Remember how much you hated pop quizzes? You just knew that the teacher was out to get you. However, now that you are the teacher who is giving pop quizzes, you know that maybe back then, he or she was trying to help. As parents and teachers, we know our kids need to sometimes fail in order to learn. We know this because we also learn by trial and error.
How could I be so silly? I should have known better. I know how to do this. These are all questions we ask ourselves and statements we make when we make mistakes. But mistakes do not have to be as final as we often feel they are. Our reactions to making mistakes will determine how much we do or do not learn from them. As teachers we teach our students how to deal with mistakes by the way we react to the mistakes they make in our lessons.
“I know for me,” says Dawn Grogan, who has taught for five years and has been teaching Cycle One in the UAE for the past month, “I learn better if I’m doing versus being told. When I mess it up, I look for what I did wrong and then fix it or work hard on doing it better next time.”
Dawn adds that when her students get something wrong, she asks them to prove their answers. “Eventually they realise they aren’t able to prove that answer, so they search for how to get it right. It’s more important for them to learn or see how that process needs to be, so that they learn the concept versus just the right answer.”
Kendra Gray has taught for six years, three of them as a Cycle 3 EMT. She notes that peer editing is a great way for students to see where they’ve gone wrong.
“It’s a lot easier for them to see when a peer has made a mistake than when checking their own work, which then causes them to realise that they may have made the same mistake.”
Another plus to peer editing, she says, is that it helps her students to build confidence in telling each other how to improve. This ultimately helps them better identify their own areas for improvement.
Working with students who are assessing their learning, also helps validate the work that goes on in the classroom. “When I watch students learn from their mistakes,” says Ms. Gray, “It makes me feel like what I’m teaching is actually being used and reinforced. Ultimately, it reassures you that what you are teaching works.”
Teachers also learn from their students’ mistakes. An 18-year veteran of teaching, Elize Marais, who has taught in South Africa, Korea and UAE, states, “I’ve learned more from my students than I think I’ve taught them. I’ve had some amazing kids in my life. Nobody can explain that feeling you get when you’re bonding with the kids and they are opening up to you.”
“That bond,” she says, “includes them trusting their teacher enough to share their mistakes. This trust is something special. I have had the most beautiful experiences. My students have carried me throughout some of the most difficult moments of my life.”
An added benefit for her is her students have also helped her become a better parent. “I have learned from their mistakes and their complaints to see what I’ve been doing with my own child.”
An important lesson in failing is to recognise where you went wrong. It also helps to understand that there are other options that can be explored that could get us the answers that we need. It is O.K. to fail. It is our ability to learn from our mistakes and become better that will lead to success. As educators, it is good to admit when you have made a mistake. Your students will understand. We all make mistakes, but each mistake is an opportunity to learn something new about what we failed at and more importantly about ourselves.
By Bettina Bennett