Sunday, May 06, 2007

I have often used the word “mistake” when talking to a student about behavior that I didn’t approve of, but I’m beginning to think that’s not quite accurate. Now I’m not so sure that students make mistakes, as much as they simply take a different path than I was hoping they would take. The word “mistake” suggests that students did something wrong, whereas perhaps I should say they chose a different route than I had planned for them. Their action wasn’t “wrong”, per se, just different, unusual, irregular, nonstandard. The path they chose will lead them to some goal that I hadn’t planned for them. They will definitely learn something by traveling this path, but it won’t be the learning I had hoped they would experience. What’s important here is the realization that they will learn something. It’s imperative that I understand that every choice my students make (like completing their homework efficiently or skipping it altogether) will lead them to a learning experience. If they decide to not check over their essay before handing it in, they will learn something as valuable as if they complete the assignment with the utmost attention to detail. Any path is a path to learning, even the paths we usually call “mistakes”. In the future, when a student comes to class without a pencil, instead of telling him he made a mistake, I can simply say, “Well, that’s a choice that will teach you something important. Learn the lesson well.”

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