Mistakes Make the Student

Friday November 27, 2020
By Kumon Canada
Study Skills

“Click!” You realize your mistake as soon as you hit send... the funny cat video you meant to forward to your friend was just emailed to the entire company. 

We’ve all made the “reply all” mistake. But chances are, you never did the same thing again. This is because making mistakes is a key part of the learning process. Huge blunders like emailing the entire company will stick in your mind for a long time. But even minor errors can have a big impact on how you—and your children—learn.

Research Shows Mistakes Help, Don’t Hurt

Educators used to believe that making mistakes hurt students’ learning. They thought if a student learned to do something the wrong way, it would become fixed in their brain and they’d always make the same mistake. The opposite, in fact, was true. Several studies have shown that making errors during the learning process, and correcting those errors, leads to better understanding and recall.

In 1994, researchers conducted a landmark study comparing the US education system to Japan’s. The study found that American teachers praised students for correct answers and ignored incorrect responses. They would not discuss why the correct answer was right or the incorrect answer was wrong.

Conversely, Japanese teachers would ask students to find an answer on their own. They would then discuss the different answers. Students would learn why an incorrect answer was wrong and a correct answer was right. This reflection and reinforcement would lead to much better recall. Letting students make mistakes and learn from them was found to be a key reason Japanese students outperformed Americans on global math tests.

The Power of a Growth Mindset

The value of making mistakes is also clear when comparing students with growth mindsets to those with fixed mindsets. Stanford Professor Carol Dweck has done substantial research on the impact of growth mindsets. People with a growth mindset understand that intelligence is not set at birth, and they can work to improve. Those with a fixed mindset believe you’re either born smart or you’re not. The theory is backed by the science of neuroplasticity and proven with significant research. Students with a growth mindset perform better throughout the course of their studies, even if they tested lower than their fixed mindset peers when they were younger.

Students with growth mindsets view mistakes as learning opportunities. A study comparing how kids with different mindsets play video games showed the difference. After making mistakes, students with a growth mindset performed better, with higher accuracy rates. Fixed-minded students did not show the same improvements. Classroom studies showed similar results.

Instead of viewing mistakes as embarrassing, growth-minded students learn from them. Frame mistakes as opportunities, and your children will see the benefits!

Mistakes in Kumon

Brother helping brother with mistake on homework

Mistakes are an important part of the Kumon Program. In Kumon, students aren’t taught. Instead, they learn for themselves through carefully designed worksheets. Students follow directions and study examples to grasp new concepts.

Errors come with the territory. Few kids can get long division or algebraic expressions right on the first try! Instructors pay close attention to how students correct their mistakes. They then use that to lesson plan and assign work.

Take Joey, for example. Joey sees subtraction for the first time in class. He gets every answer wrong on the first page. When he gets his worksheets back, he realizes he added instead of subtracted. He figures out his mistake and can correct it right away.

It’s clear that Joey understood the concept and may not need much repetition to progress. While Kumon Students ultimately work towards mastery, the goal is not to receive a 100% on the first try. Learning from their mistakes is more important than perfection. In fact, it tells us a lot about the student and their motivation.

Not every mistake is as traumatizing as the dreaded “reply all.” But every error is an opportunity to improve and learn. The next time your child makes a mistake, don’t get mad! Praise them for correcting and learning from it. You’ll be amazed at how impactful it can be!