1. Celebrate mistakes
… and show students how to learn from them.
All together now… ‘Mistakes help us learn!’. Your students should know that at some point, maths will become tough and that they need to be prepared to fail and try again in order to succeed.
Talk to your students about the value of making mistakes, and that struggling is all part of the learning process. We know many teachers who have a ‘pen only’ policy for jotting down working out in mathematics, encouraging students to neatly cross out their mistakes (rather than erasing them) to remind themselves of the learning process.
Use language which emphasises on the process, rather than the final answer. For example, rather than asking ‘Who can tell me the answer to two thirds of 72?’, questioning students to explain the first step of the problem or asking which operations would be used in the problem solving process. This allows your less confident students to ‘have a go’ without the pressure of arriving at a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ final answer.
Embed activities into your lessons which promote the value in learning from mistakes. You could include ‘spot the mistake’ or ‘correct my answer’ starter/plenary questions whereby students have to identify and explain a deliberate mistake. Watch this video to see how this teacher uses mistakes made by students in a positive way to help the group learn.
Model problem solving inclusive of mistake making. It’s useful for students to observe the whole process: complete a maths problem (making a visible mistake in the working out); check your answer at the end (e.g. with an estimation or inverse checking method); highlight that the answer doesn’t seem right; revisit the problem, checking every step; highlight the mistake; correct the mistake; and finally, check the answer again at the end.
Encourage the use of different methods to solve problems, even if the answer is correct. Giving rich, open-ended maths tasks also helps students to understand that maths doesn’t always have to be black or white; yes or no; right or wrong. Mathematics is about being creative, curious and making connections. Try giving students tasks such as ‘If my answer is six… what could the question be?’, and showcase some of the more creative questions to the class.