Memories to last a lifetime: There Are No Mistakes, Only Lessons

I can’t believe it’s been a fortnight since my last post… Must be something about those sunny days that makes the time go so fast! I’m sure it has something to do with relativity.

“Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.”
Einstein apparently said that, and I’d say the same applies to the weather!

Amber’s off for her summer holidays in 2 weeks, and that got me thinking; remember when you were little July and August seemed to last forever?! I’m pretty sure that’s got to do with relatively too, because as a 6 year old, 2 months is almost 3% of your entire life. Relatively speaking that’s the same as me, at 32 years old, being off for a whole year!!

I’ve been paying attention to Amber’s schoolwork this year; her class (P2) have homework at least twice a week, as well as a spelling and numeracy test every Friday, and I had wondered if it was too much for them at that age. The homework itself isn’t particularly hard and doesn’t take that long though, so it’s more about getting them into the habit of doing it, and likewise with the Friday tests. Plus they get cool homework like this –


With that in mind, I did a bit of research to see if there was anything I could do to help compliment Amber’s learning without contradicting her schoolwork. In my personal opinion (no doubt tainted by my lukewarm grammar school underachievement), the current education system is little more than an outdated conveyor belt, but at 6 years old I’m happy enough that Amber has learnt to read, write, and count, and she’s enjoying herself doing it.

I did find this very interesting paper recently, which states that the way parents and teachers talk about intelligence and failure is a key factor in developing a healthy “growth mindset” (as opposed to a fixed mindset) in children with regards to learning.

There’s decades of research showing that if you praise a child’s results instead of their effort, it subconsciously teaches them that you’re either good or bad at that thing and there’s not much you can do about it. This fixed mindset can lead the child to believe that they are inherently either “smart” or “not smart”, and can cause them to shy away from challenges as they fear that if they do not achieve good results then they have failed and are “not smart”. The children who are praised for their efforts have more of a growth mindset; they’re less fixated on achieving “good” results and so are more focused on persevering and doing their best, which leads to learning new things and new ways of thinking.

One of the first experiments had a class of young pupils sit a test, then half the class were praised for their results and the other half were praised for their effort, regardless of their results. The class was then given the same test the next day, and the pupils who were praised for their results all did worse than the previous day, whereas the pupils who were praised for their efforts all improved. If children think their intelligence is fixed, then they see no reason to try.

This new study suggests that these subliminal messages aren’t being sent by the teacher or parents’ views on intelligence, but by their views on failure. They’ve found that “overall, parents who see failure as debilitating will focus on their children’s performance and ability rather than on their children’s learning, and their children, in turn, tend to believe that intelligence is fixed rather than malleable.”

george carlin quote

I think stimulation, fostering the enjoyment of learning, and the ability to creatively problem-solve should be the goals of education, and the basis of these studies is to better understand how to instil those ideals in young pupils so they can carry them on to adolescence and adulthood. Children shouldn’t have to worry about intelligence, and most probably don’t, but the way that their teachers and parents react to intelligence and failure can have a dramatic effect on the child’s mindset towards learning, and more specifically towards learning from their mistakes. It’s as simple as how you word your praise; saying “that was great, you worked so hard” instead of “that was great, you’re so smart” can make all the difference!

I hope you guys enjoyed this slightly tangential ramble (normal service will resume next time!) and as always please let me know your thoughts.

For those interested in learning more, Carol Dweck (the biggest name in this area) has a heap of resources available including a few books. She also has a lot of talks on the topic; here is her TED talk and here is a longer talk she gave about the “Growth Mindset”

Please enjoy, have a fantastic week, and I look forward to reading your comments!

Tommy x

Post Author: Belfast Times

2 thoughts on “Memories to last a lifetime: There Are No Mistakes, Only Lessons

    Liz Stuart

    (June 15, 2016 - 9:49 pm)

    This is so true T when I was teaching we found praise for effort in all areas , including behaviour was so much more encouraging for the child . Unfortunately so much of our education system is focused on results rather than the all round development of the child. We spent a year with the children in Nursery, building up the children’s confidence , encouraging them to try new things and celebrating their successes , and instilling in them that if you tried your best that was what was important. Then they hit Prmary school and were expected to sit down and start writing sometimes having just turned 4! We could learn a lot from our European neighbours where many of the children don’t start formal education until 7 yet are still in the school system learning to explore investigate, question and socialise. Rant over – 2 years retired and still passionate about our children!


      (June 15, 2016 - 11:03 pm)

      Thanks so much for the feedback Liz! Great to hear it from someone who has been there & done it & been able to see the results.
      I remember reading that Finland were trying to develop a saleable version of their education model which would be available to the rest of the world… Be interesting to see how that pans out!

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