrace the idea of learning from mistakes, but these are a few of my favorites:
The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes By Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein. This well-known story follows the tale of Beatrice, a girl who NEVER makes mistakes. She is known in her town as the girl with a mistake-free life and is determined to maintain her title at the school talent show. But during the show, Beatrice makes a mistake! This story follows Beatrice as she realizes that mistakes may not be so bad and she learns to embrace them.
This is a wonderful book to help any of your perfectionists realize that it’s normal to make mistakes from time to time and absolutely no one is perfect! If you’re looking to take a deeper dive into this book, be sure to check out my book companion unit to this story. This resource includes activities that will help your students analyze the concepts and draw connections to their own lives. There are a variety of activities included that you can pick and choose from depending on the needs of your group.
I Can’t Do That Yet by Esther Pia Cordova is an excellent resource to teach a growth mindset and promote self-confidence. Though not directly tied to making mistakes, this book helps children see that they have the power to choose growth, which will help shape their view of mistakes. Though they might have made a mistake, it doesn’t mean they can’t improve. This book explores personal potential through hard work, determination, and belief in oneself.
Mistakes That Worked by Charlotte Foltz Jones is a fun read that details various inventions that came to be from mistakes. Use this book to encourage students to believe their mistakes are an opportunity! This book includes a variety of longer tales, so read a page or two per day for fun facts about 40 different inventions that started with mistakes including Silly Putty, popsicles, penicillin, and more! The perseverance of the inventors will help students see there is so much we can learn from mistakes.
3. Choose Your Words Wisely To Help Students Learn From Mistakes
Our students pull so much from our reactions. Though it may not seem like it at times, they are often listening closely to what we say and how we react. Children internalize and interpret these messages, ultimately tieing meaning to their own experiences. This means as teachers, we have the power to change how students view mistakes simply with our words.
To help your students adopt a growth mindset and learn from mistakes, it’s vital to think deeply about the words you use and how to frame your reactions when addressing mistakes. It’s crucial to make sure you’re using positive language when referring to mistakes of any kind to continue to foster the belief that mistakes are normal and we can grow from them.
Doing this can be as simple as swapping out your reactions from a negative view to a positive one and creating a classroom climate that continues to encourage mistakes and seeks deeper understanding. When a child expresses disappointment about getting something wrong, nudge them towards the opportunity.
Ask them what they can learn, and how they will do it differently next time and offer encouragement that the only real “failure” comes with giving up. Helping children understand that it’s their responsibility to continue questioning, practicing, and seeking answers will help them feel in control and take their power back around mistakes. Frame mistakes as an opportunity to “solve the puzzle” or “be the detective” and encourage your students that they can discover the answer.
4. Encourage Independence In Correcting Mistakes
Perhaps one of the most valuable ways to help students truly learn from mistakes is by allowing them to identify a possible solution. There is a great possibility for growth when we let students sit with their mistakes and discover opportunities. This skill will take practice to achieve though, so keep that in mind and provide your students with many opportunities for implementation!
A great way to do this is with a fun exercise I call, “Flip Into A Flop”. This is a writing activity that I designed to help students learn from mistakes and turn them into valuable learning opportunities. This activity includes 4 scenarios with common mistakes that children make. This makes a fantastic 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 while learning to embrace a growth mindset.
Another option is to use the blank writing template on its own and has students craft learning opportunities from their own mistakes. You could use this activity to follow a test and reflect on mistakes or as an end-of-the-year reflection.
Personally, I think this is a great exercise to pull out from time to continue fostering a growth mindset and reminding students that there is SO much to learn from our mistakes. If you’d like to try this activity with your students, grab this activity for FREE in my shop!
Helping Students Learn From Mistakes Takes Time
Above all, don’t forget that teaching students to embrace this new mindset will take time and consistency. You will need to use these strategies daily in your classroom to reap the benefits. But, I can assure you they will be worth it! Having a classroom full of independent, confident learners who embrace mistakes and learn from them is the ultimate goal. So keep at it! Watch your words, read lots of great books, encourage independence, and ultimately help students see there is so much we can learn from mistakes!
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