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Sunday, March 27, 2016

So many students are afraid to make mistakes.

Lately, I have been reading and thinking a lot about mindset. What does it for me as a teacher if I hold a growth mindset for my students? My colleagues? My peers?

I make mistakes constantly...sometimes on purpose. I want to model for my students (and my colleagues) how to make and learn from errors as part of learning. When students identify a typo in written material I provided, I award extra credit. I want them to honor the close reading and attention to detail recognizing typos takes and teach them how to point out mistakes without putting down the person who made the error.

So many students are afraid to make mistakes. They are terrified of having their errors made public. Their self-esteem often hinges on a grading system that completely ignores how learning takes place and undermines the value of practice and successive approximation.

I have some strong feelings about this, but I won't get too derailed--this is a blog of good things, not gripes.

In my opinion, the vast majority of behaviors displayed by students that we deem inappropriate are rooted in this flawed system. Students who shut down; who start assignments, but never finish them; students who complete work, but don't turn it in; students who act out, clown around, throw temper tantrums...

And the worst part is that most children who carry this view of themselves and learning, carry it into adulthood.

This semester, I am working with my fourth student teacher. She is a product of the system described above and sometimes it shows.

But a few days ago, a really cool thing happened. I tasked her with creating an activity students could complete while watching Romeo and Juliet. We had used a matching activity during an earlier film that was very successful: it hit the right balance between ensuring students pay attention to the movie and is not so demanding as to interrupt the students ability to pay attention to the movie.

She created an activity where students were tasked with putting events from the film in sequential order. It was a good idea and well-executed.

Even better, she selected a quotation response as the opening activity (what we call a "Do Now"). The quotation said "There are no mistakes, just happy little accidents" (said by Bob Ross). She had the students write about and discuss the meaning of the quotation.

Then it was time for her to hand out the activity she designed.

She said, "Ok, guys, this is the first worksheet I made all by myself, so if there is a mistake, its not a mistake, its a happy little accident."

The students smiled. They didn't ridicule or make rude comments. One student gently pointed out there was no blank for them to write their names on the page. She didn't get flustered or insulted. She replied she was sure he would remember to put his name on his work and next time she would try to remember to make a blank.

There is a lot of evidence in my teaching that no matter how hard I try, my students hold onto the deep belief that mistakes mean they are stupid and all the obnoxious behavior that comes with that belief.

I was really proud of her in that moment. It was good to see her connect the content of the class to her own life, and own the possibility of mistakes. Maybe modeling making mistakes and learning from them does have some small impact. That would be a really good thing.

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What do you think? Does this good thing remind you of a story of your own? Have a question or comment? Please leave a comment!