Mistakes ARE Opportunities to Learn #BCSLearns

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”  -Helen Keller, writer and activist

In the article from EdWeek, Students Can Learn from their Mistakes if We Let Them by Peter DeWitt, he states, “What we need to get away from is the adult in the classroom answering their own questions, and [instead] fostering an atmosphere where students can rely on each other and work in collaboration.”  Sound like a deep-rooted value we have at BCS?  Yes indeed!  Check out the article, which outlines the unintended messages we send to our students when we, as teachers, answer our own questions for them.  Additionally the article details the “Power of Errors”, as well as listing several well-known strategies that help students rather than teacher talk, engage in discourse and share their thinking.  In keeping with the “mistakes are opportunities to learn theme, below are two videos that are worth viewing.

First, Diana Laufenberg TED Talk: “How to learn? From mistakes” – Diana teaches at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia where students learn in a project-based environment where the core values of inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection are emphasized in all classes.  In this video Diana shares the importance of students learning from their mistakes as a critical component to the process of learning and within the learning process.

The second video “Learning from mistakes” is a TED Talk by Will Eaton where he helps emphasize the POWER that lies within any mistake that we must be sure to not overlook.  Sit back, relax and check them both out to support this important value we have at BCS!


6 thoughts on “Mistakes ARE Opportunities to Learn #BCSLearns

  1. Valerie Weage

    This topic is one that I find myself thinking about a lot when it comes to my teaching practice. I have always known that I wanted to strive for the type of culture in my classroom where students not only feel comfortable sharing their mistakes, but also embrace the learning opportunities that come with these mistakes. However, this is not a task that is easily accomplished. I try to praise students when they have the confidence to share a mistake with the class, or when they reflect on the errors they have made, but still, I feel like these efforts don’t bring about the significant change I am looking for. The greatest obstacle here is that students are afraid to be wrong and sometimes as a teacher, I fear that recognizing a student’s mistake, even in a positive way, may not be viewed as positive by the student.
    Recently, while I was in the middle of a discussion with a student about a mistake on a problem, I tried to encourage the student by saying something like, “mistakes are a great way to learn, now let’s try to fix it.” The student responded by saying, “you always say that mistakes are good, but if it comes to the test and I make a mistake, I know you will be disappointed.” This is so obviously the biggest obstacle with embracing failure, is that at the end of the day, we don’t want students to fail. We expect them to perform well on assessments and they know that these tests are important. This idea is really echoed in Diana Laufenberg’s thoughts about standardized assessment and it’s affect on this type of classroom culture. So my question is, how can we change this? Is there a way to have students distance this type of experimental learning from standardized testing? Or a way to change standardized testing to reflect a change in practice?

    1. Lydia Tiseo

      I like what Will Eaton said at the very end of his video Learning from Mistakes. He said that to understand the power of our mistakes we should try to view them as a documentary or shared story that others can learn from instead of a film that is scripted and controlled. I also try to get my students to understand that learning from their mistakes can be a good thing. I think one way we can help promote this type of culture/thinking in the classroom is to share our own failures and mistakes and what they taught us. When students see the risks that we took, they can be more confident to take risks on their own (in my case with language). Another way I try to promote this culture is allowing students to earn back credit for a wrong answer (mistake) by explaining to me or sharing what they did wrong and how they could correct it instead of just a do over.

  2. Pauline

    I agree with Valerie that in math in particular it is difficult to encourage students to develop a growth mindset because the “correct’ answer seems so black and white. I guess we can try to focus more on the process of reaching a solution rather then the actual solution itself. We can help kids shift their responses from ” I don’t get it ” to “What am I missing? ” , “I’ll try another strategy”. The question about transferring this to standardized testing is a good one. I was reminded of Rick Wormeli and the importance of Redo’s and Retakes: https://www.ocps.net/lc/southwest/mso/parents/Documents/Redos%20and%20Retakes%20Done%20Right.pdf

  3. Scarlet Butzin, Julie Frishman, Morris Wallington, Lynne Parkin

    This video was a good example of how students learn best when they are given authentic, real-world inquiry based learning tasks. They are more engaged and interested when they are able to make choices about their learning and employ those choices in a real-world setting or scenario. We have found that when we can use project-based learning to structure our lessons, our students are more engaged. We agree with Pauline that the process is much more important for our students’ learning rather than the end project. We often employ that idea in Language Arts when we use process writing and don’t always reach the point of publishing. This year we got our students excited about starting a hydroponic garden. They worked tirelessly for months to make the project work, and unfortunately they did not experience the end success of actually growing something. Even though they did not achieve what they had set out to do at first, they learned so much through the process of researching and building the garden. They also learned a variety of problem-solving skills while trying to resolve the challenges they encountered along the way. While our students were disappointed that they did not achieve the end goal that they had set out to complete, they couldn’t believe how much they learned throughout the process. For example, the students saw how powerful their words and ideas were when they learned to write business letters to the company who provided our materials. They saw success when the company refunded their money so they could try another project and a new learning path.

  4. Jordy Whitmer

    What is failure? How can failure be beneficial? How do you overcome failures?
    Are there levels of failure? Common types of failures?
    What is a smart failure?
    If you achieve an “Epic Fail,” have you learned more than most people who easily succeed or succeed by following a “recipe”?
    How can we change students’ connotation of failure? (Rebranding)
    First Attempt, Iterate and Learn
    How does failure relate to Dweck’s concept of mindset, Duckworth’s idea of grit, and the design principle of iteration?
    How much failure is too much, how much not enough?
    How do we know when to let students stop/quit/move on?
    How do you know when to lead, when to help, and when to let the students figure it out themselves?
    Can kids benefit from failure if you don’t give them time to reflect?
    Can kids benefit from failure if you don’t give them time to revise?
    When is failure not an option?
    How do we keep kids mentally and physically safe?
    “Success” comes from the Latin succedere, “to come after.” Are success and failure a yin and yang relationship?


  5. Vicki Lowery

    Students making mistakes can be a good thing when there is an opportunity to figure out how or why something went wrong and then figuring out how to “fix” the mistake. When students make errors on math problems, for example, I have them make sure they understand the steps they took initially so they can find at what point the mistake was made. Talking through problems with other students is helpful for both parties, not just the person who made the error.

    I agree with Valerie in that students can see math as black or white, but by having them verbalize the process they took to get to the answer can help them to understand that the pathways can be different.


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