Make No Mistake About It

I’ve become a bit concerned with how the word “failure” has been flung around lately – as though it is something we should strive for and flaunt.  I understand the sentiment behind this – growth mindset, stepping outside our comfort zone, taking risks, etc…  But “failure” will never have anything but a negative connotation to me.  To me, it is synonymous with “loser” or “quitter,” and features prominently in the speech of bullies.

What I do want my students to understand is that they shouldn’t be so afraid of making mistakes that they become fearful of attempting new adventures.  I am careful with how I speak about this in class, though.  I don’t want students to feel like mistakes are a goal; they are simply a possible by-product of learning. (Notice that I say “possible,” not “necessary.”  Learning can happen without mistakes in many circumstances – so I think it is wrong to tell students mistakes are required in order to learn.)

The truth is that not all mistakes are equally valuable.  There are different types of mistakes as well as different types of reactions, and I want my students to understand that. That’s why I was really excited when I came across this article from “Mindset Works”.  It includes this great visual that I think really explains the classification of mistakes.

Types-of-Mistakes-Chart_v3.jpg

As you can see, the potential for learning exists in all mistakes, but “sloppy mistakes” (what I usually call “careless mistakes”) are probably not going to yield as much benefit as “stretch mistakes”.  According to the article, “Stretch mistakes happen when we’re working to expand our current abilities. We’re not trying to make these mistakes in that we’re not trying to do something incorrectly, but instead, we’re trying to do something that is beyond what we already can do without help, so we’re bound to make some errors.”

So, as we teach our students about growth mindset and the “Power of Yet,” I think it is important that we avoid glorifying failure.  Instead, we should help our students to understand that, though they shouldn’t be steering straight for mistakes, they should recognize the types of mistakes and always reflect on lessons that can be learned.

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