If you’ve read Teach Like a Champion 2.0 you know how strongly my team and I feel about building a Culture of Error in the classroom:
Over and over again, as [we] examined videos of top teachers, we noticed that they made CFU a shared endeavor between themselves and their students. From the moment students arrived, the teachers worked to shape their perception of what it meant to make a mistake, pushing them to think of “wrong” as a first, positive, and often critical step toward getting it “right.” They recognized that students could best learn from mistakes if they were willing to acknowledge and share them. There was immense value in the learning that came from error if they could make it feel safe to be wrong.
Once this Culture of Error is created, once it’s safe to be wrong, students are as likely as not to want to expose their mistakes to their teacher. This shift from defensiveness or denial to openness is critical. If your goal is to find and address the mistakes your students make, your task is far more difficult if your students seek to hide their errors from you. If, in contrast, they willingly share their struggles, mistakes, and errors, you can spend less time and energy hunting for them and more time fixing and learning from them*.
On Tuesday, my team and I watched second grade teacher Janelle Duckett of Excellence Girls Elementary Academy in Brooklyn. This short video clip encapsulates several subtle actions that a teacher can take to ensure that it’s safe to be wrong, and I had to share it.
As the video opens, Janelle has asked one of her students to write an equation to match a word problem. The word problem involves adding money in cents and Janelle wants her student to be sure to include the units, which she fails at first to do.
Notice that as the young scholar struggles, there’s no implicit pressure from Janelle’s class. No one is calling out the answer or announcing that they know or smirking at her. There’s quiet respectful tracking while she works it out.
Janelle’s language is also important. “Help her make it better,” she says, a supportive phrase that makes the process of improving a first effort seem like a natural thing and making learning into a team sport.
One of our goals as educators is to give students the ability and confidence to be able to correct their own thinking, but to do this they also need the time and patience of their teachers and peers. Again, notice the surrounding students in Janelle’s classroom: we see an intentionally built culture that values patience. Students are at the ready to support if called upon, but keep their hands down as their classmate works the problem out and ultimately self-corrects. The consistency of that culture hints at the hard work Janelle put in in advance to craft her classroom to be a supportive learning environment.
She caps the sequence with “We got this”- a quick affirmation to wrap up the moment and make the processes of struggle and then success feel normal, positive, and most of all, universal. Message: Struggling and then succeeding? Hey, that’s all of us.
* From TLaC 2.0