Jennifer Davis Bowman

PROF

Cincinnati, OH

Interests: Instructional...

  • Posted 3 Years ago
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5 Things Not to Say When Students Make a Mistake

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Have you seen the cute commercial about calling in sick?  It shows a parent professing to their young child "I can't come in today..."  I love the ad because it reminds me that you can avoid mistakes when following your gut.  Even though we are programmed as natural caretakers, parents have learned that it's a mistake not to acknowledge limitations in the face of an illness (mistakenly spreading germs, under-estimating the effects of medication, overlooking the dangers of sleep deprivation, etc.).

As with parenting, learning from mistakes is required in the classroom.  I agree with a powerful blog written by Dr. Curwin that emphasizes mistakes are a springboard for learning.  I began thinking about my own experiences with students and mistake-making.  Sometimes, I feel that I do get it right, but there are many times that I don't.  I was inspired by Dr. Curwin's list of suggestions and wanted to contribute.  I thought it would be helpful to start with the mistakes that we as teachers make in talking to students about their mistakes. 

Below is a list of 5 things not to say to students when they make a mistake:

1.  Let's start over.

Research indicates that the type of incorrect answer may help or hurt the learner's ability to remember the correct answer.  One research study indicates that when the wrong answer relates or has something in common with the true answer, this helps with student learning.  Thus, teachers should not persuade the student to start over, but instead, (as long as their mistake is close to the real answer) encourage the learner to build upon their answer.

2.  Mistakes are avoidable.

In an interview with a successful business owner named Danny Meyer, the value of normalizing mistakes is emphasized.  The owner discusses that "we are designed for mistakes" in order to suggest that mistakes are natural and normal for everyone.  The interview reveals that awareness of this principle is the first of five steps in learning from mistakes. When teachers explain that everyone makes mistakes, this begins the conversation on how to learn from mistakes. 

3.  A lack of knowledge causes mistakes.

In a study following good and bad basketball players, level of knowledge of the game/sport did not impact performance (amount of mistakes).  The researchers determined that one factor important to performance was the development of specific goals in responding to mistakes.  Thus, teachers must help students identify goals in terms of demonstrating knowlege learned from mistakes.

4.  Let's forget about mistakes and try to move forward.

In one article, it is argued that mistakes are integral for future planning.  In terms of preparing for the future, the article explains that employee mistakes are essential in developing safeguards (to help other employees avoid such mistakes) and guidelines to improve customer service (to attract more customers).  Thus, teachers must help students understand that lessons from mistakes "go beyond you" and have implications that are long lasting. 

5.  Incorrect practice leads to mistakes.

There is research that supports the value of practicing errors.  Instead of traditional methods, the idea is that amplifying errors allows the learner to see and remember"what is not-to-be-done".  In one study, in an attempt to improve long jumping, the researchers found that by demonstrating and practicing mistakes, performance improves.  Maybe allowing students to practice with their mistakes would allow for them to gain insight on ways to improve.   

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