By Paola Quesada Fonseca - School of Education Student
Maria Montessori, the founder of the educational approach that bears her name, wrote: “It is necessary to admit that we all make errors; it is a reality of life so that admission in itself is a great step in our progress (Montessori, 1949, p.184). These are wise words because we have all made mistakes from which we have learned; that makes us humans. Good learning is not perfect from start to finish but should stumble and become powerful with feedback. Despite this, there is a belief in education that mistakes should not happen. However, this is wrong thinking that we can correct if we start to see them differently; if we normalize that we all make mistakes and recognize positive aspects in errors.
As a first aspect, people must establish a culture in which making a mistake is not viewed negatively. "Contrary to what many of us might guess, making a mistake with high confidence and then being corrected is one of the most powerful ways to absorb something and retain it" (Wallis, 2017, para 4). In fact, receiving feedback is part of learning; without it, we would never realize what we are doing wrong, and we would make the same mistakes again. On the other hand, if we allow students to continue making mistakes outside the classroom, they will fail because they do not have the necessary knowledge. It does not mean giving them the answers but guiding them to move forward.
Second, it is necessary to normalize that we all make mistakes because this does not make us less capable. For this, teachers have to find the correct way to point out errors without harming anyone. Some teachers are rude when they comment that something went wrong or embarrass students in front of their peers; consequently, those actions generate traumas that they will carry for the rest of their school years. For example, it is common for students to not raise their hands out of fear when they do not know the answer or do not understand the explanation. Likewise, they do not try to make an effort to solve problems because they are afraid of failing (Tugend, 2011, para. 4).
The third point is to recognize the positive aspects of the failures. Some teachers do not know how to carry out assessments that contribute to learning. Such is the case of teachers who love to cross out everything with a red pen without giving explanations or recommendations. Some teachers ask a question and, when a student answers incorrectly, they immediately say that their answer is wrong instead of helping them find a solution.
The educational system also shares the blame, since its rates according to the errors and not the successes (Curwin, 2014, para.8). This should not be the case. It is very likely that within the answers, there is always something good. The failure may even be minimum; for this reason, it is better to highlight the good answers.
Within the above, it is possible to see that mistakes are a fundamental part of learning. Without them, we do not improve because we remain in a comfort zone where the easiest is the only thing we can do. We must go beyond our fears even if we make mistakes. For this reason, students are encouraged to acknowledge that making a mistake is not the equivalent of failure. We can all achieve our goals, and it is good if we have to stumble a few times before succeeding. So, let's not be afraid of student failure; let them fail and discover the power of change that this implies.
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Curwin, R. (2014). It’s a Mistake Not to Use Mistakes as Part of the Learning Process. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/use-mistakes-in-learning-process-richard-curwin
Montessori, M. (1949). The Absorbent Mind. https://gseuphsdlibrary.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/the-absorbent-mind-montessori.pdf
Tugend, A. (2011). The Role of Mistakes in the Classroom. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/benefits-mistakes-classroom-alina-tugend
Wallis, C. (2017). Why Mistakes Matter in Creating a Path for Learning. KQED. https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/48770/how-making-mistakes-primes-kids-to-learn-better