Tests. Exams. Effort. Failures. Perseverance. Resilience. The Brain. Success - Part 2 Mistakes

An ability to own their mistakes is empowering for students.
Dr Ragnar Purje
Mar 23, 2023
Mistakes are part of the learning process, if students can process their errors, real learning skill is unlocked.

Mistakes are inevitable. When mistakes are made, cognitive and affective states that may occur include, disappointment, anxiety, perhaps anger, and even the possibility of feeling like a failure.

In terms of positive intrinsic emotional and cognitive capacities (such as self-efficacy, self-esteem, confidence); unless the student has had the ongoing experience of working hard, has been regularly informed and has accepted that they are responsible for what they think, say and do in the classroom, it is very unlikely that they will be able to successfully deal with their mistakes and other adversities. It will also be very unlikely for the student to be able to successfully complete their task requirements, which means they will likely fail.

If the student does not have the intrinsic skills, knowledge and qualities to deal with mistakes, problems, disappointments and adversities, it could intrinsically move the student, as suggested by Attribution Theory, to blame a third-party for their failures.

The suggestion here is that this type of third-party blame may then remain in place until the student eventually learns to acknowledge, accept, know and in absolute terms understand, that it is their behaviour, the action of the self, and the choices of the self that determine who is responsible for what they think, do, say, choose and learn. This is when the student will also come know that they are responsible for the consequences of the choices they have made.

Further to this, Daniel Coyle points out that learning, which requires the individual to regularly work hard, is a constant struggle. It is this struggle that requires high levels of self-efficacy, self-esteem, confidence, and the never-ending application of perseverance and resilience. According to Coyle, mistakes will always be made. Coyle argues that for the student to be able to learn how to deal with these mistakes, and the feelings of disappointment they may bring, they must (by and through the support of the teacher) realise that mistakes and success are two sides of the same coin. A mistake is heads and tails is success. Or is it that success is heads and mistakes is tails? It really doesn’t matter, what matters is that these constructs of mistakes and success are accepted as being equal partners.

According to Coyle, success cannot and has never really been achieved - in any discipline, activity or undertaking - without mistakes. Therefore, when mistakes are made, what its required, and what must take place, is not blame. The student must take responsibility for what has taken place.

With the added support of their teacher, it is up to the student to take the appropriate action to correct this mistake. It is this corrective action (as soon as the mistake is known), that then provides the insight (plus the affiliated knowledge and understanding) in relation to what the mistake was, and, importantly, what is needed to rectify this mistake. And with this action being taken, associated skills, knowledge, learning and insights will then continue to grow as well.

It is now that the student will be on the way to becoming self-motivated, responsible and self-managing, accompanied by growth in their self-efficacy, self-esteem and confidence; with the added sentient potential that the student now understands more about the importance of their internal locus of control.

Concomitant with this, Albert Bandura points out, that students who are self-motivated, who have a strong sense of self-efficacy, will be willing to accept and even choose difficult tasks. It is these students who will have the propensity to view difficult tasks as being valuable challenges to be undertaken, accomplished and mastered, rather than threats to be shunned.

Part 3 examines the importance of self-management, with associated explorations of student responsibilities.

Dr Ragnar Purje is an Adjunct Senior Lecturer at CQUniversity in the School of Education and the Arts, where he works with Professor Ken Purnell specialising in classroom behaviour management strategies. Dr Purje is the author of Responsibility Theory®.

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