I only became aware recently of a rather quirky fact. A member of the 1960s band, the Monkees was called Mike Nesmith. Mike Nesmith’s mother invented Tippex. I am sure that this piece of knowledge enriched your life, yet it got me thinking about the nature of mistakes.
The other day, a student of mine declared ‘I never made a mistake until I could use Tippex.’ Tippex gave him the freedom to make mistakes in the first place. Tippex for him was a kind of mistake licence, and goddammit, he was going to use it!
Why did he need Tippex in the first place?, I thought. Had I not created a mistake friendly environment? Or did I make him think he had to get it right the first time?
Tippex, the little correction fluid wizard, helps us erase and regroup. We can hide the process, pretend it didn’t happen, nothing to see here, move on. Yet I believe that we should be allowed, in fact, encouraged, to make at least one mistake everyday. Or perhaps have a mistake ration everyday. (Although I may have used mine up already with my terrible parallel parking). But wouldn’t that be wonderful? For educators and teachers? For us all?
It has to be said that Tippex produces a complete whitewash of anything that went before. Is this healthy? Is it not better to learn and analyse the mistake? A mistake for me is juicier when we can look at and talk about the mistake. What did you mean to say? What did you want to write? In what way is this different to what you had intended? What can we do to make it better? What changes do we have to make?
Mistakes can be our friend. Honestly. They can help us:
- make a plan to do things better
- help to highlight what areas need improvement
- help to put feedback into practice
- help us to see that taking risks is an integral part of learning. We would never leave the house of we worried about getting everything right.
Learn to love your mistakes. Let them in. Let them sit and take a seat at the table of learning. They are most welcome.
The philosopher and educational reformer John Dewey apparently said that we don’t learn from experiences, but that we learn from reflecting on experience. Perhaps the same can be said for mistakes.
And to paraphrase the Monkees, Then I saw mistakes? Yes, I’m a believer.
By a teacher and tutor