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Mistakes are Good! by Cindy Donaldson


Benefits of Failure: Why Making Mistakes in School Is a Must When we’re small children, our mistakes are applauded. Our falling-down attempts to walk for the first time are cheered by our parents, giving us the courage to get up and try again. At this age, the world teaches us that failure is merely part of the journey to success. But when we get to school, mistakes become a bad thing. Answers are right or wrong, and the risk-taking that used to be rewarded is now punished, and we learn to stick with safe answers. Unfortunately, this black-or-white thinking doesn’t encourage learning. Instead, it fosters a fear of failure and discourages ingenuity. Mistakes are a valuable part of the learning process, and allowing children to make mistakes is the best way to combat a culture of perfectionism. Innovation and discovery can only be fostered if we give children the freedom to fail. Schools can build resiliency by emphasizing exploration over correctness.

Here are some of the classes in which we should expect and reward failure:

Science Many important scientific discoveries, such as penicillin, Post-It notes, and x-rays are all by-products of experiments that went ‘wrong.’ Adam Savage, the star of the scienceexperiment-filled show Mythbusters, said, “The cultural idea of a scientist is someone who sets up an experiment and then when it doesn’t happen the way they expected says, ‘Oh my experiment is a failure.’ No scientist actually thinks like that. Any experiment that yields data is a viable experiment. Information is key, not what you expected the outcome to be.”

Math Teacher Jerry Brodkey has a great response to students who offer incorrect answers in his math class. Instead of saying, “That’s wrong,” he’ll say, “That’s interesting. How did you get your answer?” By supporting his students when they take a chance, Mr. Brodkey encourages them to keep trying. And by talking through mistakes out loud, Mr. Brodkey helps other students who may have made the same error.

English English class should be a place where students learn to find their voice. Yes—proper grammar and spelling are critical for good communication. But no great author ever succeeded because of his talent with the Oxford formatting style. The best writers rise to the top because they’ve learned to tap into their imagination and express their feelings. Children should be reminded that it takes practice to find one’s style, and then they’ll write.

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