January 29, 2020

Reflecting to Learn from Mistakes

One of the elements of a growth mindset is the understanding that mistakes or failures (coming up short) are part of the pathway to learning and success.

Eduardo Briceno, CEO at Mindset Works, posted a blog titled, Mistakes are Not All Created Equal:

“An appreciation of mistakes helps us overcome our fear of making them, enabling us to take risks. But we also want students to understand what kinds of mistakes are useful and how to learn from them. “

 Reflection is crucial if a student is to learn from mistakes. A starting place is to identify what kind of mistake was made. Briceno identifies four types of mistakes:

Reflecting to Learn from Mistakes

Sloppy Mistakes occur when we make mistakes with something we already know how to do, but from lack of focus or concentration, we don’t do what we know. Distracted while driving I miss the turn off on a trip that I’ve driven many times.

Aha-Moment Mistakes occur when I lack information or background and as the mistake occurs, I realize the new learning. Not realizing that when hitting the brakes the car would slide on the snow, I end up in a snow bank. As I pull out and continue down the road I immediately put my new learning into practice.

High-Stakes Mistakes need to be avoided when the mistake is very hazardous, such as sending a text while driving. Taking an exam that is needed for certification could be considered high-stakes, but is important to do.

Stretch Mistakes offer the greatest opportunity for learning. They are the failures that occur on initial attempts beyond our previous levels of success. It’s raising the bar beyond the last height that we cleared. It’s ordering dinner in a foreign language during our early learning stage.

“Learning how to learn” is a critical skill for our students to gain in preparation to be college and career ready as well as “life ready”. Understanding that mistakes and failures are part of learning is important. Learning how to learn from a mistake begins with recognizing that failure is feedback. Reflecting on what a failure tells me is another important step.  The questions, “What do I now know from the failure? “or “What do I know I need to find out” are important to ask before the next attempt.

Where do you see the opening for teachers at each grade level to be raising students’ awareness to the important role that mistakes play in learning? Can they build in reflection tasks that have students analyze their mistakes? As students take part in setting learning goals are they being encouraged to “stretch“ into a likely failure? Do we need to be providing a workshop for parents in how to support some failure expectations and reflections with their children?

As I wrote the questions in the preceding two paragraphs, I realized that as instructional leaders we need to be examining the same questions as we consider educator learning:

Do teachers recognize that changing an instructional practice in their classroom means being ready to make mistakes and learn from them? Do they know that inviting a coach to observe while the mistakes are present can increase the needed feedback and speed the learning process?

As a PLC looks at the results from an assessment can they say, “We failed to make the desired progress with this group of students?” “What can we learn from the experience? “ “What do we need to find out or learn before our next attempt?” “What do our students need us to learn?”

As a leadership team can we assess the changes in teachers’ practice that occurred from our professional development investment and identify where we failed to gain the change? Are we ready to ask “What can we learn from the experience? “ “What do we need to find out or learn before our next attempt?” “What do our teachers need us to learn?”

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