Last week, we explored three “below the bar” mistakes that contribute little to the learning process. This week, we look at three “above the bar” mistakes that provide useful information and contribute positively to the learning process. These are the mistakes we should encourage and celebrate in our classrooms.
Sometimes, mistakes happen, and we suddenly have insights we never expected. Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin is an example of an Aha Moment Mistake. Fleming wasn’t looking for penicillin. The mould that grew on the agar dish he was using to grow bacteria was a mistake. But when he noticed the mould had killed the bacteria, it created a learning opportunity by providing new and unexpected information – and, in the process, created a powerful new way to fight disease.
Play-based learning is centred on the principle of Aha Moments. One of the tenets of play-based learning is that teachers construct situations where learners can discover new information for themselves. Perhaps, for example, by exploring the different ways that wires, globes and batteries connect, students can “discover” how a circuit works.
Constructivist teaching methods work in a similar way, with teachers deliberately challenging students’ beliefs with new information to create an unexpected (for the student) moment of curiosity and discovery.
Aha Moment Mistakes can be hugely insightful. Their unexpected nature can make them highly memorable, and they can contribute significantly to the learning process. However, Aha Moment Mistakes can be difficult to create and sometimes easily missed because they provide information the student wasn’t looking for.
Understanding the different types of mistakes, the contexts in which they are valuable, and when they should be avoided contribute to establishing a strong learning culture.
We can create Design Mistakes formally, as in a scientific experiment. We can also make them informally – for example, if one of two buttons on a computer is the one we are looking for, we deliberately press one to see if it’s the “mistake” button or the correct one. We intentionally look for specific information (and, if you’re like me, you’ll occasionally discover that it does something entirely different and have an Aha Moment!).
Understanding that not all mistakes are equal is part of becoming a skilful learner. Learning to recognise these types of mistakes, when they are expected, and when they should be avoided helps us understand the learning process more deeply. The real skill, however, is to know how to respond to each of these mistakes.
What do we do when we encounter Confusion Mistakes? How do we minimise Sloppy Mistakes? What do we do to eliminate Performance Mistakes?
As we discussed when we began this series three weeks ago, it’s not the mistake that’s important. It’s the action we take to correct that mistake, to extract useful information from it, that’s important.
If you have missed reading my two previous Blogs in this series click here Mistakes About Mistakes and It's Not "Just A Mistake": Introducing Six Different Types Of Mistakes - Part 1
If you’d like to know more about how to use these six different types of mistakes to help your students become better learners, and to explore the “what’s next” tools and strategies we need to teach students to use in response to these mistakes, then my "Growth Mindset Master Class" will give you the critical strategies you need. To find out more, email [email protected]
It’s time to move past “Celebrate Mistakes” and “It’s OK, everyone makes Mistakes” to recognise that not all mistakes are desirable and not all mistakes contribute positively to the learning process.
This beautifully designed poster helps build a language for learning in your classroom. Students explore the different types of mistakes they make, recognising which ones are to be encouraged, and which are to be avoided.
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