I’ll be the first to admit it—I hate making mistakes. There are often times where I avoid answering questions or making comments in class because I’m afraid of looking foolish or making a dumb comment. In the English teaching program, though, I’ve had to learn how to get over this in-class shyness…and fast. In these classes, I am constantly required to answer questions on the spot, to communicate my thoughts to my classmates, and to present my findings to my class on a regular basis. Sure, I’m not fond of making mistakes, and I assure you I make them regularly, but through these various teaching techniques, I’ve come to realize that making mistakes is the norm in these classes.
My instructors have done more than simply use these techniques in the classroom, though. They’ve created a classroom community where less-than-profound comments or so-called “stupid questions” are not only accepted, but encouraged. As I learn to expound upon comments I make and explore my own questions as well as those posed by others, I think critically about what I know and how it applies to my experiences with students. And the fact that each student is encouraged to engage in this critical thinking means that everyone is allowed to make mistakes when learning something new.
I’ve come to realize that my classes have been exemplary models for me to follow as I begin teaching. I hope to create the same environment of welcome learning in my own middle-school and high-school classrooms.
Here are a few practical ways to incorporate a culture of error-welcome learning in your classroom:
Cold call—practice randomly calling on students, not just ones with their hands raised. This way all students will be more prepared to answer and the quieter students will have more opportunities to share their thoughts.
Admit you don’t always know the answer. If a students asks a question you don’t necessarily know how to answer, tell them you don’t know, but you’ll get back to them. Make an effort to research their questions and talk to them about it the next day. This will teach them that sometimes finding the right answer takes a little bit of work.
Don’t just dismiss a student’s wrong answer—take time to see what their thought process is and let them take the time to reach a correct conclusion. Mistakes are only beneficial if you have a chance to learn from them.
Don’t apologize for mistakes—think of them as opportunities to grow. Misspell a word on the board? Ignore your inclination to hide under a rock and thank your student for pointing out your mistake. Miss a word while reading? Explain to students how important it is to practice reading for fluency.
This has become my goal for my future classroom. I want to create an atmosphere where questions are encouraged and where it’s ok to not always know the answer. I want a classroom where every thought and opinion is valued. I want my students to know that making a mistake isn’t the end of the world—it’s the beginning of a new discovery.