Home' Teacher : February 2010 Contents LOOKING INTO PRACTICE 21
Did James Cook know exactly where
Australia was before he arrived there, or
Thomas Edison know exactly what he was
doing when he invented the lightbulb?* No,
they used trial and error, and tried, tried
again. Many of our students, however, seem
to be afraid to make mistakes.
A pivotal moment in my teaching helped
me realise that I needed to target their hesi-
tancy about putting their ideas forward dur-
ing classroom discussion.
I'd scaffolded student learning to the
point where I thought all of my students
had been provided with enough informa-
tion to contribute to a discussion, but when
I looked around the classroom I found the
same students, hands anxiously waving in
the air, ready to have their say. The remain-
ing students simply looked confused. This
was the moment that prompted me to take
Have a go
Because I wanted to encou rage more of my
Years 1 and 2 students to 'have a go,' I'd set
myself the goal of encouraging them to learn
through making mistakes. In my classes, I
made sure that I was explicit about promot-
ing the idea of risk taking. 'Have a go,' I
would frequently say. 'It's okay to make
I said it so many times, I'm sure my
students were sick of hearing it. I thought
that by repeatedly encou raging students to
participate, they would begin to develop
more confidence to voice their thoughts in
a whole- class setting, but something was
holding them back. They still didn't have
enough confidence to 'have a go'!
Why wouldn't they try to offer their
What should I do differently?
The more I reflected on this situation, the
more I began to wonder whether the prob-
lem really did lie with the students. Maybe it
was my expectation that students' responses
were 'close to the mark' that was holding
I wondered whether I was setting up a
classroom environment where students
felt they could only offer correct answers.
Maybe students were apprehensive about
being 'wrong.' Perhaps I was training stu-
dents to reach the answer that I had in the
back of my mind.
I decided to try to address this situation
in my teaching. In class, I posed a prob-
lem for students to think about and then
tried to take myself out of their discus-
sion. I divided the students into groups and
asked them to talk about their ideas. All of
a sudden, the productive noise level rose.
Students were talking animatedly. When,
however, I asked them to share their ideas
with the whole class, once again, the same
few put for ward their answers, while the
others just sat back. So I introduced a new
Thanks for that
Instead of my usual judgemental comments,
'good,' 'right,' 'yes,' I simply responded
with, 'Thanks for that.' Not knowing if the
contributions were right or wrong led other
students to contribute, thinking maybe they
had the answer. I responded in the same
way: 'Thanks for that.'
For me, these three words were surpris-
ingly powerful. There were many more stu-
dent contributions and much more thought-
ful discussion than usual.
Students who had previously been too
intimidated to respond were firing answers
left, right and centre. Some students began
IT'S HUMAN NATURE TO USE TRIAL AND ERROR TO REACH A JUSTIFIABLE CONCLUSION,
SO WHY ARE SO MANY OF OUR STUDENTS AFRAID TO MAKE MISTAKES? EAMON LIGHT
ASKS THE QUESTION -- AND HAS AN ANSWER.
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