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Student Wellbeing

 

We all make mistakes: it is part of being human. However, we often regard them as a precursor to failure and sometimes as a reflection of a lack of ability or talent on our part. Making mistakes can leave us feeling negative and unsuccessful. However, there is a large body of research which suggests quite the contrary: that making mistakes and failing are actually very positive things.

Jo Boaler, a Professor of Mathematics Education at the University of Stanford, has undertaken research which demonstrates that mistakes are actually hugely important opportunities for learning and growth. According to her discoveries, when we think about why something is wrong or hasn’t worked, “new synaptic connections are sparked that actually cause the brain to grow”. She argues that we should place a high value on mistakes, rather than regarding them as failures (Boaler, Ability in Mathematics, 2013).

There is a mounting body of research that supports the view that a ‘mistake-rich’ environment is actually highly preferable; that it produces a better education and leads to greater insight and higher truth. Some even go so far as to say that it is a cause for concern when we don’t make any mistakes (Zull, From Brain to Mind, 2012).

Carol Dweck, an eminent psychologist, has researched the concept of “growth mindset” — expanding on the idea that we can grow our brain's capacity to learn and to solve problems. Watch the below video to find out more:

Because of the negative connotations associated with making mistakes, many people fear them and this fear leads to our avoiding doing things which are outside of our comfort zone. Whilst making mistakes might be scary, Burns and Sinfield suggest that "fear is a wonderful indicator that we are doing new things, moving into new areas and undertaking new challenges. In this way fear is a good thing, it means that we are still growing, we are still alive. Arguably, if we are not experiencing some element of fears it means that we are stagnating . . . try to see fear as an indicator of growth and welcome it." (Burns, T. and Sinfield, S, Teaching, Learning and Study Skills: A guide for tutors, 2004). As Albert Einstein once said, "“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”  

Read the Mindtools article about overcoming fear of failing.

See also: Know your thoughtsCope with criticism, Be okay with 'okay'