Creating a Culture of Mistakes

Mistakes are a big part of life and learning. Unfortunately, mistakes are also often connotated with failure or stupidity. Which is largely incorrect and simply horrifying for educators. When children make mistakes, especially during their formative years, these mistakes allow their brains to focus on what not to do. Or non-examples. Non-examples can be very powerful in learning for helping to establish a precedent and a baseline for development.

I remember the feeling I used to get as a student when I made mistakes. I was instantly de-motivated and lost the confidence to continue. This was likely due to the fact that I held myself to really high standards as a student, and truly still do. Mistakes were detrimental to me, not because they weren’t helping me learn, but because the culture surrounding mistakes was so negative. Changing that culture is necessary to shift the focus to self-efficacy and confidence. 

Don’t Be Afraid to Be Wrong

Like me, many students are afraid to be wrong or make a big mistake. Mistakes aren’t thought of as accidents, or bad things that simply happen to you. Mistakes are thought of as decisions that individuals make through their own autonomy that leads to negative consequences. Which, in turn, makes mistakes the individual’s fault. This is not true. 

Mistakes are caused when our brain fails to create fissures, or spark synapses. And this is not our fault. When we are learning, we take in so much information all at once that details can often fall through the cracks. This is nothing to fear. It just means you need to practice the concept more and correctly in order to spark those missing synapses. 

Mistakes Lead to Learning

Mistakes are key to your learning. Without them, we have little idea about what not to do. And as we learned above, non-examples are powerful learning tools. When you make a mistake, your brain corrects the behavior or knowledge and begins storing the correct information. This can be made more difficult the longer we have practiced incorrect behavior or knowledge. Which is why mistakes in school are so critical. Your teachers can pick up on your mistakes, teach you the proper application, and begin guiding you down a journey of re-entering the correct knowledge in your brain. AKA – Learning!

Mistakes Help Track Growth

Growth and development are what all students strive for. Whether that is in a specific subject or culturally and socially. All students are looking for some amount of learning to occur and to be able to track that learning over a period of time, like a school year or a school career. Mistakes help educators keep track of that growth through formative assessments that clear up any confusion about what content is being stored and what content is falling through the cracks. Therefore, when we make mistakes, we can see them clearly in our growth cycle in the form of wrong answers on tests or incorrect usage of literary devices in essays. We can then use that data to determine what we have learned and how long it took us to learn it. 

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