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The Teacher Tip

Celebrating Mistakes

August 8, 2018

Adapted from Thinking Together by Rozlynn Dance & Tessa Kaplan. 

One way to encourage students to embrace mistakes and learn from them is to ask students who have made common mistakes to share their thinking with the class. In the first week or two of school, as students are working on a difficult problem, look for a student who is fairly confident already to share a mistake they’ve made on a math problem. (For example, maybe the student drew 7 circles instead of 8 because they forgot to check their drawing.) Ideally, it should be a mistake that you see several students making, so that more of the class will relate to the student who shares. It is important that the first student to share a mistake for the year be one who already shows signs of confidence in math and is okay with sharing that they made a mistake. Be sure to talk with the student prior to sharing and privately discuss the importance of sharing mistakes with others so that the student is prepared to discuss the mistake in front of the class. While you will later choose all students to share mistakes, sharing a mistake for the first time can be daunting, since most students will not come in with the idea that mistakes are great! 

Before the student shares, prep your class with a whole-group discussion about mistakes. Remind them that mistakes help our brains grow and that when we make a mistake we just make our brains stronger. Then tell the class that you have a student who has decided to be very brave and share a mistake they made while persevering through a problem. Emphasize how proud you are of this student for being so brave. Thank the student profusely in front of the class for sharing. You can’t overdo the praise here in this first difficult share. 

To learn more about Thinking Together and download a sample chapter, visit 

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