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The Meaning of Errors

During a recent workshop I attended, I happened to overhear a conversation that was going on  at the next table.  (Okay, I was really just being nosy and listening.) They were talking about kids, the difference in work habits of their ‘good’ kids and the other kids, homework, and why kids don’t learn from their mistakes. It wasn’t necessarily a conversation that I wanted to jump into, but I was really intrigued by their ideas. And, they had some interesting ones.

However, it did get me wondering about errors and mistakes: how we think about them; how we handle them in our own learning; how we help kids handle them (or not); how I would rather kids handle them; how I would rather I handle them.

Over the weekend, I was doing some reading and ran across these ideas in Peter Johnston’s work-OPENING MINDS:  Using Language to Change Lives.  On page 2, he talks about the meaning of errors.  “When you make a mistake, it means nothing more than that.  Fix it.  Learn from it.  It does not mean you are incompetent, stupid, or not a good person.”  He continues.  “Errors usually happen at the edge of what we can do, when we are stretching into new territory-when we are learning.”

So, I am trying to think about errors from Dr. Johnston’s perspective in regards to my own learning.  I feel more encouraged to keep working at it (that idea of perseverance) and take longer before the “I quit” happens and I move onto the “I give up” stage.  It’s making me a little more comfortable about asking for input, assistance, feedback, and help.  That’s not such a bad thing.

The really BIG question is…how do we help kids acquire this confidence about errors and risk-taking, persistence, and resiliency?

Opening Minds

Peter Johnston, in his book, Opening Minds, talks about how the words we, as educators, choose affect the worlds that are our classrooms.  I have read and re-read parts of his book over the past few weeks-and it has made me uncomfortably aware of my language choices-but in a REALLY good way.

The whole goal, the entire focus of what we do as teachers, is to encourage kids to be learners, to be confident, to try things out, to talk about what they think, what did they notice, what are they wondering about, and to examine what happened and why they think that happened. We, as the organizers and facilitators of conversations, must make note of what we say, how we say it, and the impact it has on children.

On page 2, Dr. Johnston provides the following example of the power of one word in the context of a spelling test.  

Introducing a spelling test to a student by saying, “Let’s see how many words you know” is different from saying, “Let’s see how many words you know already.”

It’s one word, but the already suggests that any words the child knows are ahead of expectation and, most important, that there is nothing permanent about what is known and not known.  (The bold is mine.)

Up until this point, I must admit, I had never given much thought to the power of the quiet little word-already.  It has now been moved onto my favorite words list-and I am keeping track of how and when I use it.

Welcome to 3 yellow sand pails!

Welcome to 3 yellow sand pails!

Funny name for a blog that will talk about learning and teaching and math and other stuff for teachers and the kids they teach.

But here’s why…

Ever since my kids were little, the beach has been a huge part of our life.  We are fortunate to live within an hour or so of the beach.  We go for the day, whenever we can, and always have.  Part of the stuff that went along with us were the sand toys.  And, out of that canvas bag of toys, the sand pails were the kids’ favorite.

Over the course of the day, my kiddos would run, laugh, play with the shovels and buckets, dig in the sand, explore, build…  They always had stuff in their sand pails to look at, to examine, to behold, to investigate, to ask questions about, to ponder, to consider, to wonder about, to admire, to back away from, to chat about, and to share.

Those bright yellow sand pails always made me want to look inside and talk about about what I saw and what I thought about the great stuff that was in their buckets. And that is my purpose here: like kids fill sand pails, I intend to fill the pages and posts of this blog with things of interest and wonder, new, different, bold and refreshing; things that are familiar and make you smile; ideas, books, photos, quotes, passages; links to blog posts and websites; products for classrooms; design ideas; content and curriculum resources; topics of interest for educators and the families and communities they serve. I intend to create a place to ponder and explore and chat about what’s important to those who make math classrooms great places for kids.

Until next time,