In what she calls “my favorite no,” math teacher Leah Alcala shows students how to learn from mistakes.
Parents Need to Let Their Children Fail, writes Jessica Lahey in The Atlantic.
Thirteen years ago, when I was a relatively new teacher, stumbling around my classroom on wobbly legs, I had to call a students’ mother to inform her that I would be initiating disciplinary proceedings against her daughter for plagiarism, and that furthermore, her daughter would receive a zero for the plagiarized paper.
“You can’t do that. She didn’t do anything wrong,” the mother informed me, enraged.
“But she did. I was able to find entire paragraphs lifted off of web sites,” I stammered.
“No, I mean she didn’t do it. I did. I wrote her paper.”
Overprotective parents are raising their children without “the emotional resources they will need to cope with inevitable setback and failure,” writes Lahey.
It’s hard to teach children who’ve been shielded from frustration and failure. Kids can’t learn from their mistakes if their parents never let them make any.
. . . teachers don’t just teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. We teach responsibility, organization, manners, restraint, and foresight. These skills may not get assessed on standardized testing, but as children plot their journey into adulthood, they are, by far, the most important life skills I teach.
Her students who are “happiest and successful in their lives” are the ones who were “allowed to fail, held responsible for missteps, and challenged to be the best people they could be in the face of their mistakes.”
For an inventor, “failures are just problems that have yet to be solved,” writes John Dyson in Wired. It took 5,127 prototypes and 15 years to get his vacuum right.
Dyson’s new engineering foundation encourages “hands-on creative thinking through design and engineering,” rather than prescriptive learning, he writes. He wants kids to tackle problems, make mistakes and keep going.
As a second-year teacher of fifth-grade special education students, Mark Anderson often feels like a failure. He hasn’t mastered the “pedagogical and content master of all subject areas” or learned how to meet all of his students social and emotional needs. Also, “I’m not Superman.” But that’s OK. “Learning is fundamentally about persistence through failure,” he writes on Gotham Schools.
Anderson was inspired by Rita Smilkstein’s “We Were Born to Learn,” which calls for “making mistakes, correcting mistakes, learning from them, and trying over, again and again.”
He also quotes Deborah Meier, from her book on trust in schools:
There is no way to avoid doing something dumb when you are inexperienced or lacking in knowledge, except by not trying at all, insisting you don’t care or aren’t interested, thinking the task itself is dumb (not you), or trying secretly so no one can catch your mistakes — or offer you useful feedback. Of course, these are the excuses we drive most kids into when they don’t trust us enough to make mistakes in our presence.
As he learns to be a teacher, Anderson makes mistakes. He tells students when he’s made a mistake and what he’s learned from it.
The important part of learning is not that we fail, nor even that we fail over and over again. The important part is that we persist. And with time and the proper support, anyone can get better.
Of course, learning from failure is a skill.