If you are an educator, you probably know about the 10,000 hour rule. If not, the concept, in a nutshell, is that it takes somewhere around that many hours of practice to become an expert at anything. That means if you want to become a virtuoso pianist, you must repeat your scales and practice your fingering. The important thing, though, is that the practice has to be deliberate. The goal is to constantly be learning from mistakes and working to correct them.
Two Common “Mistake Making” Thoughts
Education research has recently isolated two aspects of mistake-making common to all of us. One is a negativity-based reaction that recognizes a mistake before we are aware of it. The second, called error positivity, results in rethinking the problem and reworking it until you succeed. In short, that is learning from mistakes. The first reaction, if it is the stronger, tells us we failed at the test and simply are no good at it.
The second reaction, the more positive of the two, tells us we need to correct the mistake to succeed. That is where the concepts meet two other mindsets. Some people believe intelligence is static. That is, you were born with all the intelligence you will ever have.
The second idea is that intelligence grows with learning. Making mistakes is part of the growth process because you learn from the errors. If you keep doing things the same way, you will get the same results. That means that, in our 10,000 hours of practice, we must correct the mistakes to achieve better results. That second postulation is the one that leads to success, not simply recognizing failure.
Working Together Makes All the Difference
As an educator, the impact of this information is huge. It isn't the stack of straight "A" papers in your classroom that reflects learning. It is the number of mistakes that are made and resolved. Not only are we learning from mistakes, but our students are as well. The thing is, they seem to do better at this if they are in an atmosphere of acceptance and encouragement. Focusing together on the most common mistakes, and how to remedy them, allows students to feel safe in stumbling because they know they will get up again.
One teacher's response to the research was to remove the grades from her student's papers. Instead, she used her red pen to highlight the mistakes so that students could see where they began to go wrong. Her hope was that, instead of focusing on the result of the mistakes, the grade, they might look at what they did right and where they made mistakes. That change in attitude should lead to learning. For years, most educators have focused entirely on the correct solutions and answers, leaving the errors unresolved.
The shift in focus to looking at the errors to learn from them is changing education. After all, students already have mastered the material they got correct. They need to learn the material they got wrong.
Concentrating on errors and their solutions seems to help set the new information in our memories. It becomes part of our knowledge base or, in other terms, our intelligence. The more we learn from mistakes, the smarter we get.