The Importance of Diving Deeper into Mistakes
In past posts, I have written about the value of making mistakes and “messy learning.” Providing safe places for students to stretch themselves beyond perceived limits and occasionally fail is important not only for understanding the inherent value of risk taking, but also for fostering perseverance. In doing so, students may also be more likely to learn the value of original thinking and to develop creative approaches to solving problems. But when do individual student mistakes merit a deeper dive into lessons that can be shared for the benefit of the entire class? 

Some basic mistakes, such as a misspelled word or a simple calculation error usually do not warrant a larger class discussion. So to determine which errors should be explored further, teachers must first keep in mind the overall level of content mastery in the class and evaluate if a particular mistake would promote insights and foster common understanding. This may also be the case if the reasoning to arrive at the solution is correct but the process went down the wrong track, or vice versa. By providing time for students to explain both their process and reasoning, teachers can illuminate how a particular error can be avoided in future learning.

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A great time for teachers to review a mistake is when it may provide a unique or original approach to solving a problem while challenging widely-held assumptions. If a class is quick to reach a conclusion with an issue that is nuanced, it can be beneficial to provide alternative views to group thinking. These conversations may also encourage greater tolerance for a range of perspectives.

The end goal in diving deeper into student errors is to help them be their own best critics so they can, over time, develop a skill for examining and then learning from their own mistakes independently. And when the learning is particularly complicated and messy, as is often the case in the best classroom environments, being self-reflective about one’s mistakes can be among the most important skills that students take with them into the world.


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