Learning From Mistakes

Making mistakes isn’t as bad as you think; there is a lot to gain when you are prepared to learn from the error. Mistakes have double benefits. Learning from mistakes is one, and fixing the error is the second benefit. If you spill coffee because you were walking too fast, you can wipe the spilled coffee and learn that walking slower is a safer option. Now you don’t have to repeat the mistake twice, and if you do, learn from that. Maybe next time, you will focus on keeping the coffee mug upright.

The opposite is also true. If you are in an environment that mistakes are frowned upon, then your experience may not be as favorable. You may try to hide your mistake because you are ashamed, or shift the blame, or maybe you feel you are a failure because you made a mistake.

In the classroom environment, teachers and peers may help students have a positive outcome from making mistakes and learning from their mistakes.

How can students in classrooms learn from their mistakes?

Admit You Made A Mistake

You can’t fix a toy or gadget if you don’t accept it’s broken. Likewise, with mistakes. You can’t fix the mistake if you don’t admit you have made a mistake. Encourage students not to wait until they are caught, or the mistake exposed before admitting to it. Teach them to be pro-active and admit they made a mistake and apologize when necessary.

If they voluntarily admit to making a mistake, they diffuse the situation and control the potential emotional repercussions because they’ve taken charge of the case. Now they have the power to decide how to proceed and take the next step. If they wait until someone points it out, it is embarrassing, and then they are forced to admit it was them, which may result in an emotional roller coaster. Then they have no control over the situation but are forced into defending their actions instead of being proactive.

We can only learn from the mistakes if we realize we’ve erred. By brushing over it or ignoring the error, students don’t learn from it. It is a counterproductive strategy to ignore mistakes, according to psychologist Janet Metcalfe’s study published in the Annual Review of Psychology in 2017. She believes that by avoiding mistakes in the classroom, the education system is held back.

Learn by Making Mistakes

In Singapore, two groups of students were studied to see how they would perform. The first group had no teaching instructions, and a teacher instructed the second group. Although the first group made more mistakes, they scored better in the final tests than the second group.

They had learned from mistakes and strengthened their confidence in their ability to solve problems. They also learned various ways to solve the math problems, whereas the second group was focused on the methodology they learned and didn’t think out of the box. The study was published in the Journal of the Learning Sciences in 2012.

When students learn from mistakes, they could strengthen their problem-solving skills and the ability to discern the mistake at its initial phase. Then they can produce an alternative way of accomplishing the same goal without repeating the mistake.

Mistakes from Another Perspective

The way a student looks at their mistake will affect how they react to making mistakes and learning from mistakes.

If they see it as a failure, they may lose confidence in their abilities and themselves. In a world where friends and peers observe each other, sometimes critically and with criticism, many teenagers are afraid of being caught making a mistake. They are so scared of possible ridicule or even becoming an outcast in their social group.

If a child may change their point of view and look at the mistake from another perspective, they can build confidence and self-esteem. If they see an error as an opportunity to learn and improve themselves, they will be more focused on the solution than being ashamed when they make a mistake.

By having a positive outlook on mistakes and realizing nobody is perfect, students may learn how to avoid repeating the mistake. Often by examining why or how it happened could help them introduce mechanisms to prevent the mistake in the future.

Coping Emotionally with Mistakes

Making a mistake could be emotionally devastating to some students. They take it personally and see themselves as failures. Fear of failure overrides their desire to experiment or try something new. It also immobilizes them in stressful situations like taking tests or when called on in the classroom. They know the answers but are so scared of failing that they can’t function and give the answer.

Researchers found three emotional reactions to making mistakes when studying 4th to 6th graders. Some kids would distance themselves from the mistake and even blame someone else. Others would move on as if the mistake never happened, completely ignoring it and denying it happened. The third emotional reaction was to feel regret for making a mistake but engaging in helping to solve the problem. The latter group had less negative emotional connotations for making mistakes.

The study also suggested that some students fare better with personal tutoring than learning in small groups. It was less emotionally challenging when they had difficulty in comprehending the lesson.

Mimic the Persistence Example

Kids as young as 15 months old mimic adult persistence, according to a study published in PubMed in 2017. The results showed that the group who saw adults persist in achieving their goals continued in their efforts to accomplish a difficult task more times than the other groups.

Teachers and parents can teach children persistence to not give up when you have made a mistake but to find a solution or an alternative way to reach your goal. Persistence can be learned and practiced. By demonstrating perseverance and not giving up, the teacher’s determination becomes the example for kids to follow.

When the student makes a mistake, they have a “don’t give up” mindset and challenge themselves to fix the mistake or to avoid making it again. They are motivated to continue trying until they find the solution. They don’t give up after the first few tries because it doesn’t work; they persist in finding the answer.

Take a Step Back

Solving a problem when you’re in the middle of it is difficult because your view is often subjective. You only see what surrounds you. When you take a step back, you distance yourself from the situation. Then you have a more objective perspective of the situation because you become impartial.

When students who made a mistake, analyze it objectively, they empower themselves to find a solution. They no longer focus on themselves and how it affected them, but they look at the mistake as something that has a solution.

They can then ask themselves these questions regarding the mistake:

  • What was my goal? What was it that I wanted to accomplish or tried to do?
  • Where did it go wrong? What happened that it didn’t turn out the way I thought it would?
  • When did the mistake happen? When did it go wrong?
  • Why did the mistake happen? Why did it turn out wrong instead of what I was trying to do?

By evaluating and dissection the mistake, they may find the cause. When they find the reason, they can proceed in searching for the alternative solution that may lead to what they were trying to do, or they end up with a better outcome.

The objective is not to make themselves out as failures but to find the root of the cause so that they can learn from their mistakes.


Before a student can do something about the mistake, they need to admit they had made a mistake. When they admit it, they own the mistake, which means they have control over how to handle the situation and what happens next.

Learning from mistakes may be one of the most powerful tools parents, and teachers can teach children. It embeds a problem-solving attitude instead of fear of failure.

Instead of feeling guilty and ashamed, students may view mistakes as learning opportunities. Then they build confidence and self-esteem. They understand that everyone makes mistakes; it’s not about making a mistake but how they act and react after that. Are they looking for a solution to fix the mistake? Are they learning from mistakes so that they avoid repeating them?

With the right attitude, students may cope better with the emotional aspect of making mistakes. By looking for a solution, they become emotionally stronger because they don’t take it personally and see themselves as failures, but as overcomers.

Teachers and parents may teach students persistence by mimicking a “don’t give up” attitude. A study showed that children 15 months old tend to opt for solving problems instead of ignoring or giving up when they see the persistence of adults.

Take a step back and analyze the situation objectively by answering the what, where, when, why questions. When a student evaluates the root of the cause, they can find a solution.

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