How Can Teachers Build Mistake Literacy?
by Zak Cohen
The existing “grammar of schooling” might be a controversial one, but its disruption due to the outbreak of COVID-19 has left students around the world scrambling to schedule their own time. Students who had grown accustomed to being told when to eat, when to use the restroom, and when it’s appropriate to socialize, are now trying to establish their own routines in the wake of a sudden and unexpected increase in autonomy.
In short, students are trying to replicate the entire school experience from their homes -- and, understandably, it has not been a smooth transition for many.
On a Zoom session with my 7th grade advisory, one student raised her hand and shared what many students have been feeling: “I really am trying my best, but I just keep messing up. I miss deadlines, forget to read instructions, and don’t know where to submit my work. I try to fix it myself, but I just don't know where to start.” Since students are now responsible to own so much more of their learning, there is simply more opportunity for error.
In an age widely defined by change, disruption, and uncertainty, one thing is for sure: students will make mistakes; what is uncertain is whether students will learn from them. As common as mistake-making is, learning from mistakes is not common at all. "Mistakes are the most undermined, undervalued way for learning to occur.” And yet, students need to possess the confidence, independence, and skill to both navigate and learn from their mistakes. In short, our students need to become “mistake literate.”
Now, more than ever before, mistakes are an inevitable part of the learning process. So,
how can we put students in a position to feel comfortable and confident engaging with their mistakes, rather than turning away from them?