In the last post, we talked about how stigmatizing mistakes probably isn’t the best reinforcement of learning. I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the last week and it’s become more complex and paradoxical and moreso the more that I think about it.
I think that the caveat lies in the degree of the mistake: Not putting in an apostrophe isn’t going to crash the stock markets, but getting in a car accident while texting will probably ensure that you won’t have your phone behind the wheel anytime soon.
Some mistakes need to be made because that’s how we learn (but not the texting behind the wheel, avoid that one). The crux lies where we have a stockpiling of minor mistakes that become overwhelming, like a key signature error while difficult rhythms are going on. On its own, it’s not a big deal, but we don’t want it to happen on stage.
So, what are some options?
1) Establish an environment where mistakes are okay. We rehearse in the Band Room and mistakes are bound to happen. We reiterate that to our students all the time – “give it your all and if you make a mistake, then be aware of it and try to correct it next time around.” That’s a nice one-liner.
2) “Strong and Wrong.” If a G-natural slips out instead of a G#, “make it with the most beautiful tone and in the most perfect rhythm imagineable. Be aware of it and take care of it next time around.”
3) “Take 30 seconds and figure out that bar – Go.” There’s safety in numbers and the practice need only be for a few seconds, but just let them figure out [whatever it is] and go on. It will save you so much rehearsal time, seriously.
4) “It takes as long as it takes.” If there are mistakes, teach them where they went off the path and then let them submit the assessment again. Use the mistakes as teaching tools. It may be using apostrophes incorrectly, playing one section out of time or messing up the coefficient in algebra. Let them learn from the mistakes, but not under the banner of numerical, grade-based punishment.
5) Don’t test them until they’re ready. “Finish your assessments up to x%, then do the test.” This is a lot more work for the teacher (a lot, trust me), but it’s really worth it. The understanding and the numerical score will both improve. Let’s be honest, that should happen every time, but some kids don’t test well and some are fantastic BSers. Let the grades reflect achievement.
In the back of your mind, you may or may not be thinking this: “that doesn’t sound like real life!” or another of my favourites, “then what are we teaching them?!”
Don’t worry, they’ll get those mistakes and learn from them. They will be late for their job one time too many, or say something they didn’t mean and have to deal with the conversation’s fallout, they’ll break someone’s heart and have theirs broken as well.
Sometimes, the most important things that we teach don’t happen in our classes, it happens between them.
Let the classroom be a place for learning. The self-esteem and risk-taking strategies (within reason) they’ll learn from not being afraid to make mistakes will enrich their lives, really and truly.
Because hey, let’s be honest, it’s not only about students – everyone worries about making mistakes, you and me included.
Imagine a world where mistakes are something to be managed, rather than avoided; accepted, rather than dwelled upon and encouraged via risk-taking and exploration, rather than punished.
Now go do it 🙂
Thanks for reading,