Learning From Our Mistakes
“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”
Part of the growth process involves risk. I often tell students that I will be pushing them out of their comfort zone. I use the analogy of exercise. You will not get stronger by lifting light weights that are not a challenge for you. You have to perform exercises that are tough for you in order to get stronger. In the same vein, we will not improve as much academically if we do not take risks and try things that we were previously uncomfortable with. This is where risk comes into play. I often challenge my students with tasks that are new to them. For example, I ask high school students to check their sources for credibility and qualify their inclusion in presentations. This small task is something many high school students are uncomfortable, but my experience is that they still rise to the occasion if challenged. This idea of moving out of our comfort zone is true on all levels, ranging from my son’s experiences in kindergarten to college students up to seasoned professionals. If we are willing to take risks then we will experience more growth than if we are unwilling to take risks. I am experiencing this presently in my transition from high school to college teaching. I find that I experience as many setbacks as successes. I reflect on and learn from these mistakes in order to optimize my learning. This is a quality we must instill in ourselves and our students, the willingness to take risks and make mistakes in order to learn from them. Teach students that mistakes are okay. Even Einstein made mistakes.
“Do not worry about your problems with mathematics; I assure you mine are far greater.”
We cannot all be Einsteins, but we can come closer to reaching our own potential by taking his advice. Pushing students beyond their comfort level, but providing enough support so they do not become frustrated is not a new concept. Vygotsky (1978) referred to this area between challenge and frustration as the zone of proximal development.
This concept has particular relevance to the learning and teaching of 21st century skills (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2011). Teaching students how to locate information and review it critically so it can be used effectively for an assignment relates to the skills of information literacy. These skills go beyond 21st century skills to appear in the ISTE NETS standards (2008), and they are also found in the Common Core State Standards (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2009).
Challenge your students. Asked them why they used a particular resource, included a particular slide in a presentation, or reached the conclusion they did. Remember it is not all about finding mistakes. Ask them to explain things that you know they did well also so they think about the process and engage in reflection, but also feel a sense of accomplishment and success overall. This way, they will be more willing to take risks in the future.
Challenge yourself also. Try something new in your class like a new lesson, teaching strategy, or technology resource. Technology advances quickly enough that there is always something new to try. Have fun with it. If you make a mistake, learn from it. If your students see you make a mistake and keep going, then maybe they will learn something from you. They will learn that it is okay to make mistakes.
Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2009). Common core state standards (Educational Standards). Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/thestandards
International Society for Technology in Education. (2008). National educational technology standards for students (Educational Standards). Retrieved from iste: http://www.iste.org/standards/nets-for-students
Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2011). Framework for 21st century learning. Retrieved from http://p21.org/overview
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). The cognitive movement in instruction. Educational Psychologist, 13, 15-29. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/hedp20/current#.U6BjMI1dVjs