Why making mistakes is important for students

You are probably wondering why making mistakes is important for students – how can this possibly be?

Recently I was attending one of my son’s parent teacher interviews and was actually very impressed with the teacher who went through an Essay he had written.  The teacher first asked what he thought his mark would be to which he responded an ‘A’.  He was then told he had received a ‘B+’ and had just missed out by a few marks.  The teacher then proceeded to focus on the telling him the areas where he had made mistakes and where he could improve in order to achieve an ‘A’ next time round.  What I really liked about this particular teachers approach was that he actually didn’t just focus on what my son had done well rather spent more time on what mistakes he made.   It is important naturally for a student to know what they did well but the key learning is in what they didn’t do well or where they made mistakes!

When working 1:1 with students I often ask them to reflect on their assignments, homework, tests and exams so that they learn from the process of what did and didn’t work and where they can make changes to ensure they learn the material and do better next time round.

The key to making mistakes is in teaching students to discover the benefits of making them and that it is not all doom and gloom!

Many students see mistakes as failure rather than a valuable asset.  This is because students don’t think about their mistakes rationally rather they think about them emotionally – not achieving the result they desire can make them feel disappointed, frustrated, angry and even sad.  This is true for our society in general, as we don’t usually embrace or celebrate when mistakes are made now do we.  So how do we get students to embrace their mistakes and reframe this into opportunity for growth and further development?  The last thing we want is when they get a bad result to hide the test or exam away as this will never see them get better.  Academic success does not come from how smart or motivated students are it comes from how they feel about their mistakes.

It is important for teachers, students and parents to talk about mistakes rather than avoid talking about them at all as this helps our students to ultimately benefit—both academically as well as emotionally.

Mistakes usually happen for a reason:

  • the student didn’t learn all the relevant information;
  • they didn’t execute the steps in a process;
  • they didn’t put in the time or effort studying;
  • they were not using effective study strategies; or
  • maybe just ignored or didn’t understand the actual questions or directions given.

The ‘x’ or ‘0’ mark is just a simple assessment of the actions the student took in that moment.  Naturally these actions can easily be altered and fixed for next time round.  We need to share mistakes in this way to ensure students practice, stay motivated and help them have a constructive relationship with mistakes they make.  We also should encourage the effort as much as the end result, yes we want students to do things the right way but we also need them to learn from their mistakes.  We all make mistakes from time to time and know that it isn’t the end of the world as a result.

As we have just entered the mid year exam period it is important for students, once exams are over, to take a step back and look at what worked and what didn’t to ensure they are more successful with both their study and exams next time round!

Those mistakes on the actual exam are also where the key learning will come from.  Unfortunately many students usually just accept the result without spending any reflection time on the study process or the actual exam paper in terms of going over in detail what they did wrong.  I often find that many students don’t even seem to keep or know where their previous test papers are.  I advise students to always keep them and reuse them next time round as there are only so many questions that can be asked for each topic/subject.

The key learning for all students is to make sure they know what they did wrong and then to understand and learn from this ready for next time.  As I asked my own son, only a few days ago as he was preparing for his maths exam, was he reviewing his past maths tests?  It was pleasing to hear that he had gone over and redone those problems again during his revision to ensure he understood them better now.  This means he will no doubt be more prepared for his maths exam than had he not taken this step.

So where to from here?  What are you going to do or say when your child gets their exam results?  How are you going to get them to reflect on what they did well and didn’t do well so they learn from their mistakes for next time?  Think about how you will discuss mistakes with your child – in a positive or negative way?

If you would like some support for yourself or your child please get in touch to learn more how I can assist with my Student Success Program.