Schoolboy errors

Did you make mistakes when you were in school? I certainly did. In fact all of my classmates also did. Often we were scolded for our errors and sometimes we were even 'punished' for getting something wrong. One of my classmates was rapped across the wrist with a ruler because he was writing with his left hand (he was left handed).

I remember being told off by my teacher for writing out the number eight 'wrongly' in my exercise book. Instead of writing it as a smooth flowing figure of eight as I had been shown, I wrote two conjoining circles. Such disobedience!

For this deviant behaviour I was made to sit in the head teacher's office during break time writing out the number eight time after time 'as it should be written'.

One of the barriers to creativity in education is where teachers insists on one answer or one way of doing something. Another is a prevailing atmosphere in some classrooms of fear of failure. These and several other related barriers to creativity were discussed during a keynote session which featured Finnish education expert Pasi Sahlberg, British author Richard Gerver and myself, in Seoul at the Global Leaders Forum. We had been invited to speak on creativity in education.

There was consensus between us. We all agreed that failure was an important component of creativity, and should be built upon rather than dissuaded. Too often, students are fearful of making mistakes, which limits their willingness to experiment, explore and take risks. We talked about gaming, where users are always trying to exceed their own previous scores, and learn to perfect their skills through constant iteration and failure. Richard talked about encouraging students to 'colour outside the lines' while Pasi remarked on the powerful incentive of 'doing better next time'. We discussed assessment methods and concluded that in most countries these are too restrictive, and often assess superficial levels of knowledge.

Our conclusion was that 'school boy' errors are inevitable, and that mistakes and failure should be turned to the advantage of the student rather than becoming a dark cloud that hangs over an academic record. I'm glad I failed at school in some areas, because, although it was painful at the time, I have learnt many life lessons - not least that success is often hard earned, and we should never give up. One final thought - students don't fail. They just discover new and better ways of doing things. I still make mistakes now, and I'm glad in a way that I do, because it's not about perfection, it's about learning. For me, the acronym FAIL will always mean 'First Attempts In Learning'.

Photo from Flickr

Creative Commons License
Schoolboy errors by Steve Wheeler was written in Seoul, Korea and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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