Thomas Edison is famous for saying: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” He knew the importance of making mistakes and their part in learning how to accomplish things. Students today have to have the same mentality. They need to learn to embrace mistakes, analyse what went wrong and then make changes to try again and get it right.
A classic example here is in maths. Sometimes marking is only done on a right or wrong basis. But what does the child get from this? They only know what they get wrong, they don’t learn from the mistakes.
Learning Not To Fear Failure
One of the common problems with this is that children learn to fear failure or making mistakes. For some this means that they take steps to learn methods and others will stop doing work. The fear can be immobilising.
Yet this is the wrong path. Children who aren’t willing to try aren’t going to succeed, learn or develop. So children need to learn a new skill: analysis of mistakes.
This is where children are asked a question, why was the answer wrong? By learning from mistakes they are going to remember how to apply lessons to future problems. A good example for this is always with maths. Take, for example, algebra. You could ask the question:
a2 + a2 =
A student might answer a4 but we know that this is not the right question. Instead, you need to get them to work it out on why that isn’t the answer. So, you can get the students to substitute 2 for a.
22 + 22 = (2 x 2) + (2 x 2) = 4 + 4 = 8
24 = 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 16
Once they realise that there is a mistake, they might see how to correct their mistake. Or you teach them the methodology again. Then they can give the correct answer (in this case 2a2).
Praising Those Who Try
It is important that you should praise those who are really trying, even if they aren’t succeeding. If all else fails, and students do fear failure, it is always good to remember Paulo Coelho in The Alchemist: “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”
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