S.T.E.A.M. Day

Encouraging mistakes in the classroom

Why we should embrace (not avoid) mistakes

“If you do big things, you make big mistakes” – Walt Disney. What distinguishes visionaries from others is their willingness to make mistakes, face them, and learn from them. They understand that failure drives progress, and this desensitizes them from the stigma surrounding failure. Yet in our society, we reinforce in children the notion that mistakes are embarrassing, stressful, and even humiliating. 

On a neural level, our brains respond to mistakes through multiple chain reactions. Neurons fire in rapid-fire succession, forcing our brains to evaluate conflicting information to form effective solutions. Mistake-driven neural activities encode information more deeply compared to other stimuli- why not take advantage of this?


How can we encourage mistakes?

Actively model failure

An international study found that teachers frequently correcting students’ answers promoted the message that “making mistakes make you seem stupid”. In contrast, promoting the freedom to make mistakes helps create a mistake-friendly classroom environment. This led to more students correcting their own mistakes and adopting a growth mindset. 


Use the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)

Educators should take advantage of the area between what students can achieve by themselves, and what they can achieve with adult guidance or collaboration. Educators can challenge children with problems that have more than one answer; this allows children to utilize a wider range of prior knowledge to come to creative solutions. These challenging problems make children consider multiple incorrect solutions. Exploring why and how incorrect solutions are incorrect further deepens their understanding of the subject and helps normalize making mistakes. 


Take advantage of natural curiosities

Exploring the unknown primes the brain to take on uncertainty. When we explore unknown ideas, the brain reacts as if we are taking calculated risks. Similarly, when children explore their interests, their tolerance for uncertainty increases. Let children work on things they are passionate about because they are more likely to persevere through mistakes and uncertainty. 


Grade fewer assignments 

Grades reinforce the idea that we should always look for some predetermined “correct answer.” In turn, grading stifles creativity and innovation, while discouraging children to take risks. Instead, educators should promote “rough draft thinking” to bring forth a culture of intellectual risk-taking. Rough draft thinking is a learning style that prioritizes sketching initial solutions before ideas are fully formed. 


Tutor Time and encouraging mistakes 

Tutor Time creates an environment where children are not scared to make mistakes, in fact, they are encouraged to make mistakes, because that is where real learning takes place. Making mistakes builds resilience, and by providing students the space and time to problem solve, our students can focus on the process, not the outcome. Tutor Time’s Smart Centers encourage trial and error, where students are given the opportunity to come to their own conclusions, where we focus on developing personal growth rather than focusing on results and failures. Furthermore, Tutor Time’s Positive Discipline approach to behavior management encourages students to discuss mistakes and offer solutions for them, further promoting growth mindsets in the classroom and out!