Happy Accidents - Myth or Reality?

“We don’t make mistakes. We have happy accidents.” ~ Bob Ross

How are mistakes viewed in your classroom? A good litmus test would be how students respond when a mistake is made. Are they concerned about losing points or potential consequences? Or, do your students embrace mistakes because they are opportunities for growth?

Hopefully students view mistakes as learning opportunities. If not, it is critical that we address whatever is getting in the way. 

Mistakes Are Okay

How many students have experienced a teacher saying mistakes are okay only to lose points on an assignment that was graded too soon in the learning process? They have learned those who “learn quicker” get higher grades. Students should have opportunities to make mistakes and receive feedback before they’re graded for content knowledge or application. Otherwise, mistakes truly aren’t okay. One goal of education is to learn knowledge and skills and how to apply them to new situations. Unfortunately, our system is not set up to best celebrate those who learn...but rather those who learn quicker than others. 

Happy Accidents

Are “happy accidents” a myth or reality in your classroom? Every teacher should evaluate his or her classroom practices to determine if mistakes truly are encouraged and embraced. I believe that it is impossible to genuinely embrace mistakes as part of the learning process if grading occurs before students have had the opportunity to learn from feedback.

We should not allow traditional grading practices to get in the way of powerful learning opportunities. If a student has already been penalized with a poor grade, they no longer believe there is an incentive to continue learning. In fact, learning stops once a grade is received. Feedback and extending questions are needed to further learning.

When students feel free to make mistakes, only then can mistakes become happy accidents which boost learning.

I’ll close with a couple of quotes from John Hattie:

1) A grade is an announcement, not feedback. 

2) If kids aren’t making mistakes, there isn’t much learning going on. 

May we all be challenged to boost the volume of feedback we provide while establishing cultures which truly do embrace mistakes as part of the learning process.

Doug Dunn is currently athletic director and junior high principal for the Licking (MO) School District. He has previously served as a K-8 superintendent and elementary principal. Doug can be found on Twitter at DougDunnEdS.