Children’s Mistakes Bring Big Rewards: Engagement

Kids say the darnedest things. My friend’s granddaughter was excited about her first day in first grade. We’ll call her Suzy for story telling purposes. The teacher was sweet and Suzy loved her immediately. That’s a good thing for a parent who is leaving her child in the care of someone for the first time. When Suzy got in the car later that day, her mother asked,”How was your day?’

This spunky little first grader replied with a judging attitude and her hand on her hip, “Well Mother, It was a total waste. The teacher was teaching us “ahh, ahh, ahh, bah, bah, bah, and cah, cah, cah. So, I raised my hand and told her, ‘Ms. M. we already know all that stuff, so can’t we move on.’ She must think we are stupid.”

Suzy said what other students are thinking. They don’t understand their teacher’s reasoning for reviewing, so they automatically think the teacher is going to teach something they know and they tune out. For this reason teachers will improve engagement by prepping their students with the knowledge that teachers want to make sure the foundational information is clear before they add another level of difficulty. In Suzy’s case, the teacher could have prefaced her instruction by saying, “We are going to review some things from kindergarten first and then we will begin reading more difficult words.” Suzy would have not jumped to conclusions about what was happening and would have been more inclined to pay attention.

Many parents would respond with, “Why am I paying for this education,’ or “The schools are failing my children.” Students would benefit from a gentle reminder that it is the teacher’s job to be sure they are reading for what comes next. It is very empowering for students to make an appointment with the teacher and share their feelings. Rehearsing what they can say will help build their confidence and alert the teacher how they are feeling about the level of instruction bring provided.

Why focus on mistakes?

Engagement is an issue these days due to the speed at which children are receiving information. It is so much faster than the speed at which traditional educational methods were delivered. When the 21st century student hears something they know already, they don’t know that something new is coming. They will then zone out, and in some cases become disruptive. If there is not a very clear reason for listening that they will benefit from, they will entertain themselves and not focus on the lesson. Allowing them to make mistakes before instruction will shift their attention.

My classroom was often where the disruptive students would land. They were not bad children. They were just bored children. The minute I shifted my instruction to a “What don’t you know” approach, the once identified disruptive students became the most engaged. I often had colleagues who worked with the children every year ask me what I did with these children.. I just made a shift in instruction and shared how their brains worked and why – what they didn’t know- was more important that what they did know. This shift in thinking transferred to every classroom they were in and resulted in them being engaged in every class. .

The shift occurred when they felt comfortable sharing their mistakes and what they didn’t know. Many bright children come into classrooms believing that being smart means they should know everything and everything should be easy. They are working under a faulty belief system most likely formed as young as two years old. Whenever they accomplished a task, they were told how smart they were. Children often form the belief that I’m smart because things are easy for me. Once this belief is replaced with, “I’m smart because I know how to work through hard things, make mistakes, and don’t give up. I recognize that mistakes are a gift because they show what I don’t know and need to learn,” Once that is internalized, they become a different student. Our motto is “Proper Prior Planning and Practice and when Problems arise, we Pivot, Persevere, and Prevail.

Whether you are a homeschooling parent or a classroom teacher, teaching from the students’ mistakes offers several rewards. When students make mistakes and are seeking the solution, they are priming the brain to find answers. The answers are hidden in the instruction. Once students make a mistake and are not penalized for doing so, but are celebrated for finding something they need to learn, they will embrace their mistakes, seek answers for them, and continue to grow and learn. They will no longer be a problem in the classroom. The seeking will lead to finding and will cement new instruction firmly in their memory. We don’t remember what we are told, we remember what we have discovered.

The following are the steps I use in the classroom, during on-line instruction, and while working in a homeschooling environment. It works amazingly well in all of these situations. The first 6 steps are to be completed prior to class instruction.

The Mistake and I Don’t Know Method

  1. Review the structure of a textbook or reading assignment: Headings are cues as to what you will learn, look for examples of how the heading is applied in the chapter.
  2. Read every question ‘as if’ it will be done right away. In spelling books, the sentences provided that explain the meaning of the word often contain answers to some of the questions that follow.
  3. Determine what is not familiar and can not be answered without further information. It may be a word in the question or the directions are unclear.
  4. Form questions that can be asked to help acquire information needed to complete the assignment.
  5. Before allowing children to ask questions, require them to read the questions and directions aloud several times before asking them in class. Read everything slowing and aloud. Reading questions at least three times will lead to understanding.
  6. Ask students to pay attention to and highlight key words, numbers, and directions that tell their pencil what to do. Post Independent Work:
  7. Introduce unit formally by asking, “What are new pieces of information you learned that you did not know before?” Record them on the board.
  8. Begin formal instruction with, “Who has a question about number one?”
  9. Allow students to think about the question and record on a sticky note what they think the answer might be.
  10. Redirect students with strategies for finding the answer without giving it to them. This can be challenging, but I have found if I ask, “What would be a way to find the answer to that question using the book and without relying on me or the internet to get the answer?” When they discover the tools they have at hand, they will not require parent or teacher help and can quickly discover their self-directing learning ability. I never answer a question with an answer. I always redirect and ask, “What do you think.” If they know that each time they ask a question, the parent or teacher will give them an answer, they never have to apply their innate ability to discover how to answer their own questions. BIG REQUIREMENT FOR SUCCESS-THINK TIME!

Try this new method and Join my on Friday October 15th for a FREE Zoom to answer questions, share strategies, support each other during this new normal in education. The details are below:

Victoria Olivadoti is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: Supporting Parents and Teachers FREE Zoom
Time: Oct 15, 2021 10:00 AM Pacific Time (US and Canada)
Every 7 weeks on Fri, until Aug 5, 2022, 7 occurrence(s)
Oct 15, 2021 10:00 AM
Dec 3, 2021 10:00 AM
Jan 21, 2022 10:00 AM
Mar 11, 2022 10:00 AM
Apr 29, 2022 10:00 AM
Jun 17, 2022 10:00 AM
Aug 5, 2022 10:00 AM
Please download and import the following iCalendar (.ics) files to your calendar system.
Weekly: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/tZEude6qrzsiEtfsuVrlCMlsfhr2xjGgEDIv/ics?icsToken=98tyKuGtrTktGNWVuBGERpwMA4joKOrzmGJHj7dbjwrTESxwTw_lMOpQYKp1N9_1

Join Zoom Meeting
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85327210883?pwd=L1EyeXBzbUdvTEo2SXZzME9NaEkwUT09

Meeting ID: 853 2721 0883
Passcode: 074278
One tap mobile
+16699009128,,85327210883#,,,,074278# US (San Jose) +13462487799,,85327210883#,,,,074278# US (Houston)

Dial by your location
+1 669 900 9128 US (San Jose)
+1 346 248 7799 US (Houston)
+1 253 215 8782 US (Tacoma)
+1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)
+1 646 558 8656 US (New York)
+1 301 715 8592 US (Washington DC)
Meeting ID: 853 2721 0883
Passcode: 074278
Find your local number: https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kcpOvAMLr9

Dial by your location
+1 669 900 9128 US (San Jose)
+1 346 248 7799 US (Houston)
+1 253 215 8782 US (Tacoma)
+1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)
+1 646 558 8656 US (New York)
+1 301 715 8592 US (Washington DC)
Meeting ID: 890 5348 4741
Passcode: 006646
Find your local number: https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kkOq8emnS

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to Top