My co- teacher, Courtney Zaleski and I teach an inclusion 7th grade class.  In order to set the stage for the year, we teach them that mistakes are not only OK, they are necessary:

Ask an adolescent how they feel about making mistakes and they will be very honest (sometimes brutally so).  This year, on the first day of school, we asked our students to write down their thoughts on a post it note and compiled their responses on chart paper titled “making mistakes.”  The students are then asked to stay and read their classmates’ comments.  Words like “dumb,” “foolish,” “angry,” and “bad” were common responses.

No wonder so many kids don’t take academic risks.  Who wants to feel like that?

As the students returned to their seats, we handed them each a personalized envelope.  Inside, they found a pink eraser, a pencil with “Think Different” inscribed on it (“Think Different” is our class name), and a Maichin Welcome Back Letter. We asked them to open the envelope and read the letter silently.

This year I was sure to take note of the students’ faces and behaviors as they read.  Eyebrows went up in surprise, small smiles came to faces; I even noted some tense shoulders begin to relax. 

After they read, without discussion, we provided them with a different color post-it and asked them to tell us again how they felt about making mistakes.

how do you feel mistakes 

Their responses changed.  Many of their responses even had the beginnings of a “growth mindset” ring to them.

Of course, this is only the beginning. It takes time and practice to become comfortable with taking risks and valuing mistakes, but the door has been opened for them to at least feel that it is OK. The change in their responses is evidence that they noticed that mistakes are a part of learning.   The process is what makes us smarter.

Even scientists say so!

Jennifer Maichin is an educator from Minneola Middle School in New York.