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Learn from Your Mistakes


Social-Emotional Learning All Ages Strategy


Flexible Thinking

Learn from Your Mistakes

All students, particularly those who are easily discouraged

How To Apply It!

  1. Seeing mistakes as a natural part of the learning process is crucial to students' growth.
  2. Discuss it. Provide students with basic growth mindset background: Our brains grow by putting in hard work, making and understanding our mistakes and adjusting.
  3. Set expectations. Make sure students know that you expect mistakes from ALL students. Tell your students: I want mistakes and mean it. But be sure they know you are talking about mistakes that come from taking risks and not from being careless.
  4. Choose language based on the type of mistake. Encourage and praise mistakes that result from stretch challenges. Praise the effort whether or not the outcome was a success. This will encourage students to take on challenges even at the risk of not succeeding. When students make careless errors, you do not need to praise but you can provide strategies for checking work. When mistakes arise from a lack of understanding, use the opportunity to re-teach and reinforce that learning new concepts takes time.
  5. Coach how to fix your own mistakes. a) Remind yourself that it's okay. b) Review what you did to see if you can find your own mistake. c) Try a different approach. d) Use resources. Can you go back to the book or an example problem? Can you ask a classmate? Is it time to ask the teacher for help? e) Give yourself credit for taking on the challenge.
  6. Create a reference card. Provide a motivational card with the above steps for students who get upset when they make a mistake.
  7. Practice it. Give students a challenging problem and coach them through the process. Afterward, discuss what the struggle felt like and how their process helped them learn. When discussing struggle and possible frustration, remind them that if they were given a problem they could easily solve they probably weren't learning very much.
  8. Ongoing reinforcement. Acknowledge students who take on challenges and make mistakes in class. Keep focus on the next steps of working through the challenge. Model your own mistakes and talk through your approach so students see that adults are also constantly growing and working through challenges.

Why It Works (the Science Of Learning)!

Research shows that students with a growth mindset respond better to mistakes and are more likely to persevere and succeed over the long term, particularly as work requires more complex analysis rather than rote memorization. Children learn as much, if not more, from their mistakes as they do from succeeding, when mistakes are viewed as a natural part of learning rather than as something to be embarrassed about. The importance of healthy risk taking is detailed in the Aspen Institute's The Practice Base for How We Learn.