Why Bother Noticing Our Mistakes?
My students notice my mistakes. When I misspell a student’s name, when I forget to change the date on the white board in front of the classroom, or when I write the wrong denominator in a math equation, they are quick to point out my blunder and quick to correct me. But, they are slow to notice their own errors on the papers they hand in to me, even when I ask them to double check for their mistakes after they say, “I’m done.” Why is it so easy for us to notice the blunders of another, and not our own?
I Hate to Be Wrong
I will admit that I am a recovering perfectionist. I am not sure if I was born with this particular trait or if I learned it from my parents and siblings while growing up. I just know that I am recovering from it, one day at a time. Changing from being overly critical of myself and others means I am learning how to learn from my mistakes instead of being so afraid of making them.
Nobody likes to have their errors pointed out and some of us are hypervigilant about never making a boo boo. But since we are human, we will make errors. The question is, how do we respond to the flaws we make when we make them?
When a student discovers an oversight of mine, I model a nonchalant, but grateful attitude and tell them thank you. Then I point out to them that even teachers make mistakes. At first my group of students were taken off guard by my confession, now they just smile, nod their head and feel smarter than me for a moment or two.
Recently, when handing back some tests to my fourth graders, I gave them a few minutes to look at the questions they got wrong and then asked, “By looking at your mistakes, what can you learn from them?” There was a long pause before anyone spoke. Finally, someone broached this delicate and personal topic concerning their wrong answers.
“I learned that I should have read the question more than once because now I see the answer I should have chosen.”
“How many others got that same one wrong?” I asked. A few hands went up. “Oh, see, you are not alone,” I told the one who had been the first to speak bravely about their error.
Another student volunteered, “I learned that if I’d read my answer more than once, then I would have seen it didn’t make sense,” said another. “I see the right answer right there,” they said pointing to the one they should have chosen and grinning at their simple oversight.
“How many of you got that one wrong?” Again, a few students raised their hands and I pointed out, “You are not alone either”
Looking at our mistakes is not easy, it is humbling. But when we look and then find the right answer, there is hope of not making the same oversights again and again. And isn’t that what learning is about?
Why bother noticing our mistakes? It is worth seeing them for what they are; something that teaches us how to do better.