## Is it ever OK to let children fail?

When I was a child, if I ever got frustrated at doing something wrong my dad would tell me not to worry because I’d learned twice as much as if I done it right: I’d learned how not to do it as well as how to do it! He was right. Sometimes doing something wrong first makes the right way to do it far more memorable.

I once watched a Year 6 pupil plot a graph of the temperature during one day where he had put the time up the y axis and the temperature along the x axis. I saw the confusion on his face when the graph line took an unexpected twist, but I said nothing and let him finish.

I then asked him if he had done all these things correctly, what made him so sure that something was wrong. He twisted the page round and said “Because I expected the line to be this shape.” I asked him what he could change to make the graph the shape he expected it to be, and the penny dropped that he needed to put time on the x axis. I then made him redo the whole graph.

I could have stopped him at several points during the session – when he first explained how he was going to draw the graph, when he labelled the axes, when he first realised that the point he had just plotted wasn’t where he expected it to be – and prevented him from going wrong, but is being told you are about to make a mistake as memorable as seeing the result of something you have done wrong and having to work out how to do it right? I don’t think so. If I had stopped him, I think it is possible he would have made the same mistake again in the future.

At no point was he allowed to feel silly for making a mistake – just the opposite, I emphasised everything he had done right. As he was redrawing his graph he said, “Sally-Jayne, I’m never going to make this mistake again!”  And do you know what? I don’t think he ever will.

## M is also for … Mistakes

Everybody makes mistakes.  I do, your parents do, your teachers do and I’m sure you do, too.  Of course, nobody likes making mistakes and they wish they hadn’t made them, but really they are nothing to be worried about or scared of.  That’s particularly important with mistakes in your school work.  Even if you carry on learning and studying your whole life, you’ll still make some.  What you need to do is understand why you made the mistakes and, most importantly, understand what you can do to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.  In other words, you have to learn from them!  So how do you do that?  Let’s take a look at the different kinds of mistakes you might make.

The easiest to understand and fix is a mistake you make because you weren’t concentrating.  That’s when you write the wrong word, spell an easy word wrong, put the wrong answer to a maths question you know the right answer to, or you haven’t read the question carefully.  I think all of us have made mistakes like that!  The way to fix them is simple – make sure you are always concentrating when you’re working.  It’s especially important with homework, because there are so many other things happening and that you could be doing at home.  But if you concentrate, the work is easier, you’ll get it finished faster and you make fewer mistakes.

The second kind of mistake is if you aren’t confident about things you’ve been taught or you haven’t answered that kind of question many times before.  The way to stop making these mistakes is to make sure you take time to learn the things your teacher asks you to (especially spellings and times tables!) and keep practicing what you’ve been doing in lessons.  That way, the information you need will be in your head and you’ll understand how to answer different types of question.

Another kind of mistake is if you wrote or said a wrong answer because you just don’t know the right one.  That’s OK – nobody can be expected to know everything!  Teachers prefer you to have a try than sit there silently or just write nothing.  And they will be able to tell you the right answer – you have to remember it for next time!

You’ve probably noticed that the solutions to all the mistakes so far are things that you need to do yourself.  But for some mistakes you need help.  That’s when you don’t know why you made the mistake, perhaps because you just didn’t understand the question or didn’t know how to find the right answer.  If you want to stop making this kind of mistake, you need to ask your teacher to explain it to you.  Don’t be embarrassed – asking for help means you want to do better and learn more and no teacher will mind you asking.

Mistakes are part of life, especially when you’re young and learning.  The important thing is not to feel bad about yourself but to think about what you can do to avoid making the same mistakes again and again.  Whether you can do it on your own or with help from your teacher, there is always a way to fix it.

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