Learning to Make Mistakes

Mistakes, errors, corrections, shouldn’t haves. Whatever you want to call them, we all make them, most of us daily. In fact, education, learning and indeed life is all about making them, yet our students are often most afraid of mistakes. The focus for learners is more often than not on what wasn’t done well and what wasn’t learned. What we got wrong is important but only because it tells us what we need to do next to improve. Empowering students with the knowledge and skills to be reflective as learners is the key. We shouldn’t erase our mistakes, we should highlight them!

Teaching students to use ‘what went wrong’ or the mistakes they have made, is how we can ensure the process of lifelong learning is instilled from a young age. Teaching students to accept mistakes, take control of them and use them to their advantage is a gift that we must give young learners. This is not to be misinterpreted though, we are encouraging students to get things wrong, although, if by doing so students learning is enriched, why not? Taking risks and accepting when we are wrong are skills and concepts that are extremely challenging. So how do we begin to ’empower’ young learners and arm them with using their mistakes to reap positive rewards?

One simple strategy is lead by example. If we show as adults that we will take risks and accept when we are wrong, young learners will do the same. Fear and embarrassment of ‘being wrong’ or failing sends the wrong message to students and reinforces the belief that all mistakes should be erased and forgotten.

Another strategy is to reflect upon how we, as adults, respond to mistakes. Using powerful vocabulary that is focused on future learning is essential. When a child makes a mistake respond with:

‘What would you do differently in the future?’

‘How will you remember that next time?’

‘I remember when I made that mistake, I learned…….’

Demonstrating that we learn from mistakes reaffirms to a child that they are not ‘bad’ or ‘stupid’ and prevents the blocks that we ourselves may have had to face as learners when we were growing up.

Find more good strategies and links here:



2 responses to “Learning to Make Mistakes”

  1. I have a google alert that lets me know when my name appears in a news story or a blog entry. I used to be a lawyer and a city councillor in Kamloops, British Columbia but I am now the corporate adminstrator for a First Nations (Aboriginal) government body. I am also teach a commercial law class at our local university.

    As you probably know, O’Fee is a fairly unusual last name. We all seem to be able to trace our roots back to the town of Rasharkan, Northern Ireland. There are pockets of us Northern England, New York, Philadephia, New Zealand and Canada.

    My Dad was born in Rasharkan but his family emigrated to Canada around 1927. I live in Kamloops, British Columbia (www.tourismkamloops.ca) and found it interesting to see “Miss O’Fee’s blog”.

    Anyhow, I hope I don’t put you off by this response. It was a bit of serendipity in my day so I thought I would at least send you a quick email.

    If you want, you can look me up on facebook. There are three John O’Fee’s. One is in Scotland, one in New York city (who I am friends with) and myself. The New York John O’Fee’s daughter has set up the facebook group she jokingly calls the O’Fee global alliance or something like that.

    In any event, I hope you take this email in the spirit it was sent.


    John O’Fee


  2. Last night a psychologist was sharing her research on Hurricane Katrina. So many times parents may try to “erase” mistakes and it misses the opportunities that you are talking about. I like your writing style. Keep writing!


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