Monday, July 14, 2008

Practice Makes Perfect

In Quick Video Share: Quality Multimedia Takes Years to Master, Clay Burrell shares a video where Ira Glass talks about mistakes he made when he first started. He recommends that you make deadlines and complete things no matter how many mistakes you make. You learn more by completing and learning from your mistakes then from spending all your time perfecting one thing.

This made me think about my teaching career. With my special education students, sometimes you couldn’t spend the time to perfect one strategy because different strategies worked differently for different students. Plus on any given day, what worked yesterday may not work today. I didn’t spend a lot of time asking why but spend more time on how can I help them and what can I do differently. The more strategies I put in my “bag of tricks”, the more I had to choose from as I worked with more and more students. This strategy building is part of what I think a good teacher is all about. If I organized these strategies in some way that I can pull them out easily, it makes teaching easier. Sometimes I would actually discuss different strategies with the students and have them help decide which one to try next. I notice this is what the doctor is doing with my husband’s ear aches. He has tried several different things and we go back if it isn’t working. The doctor and my husband discuss what the results are and then the doctor changes some things and sends us home to try something new. There has to be this same communication between teachers and students in order to help the students be more successful.

I feel we also need to encourage students to try even if the final result isn’t perfect. The more they try something the better they will get. I try to relate this to my crocheting. When I first learned to crochet, some of my stitches were too loose and some too tight. It was the perfect looking afghan I ever made but I felt so good about myself when I finished it. Sure, it had mistakes and could have been better but I knew the next one I made would be better. I learned why it was important to have the right tension on the yarn but if I hadn’t seen the final product, I would not have learned this lesson. We need to let students finish something instead of expecting perfection in the final product. As teachers, we need to encourage the effort as much as the end result. Yes, we want them to do things the right way, but we need to let them learn from their mistakes. This is a real life situation because when the students get out in the real world, they will make mistakes and they need to learn that it isn’t the end of the world. Having students look at their final product and have them reflect on what they did right as well as wrong is very important. If students can’t see that they did anything right, they will give up and stop trying. Many teachers do not recognize the effort students put into something and just grade the final product. If the student did the best they could and thought they succeeded, only to get an F as a grade, they tend to give up and don’t see much reason to keep on trying. After looking at the positive things, I then have them reflect on what they could have done differently to make this even better. This is where the major learning takes place. If they can see their mistakes and change them in the future, haven’t we done our job? When teachers give a grade and then move on to another topic, when does the student learn how to correct the mistakes? Without knowing where they went wrong, they will continue to make the same mistakes over and over. Students need to make mistakes, correct them, and apply their knowledge to a new situation. This will make students more successful in the classroom and in real life situations.

Photo credit: erasing by dweebydude5


TracyRosen said...

Hi, I found my way her via jomcleay on twitter. I like when you write:

Students need to make mistakes, correct them, and apply their knowledge to a new situation. This will make students more successful in the classroom and in real life situations.

And I agree with you, it goes beyond the classroom. It goes behind the scenes, for teachers and administrators and parents as we all strive for excellence in what we do.

Great post!

Anonymous said...

Reading your first paragraph was a light bulb moment for me! I am such a perfectionist - I put off making decisions for fear of making the wrong one. You have inspired me to at least TRY to set deadlines for a few things and accept less than my absolute best.

Ms Characterized said...

I've spent a good deal of my adult life trying to un-learn the "do it right the first time, or don't do it at all" mentality I was raised with. I also try to leave that attitude at home when I need so much more to believe its opposite at work.

Good post!

loonyhiker said...

tracyrosen: I'm so glad you foud me! I think parents model a lot of this "an error is not a terror" for our children.

loonyhiker said...

booklover472: I have been a perfectionist too and finding out that if things aren't perfect, life still goes on. In fact, it is less stressful for me once I accept this.

loonyhiker said...

okp: I was brought up that way too but I also think if you do the best you can do, you can be proud of the result.

dwilli58 said...

I had a professor in music who always said, "The best counterpoint is made with the eraser." He did this in a phony German voice and it always made us laugh, but he was right. My mother skipped grades and learning was easy for her, but as she grew older, she would complain that she hadn't retained much of what she had learned. She didn't make good use of the eraser;-)

I have always learned and retained more information by making mistakes. I believe this is due, to some extent, to my need to analytically work through a problem until it makes sense to me. The freedom to make mistakes, I believe, is essential to learning: it eliminates the fear of the learner, because they know they have more than one chance to understand the problem, and they retain more of the lesson because they had to work their way through it.

This is a great site! I wish I would have had a resource like this when I was teaching. I have put it on my blog list.

Thanks for your comments on my process and product post.


loonyhiker said...

dwilli58: I guess I'm a good learner because I've gone through many erasers! Glad you enjoyed reading this. Feel free to pass it on to new teachers who might benefit from my blog.

dwilli58 said...

Will do and already have, to some friends who homeschool.