Monday, April 27, 2015

Using Mistakes as an Opportunity to Teach

Everybody makes mistakes—even teachers. Showing your students that you make mistakes and then demonstrating how you correct them can be an important way to help them build their problem-solving skills.

An effective way of modeling cognitive strategies is to demonstrate to students how you work through a mistake. Students may giggle when you as their teacher make a mistake, but you can use such a situation as an important problem-solving exercise by working toward correcting your mistake out loud and in full view of your classroom.

Marcus Conyers and I discuss the use of metacognition—that is, thinking about your thinking—as a pathway to becoming functionally smarter in our book, Five Big Ideas for Effective Teaching: Connecting Mind, Brain, and Education Research to Classroom Practice. As students become more cognitive and able to identify and work through their own problems, this strategy may be extended to include student-to-student problem solving aloud.

For example, you might summarize how you came to an incorrect prediction about what was going to happen to a character in a favorite novel. An example for older students might be to discuss how they felt they were led to develop an incorrect conclusion about what has really happened in the news after reading a piece of print from a biased source.

At the forefront of research on the positive impact of teaching metacognition is the clear message that it is important to explicitly teach, model, encourage, and celebrate the use of cognitive strategies. Many people assume that children come to school naturally equipped with the skills needed to learn the lessons put before them.

In reality, all students benefit from explicit instruction in learning how to learn—from struggling students to those who excel in many areas but may give up when presented with challenging material or who may have a hard time completing projects.

Explicit teaching in the area of metacognition is an effective way to differentiate instruction by identifying the stage of learning where students struggle and equipping them with strategies they can use in every content area. Providing opportunities for students to discover and practice using cognitive strategies also enhances learning motivation and engagement.

Effective teachers model the use of cognitive and metacognitive strategies while presenting lessons. Thinking aloud while correcting your own mistakes can be an effective way to guide students to thinking about their own thinking.



Feuerstein, R., Falk, L. H., Rand, Y., & Feuerstein, R.S. (2006). Creating and enhancing cognitive modifiability: The Feuerstein instrumental enrichment program, Oakland, CA: ICELP.

Hardiman, M. M., & Denckla, M. B. (2010). The science of education: Informing teaching and learning through the brain sciences. In Cerebrum 2010: Emerging ideas in brain science (pp. 3-11). Washington, D.C.: Dana Press.

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