By Shannon Anderson, author of Penelope Perfect: A Tale of Perfectionism Gone Wild
If you’re a teacher, you know that establishing a culture of kindness and courage from the get-go is SOOO important. When I kick off my first week of school, one of my biggest goals is to encourage kids to take creative risks and understand that mistakes are a good thing! We need to be kind to ourselves and others as we make mistakes too.
I even came up with a name for our mistakes. We call them growth spurts because we grow from them. I announced to my students on the first day of school that I hope they make many glorious mistakes this year.
We discuss the word fail too. Think of fail as what it really is:
Of course, all this is setting students up to learn about having a growth mindset. Having a growth mindset means you believe that you can continue to learn and grow as you make mistakes. We are all on a continuum of learning and can improve with practice, time, and effort. (This is opposed to having a fixed mindset, which is the belief that we cannot improve our intelligence or abilities.)
There are many activities you can do at the beginning of school to set students on the path to developing a growth mindset:
- Use mentor texts about characters who have learned from mistakes.
- Show videos of people who have overcome obstacles and become successful.
- Share quotes about growth mindset. They can lead to great whole-group and small-group discussions. Here are a few you can use:
- Thomas Edison, one of America’s greatest inventors, had an incredible growth mindset. He had been trying to invent a battery for several months when an associate said it was a shame that all his work hadn’t produced any results. In response, Edison said, “Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work.”
- Albert Einstein, who was a genius in math and science, has been (probably wrongly) attributed as saying, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” Mistakes are part of learning new things.
- You may have heard the saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again.” This is good encouragement. However, Kid President has another version of this quote that may be even better: “If at first you don’t succeed . . . you’re normal.”
I like to wear this shirt during the first week of school and have the kids discuss what it means:
- Mistakes are expected. They are gonna happen!
- Mistakes are inspected. We can look at why they happened.
- Mistakes are respected. We can appreciate what we learn from mistakes to make improvements and try again. In this way, we respect the process of making mistakes.
A great game for teaching growth mindset is Twenty Questions. Someone writes down or thinks about an object. The other people playing the game have to come up with questions that can be answered with a yes or a no. Players are limited to a total of twenty questions to try to finally guess the mystery object.
Discuss the process you go through to figure out what the object is. It is really rare to guess what the object is on the first try, right? No one would expect you to know it. How could you?
With each new piece of information, our brains start to make connections and sort objects and their attributes. We start to categorize and analyze. Making wrong guesses, or mistakes, is what eventually helps us narrow down the right answer. After enough questions about what it is or isn’t, we may be able to finally figure it out. It takes trial and error to answer correctly.
This game is just like our learning process. No one would expect you to learn a new skill on the first try if it is something you’ve seldom or never done before. Once you put all the pieces of information together, though, you start to make those connections and learn enough to do something really well.
Playing this game, along with other similar challenges, allows us to have some important discussions about mistakes and their outcomes. We talk about how we can let a mistake define us, diminish us, or develop us. We have the power to choose our reactions when we “fail” at something.
If we fail when we try to draw something, we can let it define us and say, “I can’t draw.” (fixed mindset thinking)
Or . . .
We can let the experience diminish us and think, “Everyone else is better than I am.” (fixed mindset thinking)
Or . . .
We can use it to develop us and say, “Okay, my pencil has an eraser for a reason. I’ll watch the demonstration one more time and then try again.” (growth mindset thinking)
Once kids see that making mistakes is a good thing and learn how to react accordingly, they are already on the path to success. I wish you all the best and a happy, success-filled year with your kids! I hope you make many glorious mistakes!
Shannon Anderson has her master’s degree in education and is currently a third-grade teacher, high ability coordinator, and presenter, and a former first-grade teacher, adjunct professor, and literacy coach. She loves spending time with her family, playing with words, teaching kids and adults, running very early in the morning, traveling to new places, and eating ice cream. She also enjoys doing author visits and events. Shannon lives in Indiana with her husband, Matt, and their daughters, Emily and Madison.
Free Spirit books by Shannon:
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