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Learning from mistakes

What if we encouraged students to make mistakes instead of looking for the only correct answer? This would encourage creative thinking, motivate students to experiment more, and help them see a setback in life as a learning experience rather than something that defines them.

10 thoughts on “Learning from mistakes

  1. We can reframe from “one solutions is the best one” and “success/failure” to “we are going to need to try different approaches, and each one will help us get closer to where we want to be”. This is pretty much what John Boyd meant when he created O.O.D.A loops and also what Dave Snowden meant when he created the Cynefin Framework.

  2. This is the idea Jo Boaler (Stamford professor/mathematician) promotes in her books Mathematical Mindset and Limitless Mind. Often teachers scaffold tasks and break activities down onto ‘manageable’ chunks in order to help our students but in doing so you remove the chance for them to create, collaborate and to get it wrong. Research into how the brain functions and changes shows that when mistakes are made, synapses are firing and strengthening! Let’s celebrate when mistakes are made and let’s talk about them. One of my pupils asked if astrophysicists make mistakes and I told him they probably make the most to get to such an advanced, vast and unexplored field, my student certainly lit up!

  3. This short picture book is great on learning from mistakes – and making the most of them to create something fun and beautiful — ‘Beautiful Oops’ by Barney Saltzberg 🙂

  4. The story goes that the band Aerosmith used to have a weekly meeting called Dare to Suck, an opportunity for band members to bring the worst, craziest, most embarrassing ideas they could think of to the table. The freedom of this expression – indeed the challenge to think creatively – led to some of Aerosmith’s greatest hits. Without them daring to suck, we wouldn’t have classic songs like Dude (Looks Like a Lady) and Love In An Elevator.

  5. We can ask questions that have one right answer
    or questions that have many right answers
    or questions that have no right answers
    or questions whose meaning is specific to this group at this time.
    The definition of “mistakes” shifts depending on the type of question.

  6. Connected to this – I love this quote from Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg who said ‘we tend to fall in love with solutions before really understanding the problem’. If we reframe how we see something and provide the space for others to do this, it opens up more possibility of solution. Also – what if we stopped using the word mistake? I liked Anne Bamford’s use of the word ‘pilot’ and I think it was Lesley Whelan who talked about prototypes as a way to help feel like every experience is a learning one, rather than a ‘success’ or a ‘failure’.

  7. In my last job working running a therapeutic group intervention around art (with Cara Verkerk who has also commented on this!), i often encountered that children were often terrified to make a mistake or get it ‘wrong’. Even children who seemed confident and self assured would pretty much crumble if things didn’t pan out the way they had imagined they would, especially when making a piece of art. Our supervisor at the time taught me something which i carry with me in my ‘toolkit’ all the time. If you write the word mistake down then cut it into two, you get ‘mis’ and ‘take’. A mistake is a ‘missed take’ and you can ‘take’ it again. I would often emphasise this by writing the word down, cutting it in two, explaining the idea, then giving the child the word ‘take’ to encourage them to try again. It is simple but makes sense and even i draw on it when i am having a wobble about a risky decision i am going to take. Like Anastasia says, hopefully this kind of analogy can support students to take risks, make mistakes and encourage creative thinking without a fear of ‘failure’.

  8. I am surprised to see this comment as I (possibly wrongly), assumed that ‘we’ (as educators) do encourage mistakes.
    I love the Aerosmith story!

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