Career & Education

Allow your children to make mistakes

Sunday, July 16, 2017

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It appears to me that we are bringing up a generation of kids who are terrified of blundering or not knowing the correct answer to a question posed in a class. If students are afraid of making mistakes, then they will likely be afraid of trying, which has self-esteem considerations.

Many kids are growing up in households that exert so much pressure to be perfect that, for example, they feel pressure to achieve perfect scores in Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) or to achieve distinctions at Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination. Some parents may go to the extent that they correct or do their child's homework to secure a better grade, but I find that this search for perfection often results in students missing out on sleep and recreation, which are vital to their healthy development.

I would like to remind parents that nobody is perfect. You play a critical role in how your children view mistakes. It is inevitable that they will make mistakes — academically and otherwise. I am certain that you also made mistakes. Your children should not feel that your love is conditional on them receiving impeccable results. This creates fear, which is an unhealthy state of being. Try to avoid losing your temper if poor grades are received. Anger and disdain will not solve the problem, but could actually make the situation worse.

Making mistakes is a natural and significant part of the learning process. It happens for a reason. Students should not be scared to raise their hands when they are not sure that their answer is correct. One simply gets better after making an error and understanding improves. Making mistakes increases confidence and problem-solving skills.

Mistake Avoidance

It is true that we live in a culture that sees failure as something to be avoided at all costs. The truth is that in many cases the stakes are quite high. Our grading system on a scale of A-F is based on this approach. Many parents become distressed when they see a “C” or other grade below that on a student's report card. They often do not recognise that there are many variables involved in assessment at school. It is best to investigate before drawing conclusions. Usually these parents are scared about their child's performance in external examinations. However, it has been my experience that internal examinations do not serve as a strict predictor of performance in these exams.

Accepting Mistakes

Setbacks are normal and mistakes have value. I always let my students and my own children know that I expect that they will make mistakes and that these mistakes also help me to enhance their learning experience. I give them permission to get something wrong and then we work on getting it right. I never belittle them for making errors, even if these mistakes are considered simple.

There are some educators and parents who reprimand and sometimes debase their children or students for getting questions wrong. This diminishes the child's self-worth and is demotivating.

How Mistakes Stimulate Learning

The problem with making mistakes is not that they are made, but rather that teachers do not use these mistakes to promote learning. Shame is often attached to errors and students are afraid to speak up and be heard in classes.

Here are some tips for teachers to use mistakes to bring success:

• Instead of simply giving a big red 'X' beside an incorrect answer, be sure to explain and help your student to understand why it is wrong. Oftentimes I will write a short paragraph beside each wrong answer, simplifying the question and explaining the error. This way a student has the explanation when reviewing. Then again, this may not be feasible for large classes.

• Alternatively, you can give students a chance to correct the mistakes before you offer the solution. This gives the student a chance to ponder and figure out why the mistake was made on his own, thus preventing the likelihood of the error being repeated.

• When a student answers a verbal question incorrectly in class, ask him or her to explain why they gave that answer. Many times students are able to correct themselves while trying to explain their answer.

• Share your own mistakes and misunderstandings when you were once learning the topic. It reassures students when they recognise that someone they look up to also stumbled during the learning process.

• Praise your students for their effort. This encourages and motivates students to try even when they feel like giving up. It also reduces the debilitating and damaging emotion called fear.

Dr Karla Hylton is the author of Yes! You Can Help Your Child Achieve Academic Success and Complete Chemistry for Caribbean High Schools . She operates Bio & Chem Tutoring, which specialises in secondary level biology and chemistry. Reach her at (876) 564-1347, biochemtutor100@gmail.com or khylton.com.

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