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Morning Minutes: January 14, 2016

Thank you for wasting our time.  In a desperate–perhaps drastic–attempt to get my kids to embrace mistakes as learning opportunities, I’ve decided to try my hand at some amateur psychology.  Of course, to some degree, I have been trying to convince them that mistakes are necessary all year long, but they have been reluctant to buy what I am selling.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Learned behaviors are not easily unlearned. And, in truth, mistakes aren’t exactly placed on a pedestal in education, where kids learn to if not completely avoid, at least hide mistakes. So, the battle is not downhill, but it is one worth fighting. Yesterday, I employed a new strategy.

Our daily work with sentences is not always fun, and it is rarely easy.  It requires practice, and it requires examples.  Up to this point, on either a volunteer or random basis, I have 3 students go to the board to share their sentences.  Upon observance, one might think I was asking them to walk the green mile, marching forth to their execution. So, with heavy feet, most trod to the board, fearing that their example will contain a mistake that all the world will see.  And despite my reassurances that mistakes are good, mistakes are desired, we replay the ritual each day, 3 more to the gallows.  Okay, it may not be quite as dramatic as I am making it out to be, but my kids still don’t trust, in spite of my blue face, the magic in mistakes. So, yesterday, I tried a different approach.

Still 3 to the board.  Still the ritual reassurance.  Still the dread.  But.  But this time, I forced my kids to evaluate their peers’ examples and use the following statements to indicate if the sentence was done correctly or incorrectly.  If it was correct, then the kids responded in chorus with, “Thank you for wasting our time.”  If it was incorrect, then the kids responded in chorus with, “Thank you for helping us.” What?  Well my logic was thus.  While correct examples, too, serve a purpose, learning is limited; they are, therefore, less valuable than incorrect examples, or to add dramatic flair, they are a waste of our time.  On the other hand, incorrect examples launch learning, creating a dialogue, allowing us to make corrections, allowing us to learn.  Thus, they in contrast are more valuable than correct examples, a worthy use of our time.  And while the logic and psychology may be a little sketchy, a little risky, I am willing to take the risk if that is what it will take to help my kids develop a growth mindset.

How’d the kids respond?  Well, they still have a lot of unlearning to do.  I’m not sure that they’d describe mistakes as magical at this point, but I’d like to believe that we made progress yesterday.  It’s a pretty cool thing to have kids beam with pride upon hearing that they wasted our time.

Happy Thursday, all.  May you find some magic in your mistakes.


2 Replies to “Morning Minutes: January 14, 2016”

  • Syrie,
    Thank you for showing us that mistakes are a part of life and that we should not be afraid of them. I also truly appreciate your efforts, and your dedication to teaching us the nitty-gritty parts of writing. Your class is definitely the best English class I have ever had. I know that because your enthusiasm is contagious, and my love for writing has grown since the beginning of the year. Keep up the good work Super Syrie!

  • I would call this authentic learning and teaching. Students have the opportunity to write for a real audience. These authentic opportunities are so much more effective than using canned materials. When using this approach to teaching writing, I also found it effective to have students used what they learned immediately by reviewing their own writing looking for common errors they might correct. I also liked helping kids finds writing techniques their classmates used well so they might try it immediately in their own work. Authentic teaching and learning: writing for a real audience and learning from one’s peers. It’s a good thing.

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