Sunday, 1 April 2012

Making Mistakes and Learning

Having students get things right the first time is what we strive for as teachers.
Yet should it be? Or should it be about the learning process?

John C. Maxwell in his book, 'Failing Forward' illustrates this point quite clearly with a parable about  an art lesson and an experiment an art teacher did. It was a pottery class and the teacher divided the class into half, each with a different goal. One half was to be marked on 'Quantity' and the other on 'Quality'. The quality group got an 'A' for making 50lbs worth of pots, a 'B' for 40lbs etc... The other quality group had to make only 1 clay pot but it had to be the best possible pot they could make to get an 'A' grade. At marking time, Maxwell states, an interesting fact emerged. The highest quality pieces came from the 'Quantity' group.
While the quality group were busy thinking about how they were going to make their pots, the quantity group were learning through their mistakes and learning faster. Maxwell then states, 'The only way you can get ahead is to fail early, fail often, and fail forward.'

In my teaching I keep coming back to this parable, especially when I have a student part-way through a project come up to me and ask to restart it. I often ask myself these questions:
How far will this student be able to get in the unit of work when the time comes for me to finish it?
Is this just a waste of resources?
What will this student actually get from restarting the project again?
Then it usually hits me. The student that has just asked me if they can restart their project has actually recognized their mistakes and is asking to correct themselves. They may not exactly know how to correct themselves at this point but they have the courage to give it a try.

Now put yourself in the position of the student. You have just worked up the courage to ask your teacher for more resources to restart your final piece halfway through the unit of work because you know you can do better, what will your teacher say?
What will you say the next time a student asks you to start again?


  1. Good start for a new blog. I am anxious for you to post an article about integrating math and art since I am a math teacher. I'd love to be a follower but don't havee Google Friend Connect. Could you place just an ordinary follower gadget on your blog. I think you will attract more followers.

    Come visit my blog sometime. I just posted an article on Fibonacci.

  2. Thank you Scipi for your comments. I have always enjoyed Math and will surely be discussing it in the near future as it easily links with art.
    I believe I have corrected my blog so that you my be able to follow it through email or other means.
    I look forward to having you as a follower.