Making Mistakes While Teaching And Learning

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By Richard D Boyce

A Young Teacher's Guide

We all make mistakes as teachers. These mistakes don't always have to be seen as a negative. They can be used to improve our learning/teaching techniques.

Students, too, make mistakes. One of our responsibilities as a teacher is to show students ways to reduce mistakes. This will improve their learning, their results and their confidence in their own ability to succeed.

Below are some strategies that I have used to make the most of mistakes made in the classroom.

Additionally, there are strategies to help students avoid mistakes, improve their learning and their confidence in their ability to use their learning effectively especially in an assessment situation.

Strategy No 1 - The 'deliberate teacher made mistake' during a teaching session

Here, a teacher makes a deliberate mistake to test which students understand what the teacher is doing and which students are actually on task, i.e. they are listening actively.
  1. Make the sort of mistake that students usually make and tell them so.
  2. Sometimes you do make mistakes accidentally, so encourage students to catch you out by concentrating carefully on what you say and do. Then it is important that they point it out in a courteous way. Congratulate the student on their observation skills.
  3. I always claim I made the mistake on purpose to see who was 'awake' and who was 'asleep'.
  4. Sometimes I put in an error, a written explanation or solution and ask students to find it.
  5. When students don't see a mistake I've made and I did not tell them I've made a mistake, I say something like, "I've tricked you again" or "How did you let me get away with that?" I do it in fun. Then I ask who saw the mistake but did not want to butt in. Encourage them to do just that. Tell them that in the future you will make errors on purpose to test them out. Remind them we all make mistakes so, "Make sure you catch me."
Strategy No 2 - Teach the students how and why mistakes are made

Show them actual examples:
  • Careless reading of the question
  • Careless copying of the data from the question
  • Not answering the question correctly or fully
  • Careless calculations, spelling, grammar and so on.
Strategy No. 3 - Errors in exams cost marks

Detail those errors and their cost as a percentage of the whole paper to show students their real potential in terms of what their level of achievement ought to have been without those errors. Use this to motivate students to develop their own checking procedure to reduce or totally eliminate these errors.

Strategy No 4 - With every new topic you teach, point out when errors, misconceptions and mistakes are made

Include this discussion in any revision program that you organise.

Strategy No 5 - Always review every assessment task

Point out when students did not recognise the areas where errors could be made as a follow-up to the last strategy.

Strategy No 6 - Encourage students to highlight their own errors as learning experiences

They could then share them with others in the hope that it will save them from making the same mistake/s.

Strategy No 7 - As a teacher, don't give perfect answers all the time

Do this particular for the more difficult tasks. Students often believe that they can never be 'that good', so they say to themselves, "Why try?" (This is a good strategy in subjects like Mathematics).

Strategy No 8 - Some textbooks have exercises where there are deliberate mistakes made

Use these or design your own to give students practice in the skill of finding errors.

Strategy No 9

In subjects like Science, Maths and others where proofs are required, sometimes students take a wrong approach. Teach them that this error is a real learning experience not a failure as now they know that you can't solve the problem that way.

Students, more often than not, take a mistake to mean that they don't understand what they have been taught. Our job, as teachers, is to show them that, most of the time the mistake is just a lapse of concentration not a lack of understanding of the subject. If we can do this, then the students can use the mistake as a learning experience and, hopefully, not repeat it.

One last point: Making mistakes and admitting to them to the class will show the students that the teacher is 'human' after all. This often improves the repartee between the teachers and the class. This is a positive outcome.

http://www.realteachingsolutions.com is a website developed by three teachers with over 120 years' experience teaching in both primary and high school classes. The aim of the group is to provide advice to young teachers on what really happens in the day to day running of the classroom.

This article is an example of the practical advice offered by our writer, Rick Boyce, to help young teachers begin their careers on a positive note. eBooks available on the website include, "The First Year Teacher's Book"; "A Checklist for Teachers New to a School" and "The Discipline Book".

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