Tuesday, December 30, 2008

21st Century Skill: Embracing Being Wrong

Sir Ken Robinson makes three important points in his 2006 TED talk, worth a look:

1) Creativity is as important as literacy in terms of educational priorities.
2) An essential pre-requisite for creativity is that students are not afraid to be wrong, to fail, to risk.
3) Our educational system programs students to avoid risk.

If you extend the thinking, the students who are the most successful are the ones who take the least risks, the ones who answer safely and challenge the conventional thought the least. The students who do take risks, ask tangential questions, finish assignments in different ways than the teacher required, and speak out in class are often the ones who are marked as troublemakers. The irony is that many of those students are more successful in the world than they are in school, because the world is filled with unpredictable problems. The risk-takers are the ones that will learn from their mistakes faster

"Embracing being wrong" will not appear on the Iowa Core Curriculum, but it should. To be so would take the great reformative change that Judy Jeffrey mentions is necessary.

Think about the teachers in your district. If you were to ask yourself which students look forward to students being wrong, the ones you are most likely to come up with aren't your top teachers... they are probably slightly sadistic and take pleasure in failing students. How does a teacher promote learning situations where students fail in safe ways? And more importantly, how does a teacher encourage and reward students for being wrong? Making them into learning opportunities?

This is something I have not seen done well in any observation I have conducted. Wrong answers almost always accompany a change in vocal tones and facial gestures. The "rewards" I've witnessed--statements such as "that's a good try"--come across as ingenuine and not anything a student will be going out of their way to try to earn in the future.

And that's just answering questions, where students are inhibited by peer pressure to begin with. Where is "embracing being wrong" encouraged when actually completing assignments, or even more so, when answering test questions? When points are at stake and are assigned solely on being right (or more correctly, meeting the teacher's definition of being right), there is no opportunity for a student to take a risk.

This is a skill that, if developed, will change the way classrooms look and function.

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