There is no spoon

I have lots of new classes this year, several of which came to me with poor mindsets about their ability and the likely grades they will achieve in maths. I have been fairly aggressive (no, not like that…duh) in my pursuit of a classroom where errors and mistakes are actively encouraged to be openly discussed and not hidden away in shame.

I’ve reacted to certain situations slightly differently this year:

  1. A student laughed at another student’s answer, so I sent them out of the class (with me) to talk to me about their behaviour
  2. A student said ‘oh my god’ when another one answered a question (incorrect answer). I sanctioned them and wrote in their planner.
  3. A student said “well done” sarcastically when another persisted past an incorrect answer and finally, with some questioning, came to a logical answer that was correct. I stopped the class and made a HUGE issue out of what that student was doing, and how every single one of us makes mistakes, ESPECIALLY ME, because guess what, I have to work with all of your calculations in super fast time to keep up with 25-30 students and that leads to silly mistakes QUITE OFTEN. I asked them how they would feel when, inevitably, it’s their turn to talk about their answer, which is incorrect, and they’re anxious, and they’re not sure what I want them to say, when in actual fact all I want them to say is how they got there. How will they feel, when they know there’s another student just waiting to heckle them, to dig a finger in, and make them feel bad about not knowing something straight away. Funnily enough they have been respectful since.
  4. I’ve made a big deal out of the supportive network that the class should be, and how no students are in competition with each other, only with themselves. “What anyone else gets in an exam has no bearing on your life” etc. “If the person next to you doesn’t understand, help them.” etc.

I make a big teaching point out of mistakes, and I make a big point of praising students who talk about their answer, right or wrong. The results so far have been brilliant. Students who at the start of term always answered with “i don’t know, i can’t do it, I can’t do ANY of it” now persist with thinking it through, and usually come up with, at the very least, a considered idea.

I am totally (and purposely) over-reacting to fairly minor incidents of discouragement, which feels a bit weird. But it seems to have worked, and it worked quickly.


4 thoughts on “There is no spoon

  1. Hear, hear! It often just requires plain talking for students to realise what is happening. I especially like your explanation of why the teacher also makes mistakes. I award a lot of ‘merits’ at the start of the year to students who share mistakes so we can learn from them. Eventually it becomes second nature to share the ‘learning opportunity’.

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