Saturday, March 24, 2012

Who's afraid of the error monster?

Maybe it's built into our very survival instincts : if something is wrong, it's uncomfortable - so run away and hide from it. We see it in class every day, every hour - students (and teachers!) running away from errors. No-one wants to be wrong, or even worse, be seen to be wrong. And yet, when it comes to learning, "errors" are valuable tools. I see it as one my most important roles as a teacher to convince students not to be afraid of errors - on the contrary, to look for them, appreciate them and share them.

When I talk about errors with my students I introduce them to the Error Monster:

Image from 
(by CJA Bradshaw?)
We discuss ways in which this scary monster is in fact a good friend - how every error we make, or another person makes, is a valuable gift to our learning.  I encourage students to face their monster head on - whenever they do an assessment and see their mistakes, to run towards their monster and embrace it:

Adapted from CJA Bradshaw's slime monster.
Now our monster becomes an object of fun and affection - helping overcome embarrassment and disappointment at making mistakes - and allowing us to instead focus on resolving those errors.

Teacher notes:
  • I like to use the analogy of a blind person using a walking cane. How could they see where to go, if they didn't make "mistakes"? It's only by having the cane bump into things the person can see where to go. Errors help guide us on our learning path.
  • You have to walk the walk : be happy - and not embarrassed - to face your own errors in class. I highlight to my students my specific weaknesses when doing algebra : I know (and they know) I make silly errors with signs and expansions - so I laugh at my monster and then keep a careful eye out for him. I make a show in front of the class of checking for my common errors. Hopefully over time I will get better at these!

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