Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Oops, I Made a Mistake- Am I Still Learning?



A comment from Wendy Young (#Kidlutions) on a recent post I wrote, (Technology in Education- How to Support a Tip in the Right Direction), and an #edchat conversation about creating passion in students on Twitter this evening has my mind racing.

In reaction to my perspective that mistakes are an integral part of the learning process, and not to be feared, Wendy commented that,
as fear and mistakes go, "BRING IT". It is truly the best way to learn. My wish is that all teachers would learn to EMBRACE mistakes as part of the process of learning...and be able to transmit that to the next generation. Needless to say, some of the biggest mistakes have turned out to be things we might not want to live without: post-it notes, potato chips, chocolate chip cookies, velcro, etc! Some mistakes become discoveries in and of themselves!
What a truly insightful comment; one that I fully agree with. I was speaking to my class not so long ago, and it struck me as they were asking me what was going to be on the upcoming test, that they felt a compulsion to know  because they were literally afraid of getting  the answer to a question wrong. They were asking me for a study sheet to take home so they could memorize, and subsequently recall, the correct answers. I was saddened in that instant, and resolved immediately to have a conversation with the class about intelligence... what it means to me, and what I hope it will begin to mean for them.

Intelligence to me is not a thing, it's a process; one that never stops. I believe that those who are willing to submit to the fact that they don't really know much at all are the most intelligent because they have everything to learn... therein lies the process. At the core of intelligence as a process is the concept of thinking. When my class challenged me to provide a study sheet for them, I believe Benjamin Bloom was rolling over in his grave. During my conversation with the class, I explained Bloom's Taxonomy, and they were mystified... I was explaining that there are different categories of thought, and that my teaching and learning philosophy aligns more with the organizing, synthesizing, evaluating and characterizing side of Bloom's learning objectives classification. On that day in my class, my focus on the importance of teaching kids higher order thinking skills became a little sharper.

I believe a culture of learning is a culture of inquiry; one that supports discovery and values creativity. I need to create this culture in my classroom, and I think, as simple as it sounds, Bloom's Taxonomy is the place to start if I want to combat the fear my students feel toward getting stuff 'wrong.' To promote discovery and creativity I need to teach them how to advance their thinking so learning (intelligence) becomes a process for them; not a means to an end (the end being knowledge.)

How have we got to this place in education where recall of facts appears to be what kids think intelligence is? No single person, teacher, parent, school authority or even the students themselves are to blame. The problem is systemic. Schools bear the responsibility to react to perpetual changes in society. The complexities of our ever-evolving world pose an overwhelming challenge for schools to produce citizens who are prepared for them. Educators appear to have responded to this challenge by striving to create people who know. I believe what we should be doing is preparing people who know how to think.

I want my class to be filled with kids who passionately believe they have everything to learn, and that the path to becoming intelligent is paved with the ability to think without fear of mistakes. It's OK to be wrong, right?

8 comments:

  1. BRAVO! One of the KEY things we need to teach our kids is "The smarter we become, the better we get at making mistakes!"

    If you haven't yet, you might be interested in reading "Coloring Outside the Lines" by Roger Schank, Ph.D. Schank states, "I am writing this book because I am horrified at what our schools are doing to our children."

    I treat kids with anxiety in my practice. Often, this anxiety permeates their academic lives. Their fear of making mistakes actually thwarts the learning/critical thinking process. We do lots of exercises/activities on why mistakes are GREAT!

    Our motto should be: "Make a Mistake...Become GREAT!" Love that idea! When we can free kids from the fear of failure, we can prod them along to greater successes! All of those that have achieved greatness have made ample mistakes.

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  2. Thanks! On my list... "Coloring Outside the Lines" by Roger Schank, Ph.D.

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  3. Nice post Sean. I loved the part about Bloom rolling over in his grave. I laughed at that one.

    Your sentiment on mistakes and failures is bang on. Too often we encourage kids to think that if they try hard enough they will never experience failure. This is so destructive for real learning.

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  4. Cheers! Thanks for that Joe.

    "If you try hard enough, you can be/do anything you want to," is a statement I have heard often in our field. The sentiment is well-meaning, but unrealistic, don't you think?

    Wouldn't a better statement be something like, "No matter what you want to be/do, it will take hard work, tenacity and sincere focus... you might make it, you might not, but you will be so much a better person for trying"?

    I know I'm splitting hairs, but the second statement contextualizes failure,mistakes and adversity as necessary elements within the process of learning, and not things to be avoided... yes?

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  5. It's part of that 'praising effort' concept, I suppose. Kids work harder and are motivated more by comments related to their display of stick with-it-ness and focus, no?

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  6. I think one of the saddest trends/memes on the Internet and one of my most hated words is 'fail'. I think students struggle with making mistakes because it is increasingly likely through technology that those mistakes will be captured, disseminated to their peers and in some way come to define them. As an adolescent being left exposed in some way as 'less than', 'slow' or 'different' is perceived as catastrophic. I try to break down the idea of 'fail' at every opportunity in hopes that students will realise that making mistakes is valuable. Thankfully, I make lots of mistakes in front of them and have lots of opportunities to model coping with 'fail'ure;-)

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  7. Blair, I appreciate your perspective alot.

    I'm increasingly uncomfortable with the notion that I as the teacher should be in some manner dominant over my students as the person who 'knows' and has control over what of this knowledge I will share. I'm with you on the explicit vulnerability issue. I believe learning should be modeled as a continuum of trial and error; targeted refinement of scholarship through the process of focused and purposeful practise.

    Thanks for your insightful comment.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Great perspective and point. Inquiry, inquiry, inquiry, and amazement with our world! We need to continue to promote and grow this. This is one of the reason's why I pushed to have a Science Enrichment Lab as one of my campus... Kids explore their natural interests, and learn through the scientific method. Even when the experiment doesn't work. Perhaps ESPECIALLY when the experiment doesn't work.

    ReplyDelete

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