Thursday, October 22, 2015

Normalizing "Mistakes"

I've seen this sign on classroom walls this year:
Cute sign, right?  But underneath what we say about mistakes, do we really believe it?  After all, many children and most adults tend to view mistakes as something negative and want to avoid making them or talking about them.  I started wondering, "Why is that?"

Google "mistake definition"- and this pops up:
  1. 1.
    an action or judgment that is misguided or wrong.

The harshness of that definition affirmed why folks seem to be naturally adverse to making mistakes!  Who wants to feel misguided or just plain wrong?!?  I kept looking and found a definition that was more palatable.  Here's one from


an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by poorreasoning, carelessness, insufficient knowledge, etc.
a misunderstanding or misconception.
This is more in line with how we talk with children about mistakes and the framework I try and use for myself.  An error caused by faulty reasoning, insufficient knowledge, and (even) carelessness, or a misunderstanding/misconception implies learning and revising one's thinking so the mistake isn't repeated.  (On a side note, it also reminded me of the power of word choice!)

I started wondering what would happen if we incorporated the definition in thinking "out loud" about mistakes with our students.  Would it aid our attempts to embrace mistakes as part of the learning process rather than hide them?  So, I decided to try something different.  When I was knocked out of the "king" box while playing 4-Square with second graders, I commented, "Oops, my mistake was not concentrating on the ball.  Next time I have to keep my focus."  With a kindergartener, "That fell apart because we didn't know how much support the structure needed.  Let's fix that mistake and try it again!"  

My current thinking is to try pairing the word "mistake" with the cause of the error and then make an explicit connection to the revised thinking/reasoning.  It might just help mistakes feel as everyday as we want them to be for our students (and for us).  In the meantime, I've order a book called Better By Mistake: The Unexpected Benefit of Being Wrong by Aliva Tuglend.  I'll let you know what I learn!

Further Exploration of the Topic:

•A 6 minute video from the Teaching Channel of a second grade teacher normalizing struggle and making mistakes.

Read Aloud Titles for Children:
Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg (first grade teachers have a copy)
Your Fantastic Elastic Brain by JoAnn Deak (Available in the LS library.  It's a great book in general.  A few pages in the middle of the book relate to mistakes and the brain.)
The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett (coming soon to our library)
Amazon has a Spanish version


  1. I have a copy of "The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes" if anyone wants to borrow it...

  2. Excellent! Reminds me of my favorite say..."Why do we fall down? So we can learn how to get back up!"

  3. Great reading recommendations--thanks Cathy!