“Failure is just another word for growing.” You’ve probably seen this incredibly inspiring video by Khan Academy. If you haven’t, be sure to watch it and share with your students. (It never mentions Khan Academy, by the way.) It features scenes of children falling, slipping, failing, but eventually learning to reach those goals. It makes the point that failure is a necessary part of learning.
This article by the authors of The Straight A Conspiracy suggests ways to help students become comfortable with mistakes. When reviewing a test, share the most common mistakes that were made by the class as a whole, and encourage students to openly discuss these. Also, urge them to be more detailed and explicit about what the mistake itself, rather than simply saying “I got the question wrong.” You could also discuss how students view their mistakes, and whether they move on or fix them.
An excerpt from Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Assessing and Grading in the Differentiated Classroom argues that we should allow students to re-do work for full credit because to do otherwise this suggests that their efforts to correct mistakes are not as valued as if they had given correct answers on the original assignment. I’m sure this would spark a great deal of debate among teachers, but I enjoy reading the bold ideas of those who aren’t afraid to be criticized.
A learning module from the Eli Review examines and explains why revision is so important in writing, and how to provide helpful feedback on student writing. There are several video interviews with teachers discussing feedback and why it matters so much. Near the end, the qualities of helpful feedback are given. This is a really good resource for thinking about how to give feedback that will truly help your students improve.
Several years ago, a group of UCLA scientists devised a test to determine whether the subjects learned better from studying alone, or from making an unsuccessful attempt at an answer before being told the correct answer. The findings of that study are summarized in this Scientific American article. Can you guess the outcome? It turns out that making a mistake helped those subjects to learn the material better.
In this video from the Mindset Kit site (think Carol Dweck), a mathematics educator gives three ideas for how to celebrate student mistakes and remove the stigma. I’m not so sure about her second idea, which is singling out individual students to come to the board to demonstrate their mistakes on test questions. Maybe it could work if you allowed the students to volunteer for this, or you prepared them for it beforehand.
The first part of this video isn’t the highest quality, and looks like it was taken with a cellphone, but it does show an elementary school teacher questioning a student about a mistake she made. She explicitly discusses the benefits of making mistakes with the class. The student discusses her mistake openly, with no hesitation or shame. I think this is probably because this teacher has helped her class to understand the value of mistakes.
Have you ever considered writing “Not Yet” instead of a failing grade on a student’s paper? This teaching strategy explains how to discuss this with your students so that they understand that they must revise work and learn from their errors. Obviously, the actual implementation of this would be challenging, and you would need to have buy-in from the administration and parents. I’m curious about how this “Not Yet” approach would affect learning.