It is often said that man is the only animal that trips twice over the same stone. True as this saying may be, it is just as true that we go on making mistakes until we die because we are the only animals who keep on learning —even if we sometimes fall into the same trap twice— until the end of our lives; that is, learning, for us, is a life-long process.
Mistakes are essential for learning and success
Americans are not afraid of making mistakes. Indeed, no one has achieved success without failing at least once: think for example of Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, H.J. Heinz, and many other successful people.
Europeans on the other hand, and particularly Spaniards tend to be too scared of making mistakes: we have a strong “sentido del ridículo”, as we say. And so, we often do not take risks because we are afraid of failing, of making mistakes.
Don’t be afraid of mistakes in your classes
Far too often, in ordinary English language classes, students do not use English because they are shy and argue that ” es raro” or “I can’t pronounce those words.” Likewise, some teachers, under the excuse of having mixed-ability classes, or very low-level students, tend to use Spanish to give grammar explanations, and then they only give their students highly controlled, mostly written practice on the grammar issues they have covered.
How can anybody learn anything if they don’t try it out, if they only repeat what others have taught them? Ken Robinson in one of his many talks on creativity and collaboration argues that the difference between having ideas —even brilliant ideas— and creativity is that in order to be creative we need to test those ideas to see if they are really brilliant and add value or not.
In a post published on the Open Colleges blog, and which I highly recommend you to read (see https://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/the-value-of-mistakes-should-it-matter-how-long-a-student-take-to-learn/) Miriam Clifford argues that sometimes we protect our children too much and do not allow them to fail. Yet, by giving our children and students the opportunity to fail and make mistakes we are:
- Increasing their self-confidence & their problem-solving skills.
- Helping them to reach a deeper level of understanding: indeed, we learn not by repeating things by heart but by understanding what works and what does not, how one thing connects to another we are familiar with.
- Helping them in their discovery process.
- Helping them to achieve mastery.
What I’ve learnt from the mistakes I’ve made so far
- If I am unhappy with the state of things it’s no good complaining about it: I need to take action.
- If I want to change things I need to take risks, try things out, make mistakes.
- Bringing up children is a challenging task where perfection is unattainable while love, persistence, and trust are essential.
- Schools & teachers play —or should play— a significant role in facilitating learning. But above all, in introducing and expanding their pupils’ horizons to become members of wider communities beyond the family.
- Ideas are very important, but they are just pretty bubbles in the air unless put to the test.
- In their implementation, I am bound to make mistakes, which will give me insights into the aspects that need improving or getting rid of.
- If I do not take risks and make mistakes, I may be “safe” but will never learn if something was worth doing. In other words, I’ll know as much —or as little— as I knew when I was born. And then, what is the point of living?
- Not only do I learn when I make mistakes. I also benefit from the opportunity of being helped by friends, colleagues, peers, and students!