Let Students Make Mistakes Without Feeling Like Failures
Sometimes we need little reminders to keep a growth mindset. Here’s some food for thought about using mistakes as a tool to create safe and caring learning environments in our classrooms.
Classroom Management and Reactions to Mistakes
The way we react to mistakes as teachers can directly affect classroom management. When I was a first and second year classroom teacher, I spent the first weeks of school making sure the students were quiet and obedient, and knew my rules. Later, I changed my ways and spent a bit of time on classroom expectations but mainly I taught students how to get over their fear of making mistakes when sharing or presenting, especially in the first few weeks of school. My students used to come to me each year with the notion that quieter is better than talking and making a mistake. This frustrated me year after year. By week two of the school year, my students usually understood that I wanted to hear their voices, and that I needed to hear what they have learned so I could reguide them as necessary. I didn’t get frustrated or angry with the wrong answer, because they were just one step closer to the right answer.
Three Tips for Avoiding “Shutdown” in Students
Let’s look at a few ways to redirect students without making them feel embarrassed in front of their peers and “shut down” in the classroom:
- Teacher uses “incorrect” answers to reguide students to correct answers
- Students know not to shame, laugh, or ridicule each other for giving incorrect answers
- Teacher asks classmates to “help out” when student is off track with answer
Mistakes as a Part of the Growth Process
This type of classroom leads to a classroom full of raised hands because students are eager to try. It’s really hard to unlearn failure. When kids get the idea that they failed at something, it stays with them. Be someone in their life that shows them that mistakes are part of growth. It takes an extreme amount of patience and practice to do this, but is well worth the payoff. Who doesn’t want a classroom where students aren’t afraid to answer? Classroom management is about building students up, not breaking them down.
About the Author: Serena Pariser is the Assistant Director of Field Experience in SOLES and author of Real Talk About Classroom Management: 50 Best Practices That Work and Show You Believe in Your Students by Corwin Press (2018).