A teacher taking pupils through a lesson
A teacher taking pupils through a lesson

Creativity in classrooms: Learner mistakes count

A Learner is expected to score beyond an average mark in formative tests throughout basic education to senior high school completion.

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The tests may be in varied forms. In Ghana, tests are conducted through quizzes, class discussions and individual or group presentations. Sometimes, the tests are so challenging that some learners are unable to complete them or make mistakes.

Although the Ghana Education Service (GES) has guidelines on classroom management, some teachers yell, insult, crack the whip, belittle their persona, make a mockery of the mistakes, label unjustly and prejudge a learner's future as bleak.

It is assumed that teachers who respond in such a manner do so because they measure their competence and self-worth by test scores. However, holding learners accountable to academic standards in such a manner undermines their potential, ignites fear of attempting to answer oral or written questions from the teacher or assignments given, and keeps them emotionally and psychologically wounded for life, leading to self-pity and self-doubt. Some learners quit school or study entirely.

Ultimately, it stifles creativity in the classroom as learners fear to try any assignment in their unique way. How can we cultivate an environment where mistakes are embraced rather than feared? 

Types of learner mistakes

A study by a veteran elementary teacher Jennifer Mangels (2023) revealed that learners make three types of mistakes; sloppy mistakes, “aha!” mistakes and stretch mistakes.

Sloppy mistakes, she says, are those that “typically happen because students are working quickly or aren’t particularly focused at the moment.” They are likely to be the most common mistakes students make in the classroom. 

For example, a student knows how to add up multiple sums, but does so too quickly and makes an error. “Aha!” mistakes are those that “are unintentional but lead to a new understanding that is informative to us as learners,” 

An example would be when a student believes they are taking the right path toward a solution but aren’t because they don’t have all the information necessary to get there.

For instance, a student asked to find the median in a set of numbers may understand they should focus on the number in the middle of the set, but not yet understand that if there is an even set of numbers, they must add the two middle numbers and divide them to get the correct answer.

Stretch mistakes distinguish themselves from aha mistakes because they occur when “students are challenged because much of what they’re processing is new,” Mangels writes.  These mistakes are also more expected because students “fail more when doing something completely unfamiliar.”

Compassionate accountability

Compassionate accountability is not pampering the learner. It is recognising that the learner is a human being striving to adapt to a learning environment completely new to him or her.

Therefore, they are most likely to falter, make mistakes or miss steps. When a teacher encourages learners in a manner that builds confidence to learn the topic or perform the task, they own their mistakes and effect changes in ways that may not be the teacher’s ideal approach even when the learner gets it wrong.

A teacher may do this by first, validating the learner by saying something like ‘I admire your courage to solve this question, well done! Second, seek their opinion on how he/she got the answer.

Say something like, ‘How did you come by that answer?’. Third, express gratitude for trying. Say something like ‘Thank you for trying’. Finally, provide your version of the answer and why.

Say something like “ I got this answer by…& because…When learners have the confidence, courage and calm to attempt an assignment or a question, keep encouraging and supporting them to do more even when they make mistakes.

A famous Theoretical Physicist, Albert Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Each learner is unique, they possess great abilities hidden within. Their mistakes are not bad, they can ignite their ingenuity. Handle learners with care!

The writer is an Institutional Assessment Practitioner,
Accra.
E-mail: [email protected]

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