As a teacher, I believe that one of the most important lessons I can teach my students is that making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process. Unfortunately, many students are afraid to make mistakes because they fear being judged or criticized. This fear can be especially challenging for students who are under pressure from their parents to achieve perfection in all aspects of their lives. I saw this a lot in my classrooms, so my job was to help them understand how to turn mistakes into learning opportunities. I think this happens in classrooms with a solid community and a growth mindset.
But parents play an even more critical role in helping their children develop a healthy relationship with mistakes, as you’re with them even more! I get them for one year, and I happen to foster this concept in my room, but what if the next teacher doesn’t? When parents create an environment where it's okay to make mistakes, they help their children develop a growth mindset. A growth mindset is the belief that skills and abilities can be developed through hard work, dedication, and perseverance. By contrast, a fixed mindset is the belief that skills and abilities are set in stone and can't be changed. All too often, I have fixed mindset kiddos who enter the classroom at the beginning of the year. But by the end, more than ¾ are starting to see the light and opting for that growth mindset attitude.
It’s important for students to be in psychologically safe classrooms that are mistake-friendly. We want an environment that allows for risk-taking, thinking, revising, and making mistakes while figuring things out. Work should be developmentally challenging, not too easy, and allow for deep and thoughtful thinking and problem-solving. Providing answers at the first stumble is not helping a child develop necessary skills for life. Neither is correcting them as soon as an answer is given. Let them think, ponder, discuss! As teachers, when we ask a question, we often intentionally wait for many answers before we continue with what might have been the correct one. We want them to know that just trying is the first part!
In my classroom, I break down assignments into smaller areas of learning so that students can focus on one skill at a time. For example, during Writer's Workshop, I might focus on just one skill, such as using strong verbs, rather than marking up the entire paper. This approach helps students feel less intimidated and more confident about their work, which in turn encourages them to take risks and make mistakes. They don’t need to master the theme, setting, characters, dialogue, punctuation and elaboration all in one go! That’s too much, that’s overwhelming, and it’s not even developmentally correct! So, break things down and look for ONE skill to practice, and only address that one skill when revising. Now, can you verbally praise other areas, or offer suggestions as bridges to the next step? Absolutely!
I often use the Learning Pit model to demonstrate to my students the value of mistakes in the learning process. The Learning Pit is a visual model that shows the process of going from a state of confusion and uncertainty to understanding and clarity. It is important for students to understand that mistakes are a natural part of this process and that they should not be afraid to take risks and make mistakes. When learning new things, who isn’t in the pit at some point or another? It’s an unreal expectation to assume your child will understand and apply brand new information learned.