We Want Your Child to Make Mistakes

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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. 

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As teachers and parents, we also need to admit and demonstrate when we make mistakes in front of our students and kids. By doing so, we model that mistakes are a natural part of the learning process and that it is okay to make them. This helps to create a safe and supportive environment where students can take risks and feel comfortable making mistakes. I always did this. Heck, I even had other students teach a concept or two, as they were much more clear in understanding than I was! That’s ok! Not everyone is an expert in all topics! I know I’m letting a big secret out of the bag here, but parents and teachers don’t know everything! Even WE make mistakes.


Here are some tips for parents who want to help their children develop a growth mindset:


Reframe mistakes as opportunities for growth and learning.

Rather than viewing mistakes as something negative or to be ashamed of, parents can help their children see mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow. When children learn that making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process, they are more likely to take risks and try new things.


Create a supportive and encouraging home environment.

By providing a safe and judgment-free space for their child to explore and experiment, parents can help their children develop a growth mindset. When children feel safe to take risks and make mistakes, they are more likely to learn from their experiences and grow.


Encourage children to take on new challenges and risks.

By encouraging their children to try new things and take on new challenges, parents can help their children develop confidence and resilience. When children learn to take risks and push themselves outside of their comfort zones, they are more likely to develop a growth mindset. It’s especially important to encourage them to try new things at school and in the classroom. 


Model the behavior you want to see in your children.

By being open about their own mistakes and discussing how they learned from them, parents can show their children that making mistakes is a normal and valuable part of the learning process. When children see that their parents are willing to make mistakes and learn from them, they are more likely to adopt a growth mindset themselves.

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In conclusion, parents play a critical role in helping their children develop a healthy relationship with mistakes. By reframing mistakes as opportunities for growth and learning, creating a supportive and encouraging home environment, encouraging children to take on new challenges and risks, and modeling the behavior they want to see in their children, parents can help their children develop a growth mindset. Working together, parents and teachers can create a classroom environment that is mistake-friendly and encourages students to take risks, think deeply, and problem-solve.


Heather


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Sources:


Learning Pit: https://www.jamesnottingham.co.uk/learning-pit/ 

Psychology Today: The Benefits of Failure for Learning and Growth (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/choosing-change/201812/the-benefits-failure-learning-and-growth )

Edutopia: The Importance of Making Mistakes in Learning (https://www.edutopia.org/article/importance-making-mistakes-learning)

Dweck, C. (2016). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Ballantine Books.

Heick, T. (2015). 15 mistakes that hinder learning. TeachThought. https://www.teachthought.com/learning/15-mistakes-that-hinder-learning/ 

Carol S. Dweck, Gregory M. Walton, and Geoffrey L. Cohen. Academic Tenacity: Mindsets and Skills that Promote Long-Term Learning. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 2014.

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